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Parental Burnout

When your kids don't do as you say, it's easy to feel ineffective.

The hardest part about being a parent is accepting that your children won’t do what you want them to do.  Someday they’ll get old enough and out of your sight for long enough that they’ll do what they want to do – whether it’s something you agree with or not.  When you believe that you should have “raised them better” or you decide to ask yourself “where did I go wrong?”, you may be at the edge of burnout.

Defining Burnout

Burnout has most frequently described as exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.  Every parent has experienced exhaustion at some point during their child’s life.  Whether it’s the first few months of interrupted sleep or running them from event to event, I’ve never met a parent who can’t identify with exhaustion.  While most parents don’t admit to being cynical, too many can share their frustration and despondence with their feelings of inefficacy.

There may not be a manual for parenting, but there certainly are many who feel like their experience is the experience by which all parenting should be measured.  It’s easy to try to measure up on every front against every parent we meet and feel like we’re completely ineffective at being a parent as a result.

But We’re Legally Responsible

Of course, there are legal responsibilities to consider until a child legally becomes an adult, but that doesn’t mean that the parents of the Columbine massacre were put on trial for the actions of their children.  As tragic as the incident was, the law didn’t hold the parents ultimately responsible for the outcomes.

In most cases, the kinds of irresponsible behavior on the part of a child doesn’t rise to life or death consequences.  It’s mostly related to the choices they make in their friends, the degree of seriousness they take for their academic studies, and the perseverance they demonstrate in their extracurricular activities.

Moving from Responsible to Responsive

You can’t be held responsible for something you can’t control.  Let that sink in for a moment.  If you can’t control it, then you can’t be held responsible.  Once children begin interacting with the world, you can’t control their actions.  The result is that, while we guide their actions and believe a combination of genetics and environment accounts for their ultimate makeup and behaviors, we still don’t have control. 

Burnout is about feeling ineffective, and if you believe you have control of someone, but you don’t, you’re bound to end up feeling disappointed and ineffective.  If you insist on a belief that isn’t or can’t be true, eventually, it will catch up with you, and you’ll have to give up the belief – or you’ll accept that you’re ineffective.

It’s entirely possible to remain convinced that you can control your children – and you’ll inevitably feel ineffective at times, and that may lead to burnout.  Conversely, if you accept that you don’t have control of your children, and you are responsive to them rather than responsible for them, you’ll find yourself free from the burdens and the risk of burnout. 

Concern without Control

As parents of seven children, we can say the hardest thing to do is to be concerned without an attempt to control the situation.  Whether it’s protecting them from the schoolyard bully or moving them to college, there’s a desire to keep them safe as well as shape their behaviors.  However, letting go of the need to control them may be the most freeing thing that we’ve ever learned.

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