Parent burnout: “I just snapped, everything unloaded”

The pandemic is pushing parents to their limits, and some are even threatened with burnout. Three mothers and fathers tell how they are living through the crisis and what helps them.

Making breakfast, giving homework, holding meetings, cooking lunch, going to the playground for a moment and then starting all over again – plus the bad conscience of not doing justice to the children or the job. For probably most parents in this country the Corona crisis was a difficult time. Kitas and schools were closed for a long time. Many parents had to do two jobs at the same time for months: that of teachers or educators and their own. Often the grandparents were not available as babysitters because they did not want to endanger them with the virus. In addition, there were often financial worries: many parents had to go into short-time work or lost their jobs completely. Now, during the summer holidays, the weeks without a childcare place and double burden simply go on. Here three parents tell how they experienced the time between home office and home schooling.

“The class teacher sent us an e-mail with possible scenarios. Plan A: the school reopens after the summer holidays, Plan B: lessons half online and half in class, Plan C: everything completely online. I said to my husband: if C happens, I\’ll jump off the balcony. I have two children, my son is nine years old and is in the third grade, my daughter is six and is supposed to start school this summer. My children are completely inconspicuous, we get along well with each other, even though we squat on top of each other so much. I love my job, I work 40 hours a week for a dubbing company. But I\’m still completely exhausted. Being a mother, teacher, girlfriend, educator, housewife, cook and employee at the same time, it just doesn\’t work. It eats you up, bit by bit. My husband is a lawyer. He wanted to cut back on his job, but I said to him: Who knows how long I can work. You\’d better get on with it, so at least somebody can keep their job.

[“I didn’t think you could be so tired. I get more tired every day. I take vitamin pills for fatigue, but it doesn’t help. I used to be self-employed. Not even the bankruptcy of my company made me as miserable as I am now. I myself was never depressed. But now I recognize the signs of depression in me: I don’t want to get up in the morning, I don’t want to face the day and just stay in a safe bed. I get crying cramps – because an onion falls down. Things I would have laughed about earlier. Only a few months ago I would never have cried in front of the children, but now I can’t help it: it just works. “]

Our day usually looks like this: We get up, I sit down at the dinner table with my laptop, the kids have breakfast on the side. Then I give my son some homework for school. But he always needs help with that: “Mom, what\’s a parallelogram?” While I explain to him what a parallelogram is, my daughter gets bored. Sometimes I give her a learning app, which teaches her to draw letters, for example. Then she asks me, “Mom, how do you spell A?” Once a day I try to take the kids out. When we get home, the kids are hungry. Then I have to cook something. How can you concentrate on your work?

[“What worries me the most: The time after 8 pm is the one I look forward to the most. The kids are asleep then and I sit on the balcony with a beer and don’t have to do anything. Not even talking anymore. We say among mothers in the circle of friends: You won’t reach a mother after 8 pm. They are all drunk. It’s fun, of course, but it’s actually true.”]

Germany has never been a child-friendly country, but the hatred we now feel for each other is incomprehensible. People see children as a danger. “Get away from me”, older people shout to us on the street, when they think the children are getting too close. People give me angry looks when I go shopping with the children. But what can I do? I can\’t leave them at home alone. And we all wear masks. Yesterday, an elderly man stuck his shopping cart in my back. When I asked him what was going on, he walked down the aisle with his chest raised. He was really proud of himself.

What kills me most, besides all the effort, is that our problems are simply not acknowledged. It\’s like, “How nice for the kids, Mom\’s finally home!” It makes me so angry to hear that. There was so much news about cases of child abuse during the lockdown. I would like Members of Parliament to read through all those files after the crisis, where there is evidence of it. And I want them to listen to us for hours. I am connected to many families through Facebook. We want to get organised, take to the streets. But we just don\’t have the strength for it anymore.”

Exhaustion, stress and the feeling of having to take care of everything at once makes you sick in the long run. “The decisive factor is the loss of control,” says psychologist Thomas Rigotti from the University of Mainz. Many parents could cope with severe stress as long as they do not feel that they no longer have any control over their lives. In other words, that they can no longer do justice to their children, over- or underchallenge them and cannot provide good care. They are afraid that their children will lose their place in school or be neglected. “In this respect, burnout differs from depression, where self-doubt is the determining factor,” says Rigotti.

By burn-out, psychologists understand a permanent overload, which manifests itself through sleep disorders, concentration and memory problems and long-term exhaustion. In normal times, according to a study by the health insurance company AOK, more than 170,000 people a year are registered as unfit for work as a result. That makes almost four million sick days per year.

Ultimately, all social classes could suffer from burnout, regardless of job, position and education. But some are more affected than others. “Parents who are perfectionist or marked by self-doubt are particularly hard hit,” says psychologist Brigitte Kudielka, who conducts research on burnout at the University of Regensburg. She also includes those in the risk group who are in the “rush hour of their lives”. In other words, people between 30 and 50 who “are working on their career and have relatively young children or are caring for relatives”. People who on the one hand organise a young family and bring up children, but on the other hand also have to be fully involved in working life in order not to lose touch with their careers. “These middle-aged people are often under particular psychological strain,” says Kudielka.

Image source: https://bit.ly/2CVxBc9

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