How to Recover from Parental Burnout
Parenting comes with a number of stresses and challenges. These multiply for parents of children with disabilities, mental illness, and behavioral challenges. Mothers often bear the majority of the burden of caregiving, whether they are single mothers or not. They need their own support, including professional mental health care, in order to avoid a burnout or to recover when this type of crisis occurs.
Raising a child with disabilities or mental or behavioral disorders presents a lot of challenges for mothers.
You child may act out at home and school, struggle academically, feel sad and lonely, have a hard time making friends and connecting to others, or even get violent with you.
The struggles you face in raising a child with special needs can lead to stress, depression, anxiety, fear, and if you don’t seek support, burnout as well.
Professional treatment with a focus on women and mothers can help you take back control of your life and be whole and well again for both you and your child.
The Challenges of Raising a Child With Disabilities or Mental Health Challenges
Raising a child is difficult, period. It is a big responsibility and probably the toughest job anyone will do. But when your child has been diagnosed with a disability or mental or developmental disorder, the challenges grow exponentially. Whether it’s autism spectrum disorder, ADD, conduct disorder, or other conditions, parents of children with disabilities face unique burdens and expectations:
- Learning about the diagnosed conditions
- Finding and deciding on effective treatment options
- Being able to pay for treatment
- Spending time caring for the child and going to appointments and treatments
- Advocating for a child at school and for accommodations
- Coping with feelings of stress, shame or guilt, depression, anxiety, and other psychological demands of caring for a child with mental illness or disability
When these challenges are not met satisfactorily, parents can easily get overstressed, overworked, and burned out.
Feeling Like a Single Mother in a Two-Parent Household
For two dedicated parents, raising a child with disabilities is split. The burden is shared. Even if each parent has different roles, when both are committed to doing their part, the experience can be more positive and less stressful.
Unfortunately, many mothers, of all types of children, find themselves the primary caregivers. They take on much more of the responsibility of the home and caring for children, even when they work outside the home. With a child who has special needs, this unequal burden may cause distress and other mental health symptoms in the mother.
Researchers and experts have coined the terms “invisible labor” and “emotional labor” for the extra work mothers are often expected to do in families. Women are often considered the CEOs of the household. Fathers may do their part of the chores, but it is up to the CEO to figure out what needs to be done, organize it, and give him a list of tasks.
This invisible labor may double with a difficult child, and it takes a toll. Studies have shown that mothers often feel like they have the sole responsibility for managing the household and children. This leaves them feeling empty, isolated, and overwhelmed.
Raising a Child With Disabilities as an Actual Single Mother
Being a single mother means that the entire responsibility for raising a child falls on you. It’s a lot of pressure, and the experience of single parenting can be overwhelming and frightening. With a child living with physical, mental, or behavioral challenges, the difficulties multiply. You may feel isolated and lonely.
There is research, however, that indicates single mothers of children with disabilities can be extremely resilient. A study of moms in this situation found that many found the experience of raising their children difficult but also transformative and empowering. They took agency and became confident in their abilities to overcome challenges. This should give you hope, that although you may need support and even professional help, raising your child alone does not have to defeat you.
Recognizing Your Own Mental Health Needs
The first step in creating a better life for you and your child is to recognize that you have mental health needs, too. You may want to put your child first, but if you are not well you cannot provide the best care. Take time to reflect on how well you’re doing, and if it isn’t good enough, take steps to get the help you need. Some signs you may be headed for a mental health crisis include:
- Increasingly losing patience or your temper with your child
- Feeling unsatisfied with being a parent
- Feeling emotionally detached from your child
- Regularly feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, emotionally drained, hopeless
- Having a sense of being detached, from yourself, surroundings, or your family and friends
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Treatment for Parental Burnout
Your challenges as a mother are valid and real. They have consequences. You may be diagnosed with a mental illness, like depression or even a trauma disorder, because of them. These require treatment, of course. But you don’t need to have a firm diagnosis or a specific mental health condition to benefit from professional support.
Burnout is not a diagnosis, but it is a reality for many mothers with challenging children. It is a sense of being out of control and unable to keep going forward with your life. A treatment facility can help you overcome parental burnout and develop strategies for coping better in the future. It can also provide you with a diagnosis in the event there are underlying mental health issues, like trauma or depression, making your situation worse.
It’s even possible that your parenting challenges have led to extreme stress and even trauma. A study of parents of children on the autism spectrum found that stress hormone levels in the mothers were comparable to those of soldiers in combat. A treatment center with a trauma focus can help you recover and learn to cope better with stress.
Learning Better Coping Skills for Life
One of the best things treatment can do for you as a mom is to provide you with the healthy strategies that will make parenting your challenging child a little easier. In treatment, you will explore your emotions, behaviors, and relationship with your child, but you’ll also learn practical ways to cope when parenting gets difficult. The goal of treatment is to be able to return to your family and child as a healthier person, someone who can tackle the challenges of parenthood productively and positively.
Ditching Feelings of Guilt and Shame
Another benefit of treatment and therapy is that it will give you a safe, judgement-free environment in which to explore and process difficult emotions associated with parenting a disabled child. You may feel depressed, stressed, and anxious, as many parents do. You may also feel guilty, as if you aren’t doing enough for your child, or ashamed that you have a child with so many challenges.
Therapists can help you understand that your feelings are valid. They will guide you through the process of recognizing emotions and reactions that are unproductive, accepting them, and moving past them so you can make more positive choices.
Finding Support for You and Your Child
Treatment is a great way to get professional support. Your child probably benefits from all types of educational, psychological, and other supports, but you can, too. There are other types of support that will help you as well. Rely on close friends or family to share some of your burdens of care, even if that only means helping with chores or spending time with you.
Community resources may also be available to reduce your burdens. Look for programs for children with special needs, government agencies that provide funding, and your local schools that offer accommodations and special programming. Any additional support you can get from a social network will help you avoid or recover from burning out.
You love your child and want the best for them, but that doesn’t mean you should sacrifice your own well-being. There is only so much one mother can do for a child with serious challenges. Rely on as much support as you can, and know when to ask for professional help so you can prevent a serious burnout or get great treatment to help you recover from a crisis.
Mental Health Treatment at Helix Treatment Centers
Helix Treatment Center’s innovative gender-specific mental health treatment program is designed to help women gain the life skills and strength needed to manage their symptoms and learn to better cope with the lingering effects of depression, anxiety, trauma, and other mental health disorders in a supportive environment that caters to their psychological, physiological, and emotional needs. We offer a tranquil space to restore emotional and behavioral health and stability in a safe, comfortable environment at our six-bed residence nestled in the beautiful Mt. Helix region of San Diego. Contact us today to learn more about our program and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.