Burnt out? Double check.
Hey. I’m appropriating one check mark for each child I raised under a very dark cloud, and more or less alone. Well, as alone as one can be with the menace of storms following you around.
Perhaps I should add a few more checks. Let’s see. Maybe I could multiply by the number of years the divorce dramas played out on stage, which I estimate at nine, though I never know if I’ve seen the final curtain call.
What’s that – 36 check marks?
Right. You get the gist. I will now unceremoniously, unabashedly, unequivocally, unapologetically state what my (single mom veteran) friends will recognize. I’m zapped, zonked, whipped, wiped out. I’m unable to achieve a sustained second wind, no matter how many times I try. I am the poster child for Divorced Mom Burnout.
Is there a pill for that?
Divorced Mom Burnout, By Any Other Name?
Silly me. I thought for sure I would have beat burnout by now. In need of a proper definition of the term?
“… An emotional condition marked by tiredness, loss of interest, of frustration that interferes with job performance. .. usually regarded as the result of prolonged stress.”
Nine years? I guess that qualifies. “Job” performance? I’d say life performance.
“Emotional” condition? That one’s troubling. What about the health impacts of sleepless nights, confrontations, trekking to multiple jobs, running from school to school and activity to activity, scrambling for a sitter with a sick child?
What about those who share custody but the hand-off to the other parent involves a shouting match, yet another no-show, or a long drive when you’re out of gas – and I don’t mean for your 12-year old Honda?
What about living under constant stress – kids, work, an ex that’s unreliable, or worse? What about those who are dealing with extraordinary circumstances beyond doing it alone – for example, a child with special needs?
Single Mother Comparisons
I loathe single mother comparisons, yet I make them when it serves my purpose. What’s disturbing is the way differences divide us rather than encourage us to help one another.
I daresay that burnout isn’t the experience of every divorced parent, but I firmly believe that it is a little talked about, little acknowledged, legitimate “consequence” of single motherhood. It may be particularly acute if you have no help, if legal or financial fallout continues to dog you (for years), or if your kids experience more than the “usual” challenges of childhood.
Add an element to further stir your murky pot – say, a health problem or unemployment.
Wouldn’t you be crazy not to feel “tiredness, loss of interest, frustration” – and then some? How could you not worry yourself sick?
Positive Attitude, But…
Sure, I have my mantras for Mondays, my tips for Tuesdays, my wishlists for Wednesdays – all manner of methods to remind myself of the good in my life, practicing “count on nothing, but count your blessings.” Maybe that’s as good as it gets for most of us, especially parents, whatever our age, stage, or marital status.
But that doesn’t mean I’m happy about living a crazed lifestyle – still – and tracing its origins to my divorce.
On that note, here’s the paraphrased long definition of burnout from the (medical) resource cited above. It uses the nursing profession as an example.
“… mental or physical energy depletion after a period of chronic, unrelieved job-related stress characterized sometimes by physical illness… Causes of burnout peculiar to the nursing profession often include stressful… work environments; lack of support; lack of respectful relationships within the health care team; low pay scales compared with physicians’ salaries;… pressure from the responsibility of providing continuous high levels of care over long periods; and frustration and disillusionment resulting from the difference between job realities and job expectations.”
A Telling Exercise
Now try this. Everywhere I’ve bolded a word or phrase above, substitute as follows:
- job —> single parenting
- nursing —> single parenting
- work —> home
- health care team —> family or community
- physicians’ —> ex-husband’s
What do you get?
“… unrelieved single parenting stress characterized sometimes by physical illness… Causes of burnout peculiar to single parenting often include stressful home environments, lack of support, lack of respectful relationships within family and communities… low pay scales compared with ex-husbands… disillusionment resulting from the difference between parenting realities and parenting expectations.”
Interesting, don’t you think?
Burnout Leaves You Dwelling in Shadow
How many single mothers does it take to change a light bulb? If she’s as burnt out as the bulb, forget it. Deal with the dark until daybreak.
If our health suffers as a result of prolonged stress, if our financial resources are perpetually drained taking an additional toll, if we periodically or regularly dwell in a state of burnout – emotionally and physically vulnerable, and essentially operating in the shadows – isn’t there a societal impact?
Don’t we pay the price in collective quality of life, in productivity in the workplace, in parenting skills affecting our kids, in their eventual quality of life and health, and subsequent contributions to society?
Why isn’t every politician standing up to help single mothers and their children, or mothers and their children, or parents and their children – period?
We Know the Problems. Solutions?
As for those “continuous high levels of care over long periods” that (partially) explain burnout, would nine years of parenting with skirmishes in the background qualify? Shouldn’t we consider what crazy custody battles and inequitable post-divorce lifestyles mean to our country as a whole – not to mention to our kids?
Do we really want to ignore statistics on single mothers (generally) and income inequality?
“Estimates vary, but single parenthood can account from somewhere from 15 to a full 40% of income inequality… Single mothers’ economic vulnerability is also hugely impacted by the fact that they are their children’s sole caretakers… If a child gets sick, a single mother is faced with leaving work and risking her job (or at the very least, losing a day’s worth of pay) with no one else to fall back on…”
Motherhood is Political
Yeah. And I’m not alone.
All those worn to the bone, exhausted when they wake, beleaguered by their budgets, demoralized by nightfall, languishing in lethargy but still trying their best – please stand up!
(Then sit. I know you’re tired.)
And hear ye, hear ye: I may be burnt out, but that doesn’t mean I’m non-functional. The thing is – I want to come back from burnout. I know the problems; I can’t tackle the solutions alone. Money always helps, but as a society, we need decent jobs, respect for women, and infrastructure that doesn’t penalize families.
I also know this: We won’t get far if we’re compelled to maintain “Happy Talk” while denying the reality of our challenges. Might I add, we should tell it like it is – and vote like it is – if we ever want to end parenting burnout and build a better legacy for our children.