Burnout: what to do to avoid the unavoidable

To be clear, I am completely unsure of how to avoid burnout. Despite minimising and practicing intentional living for more than five years, I am very much a work in progress when it comes to burnout. I am a reformed perfectionist. I used to pride myself on my busyness. It hurts to think back on how difficult and anxiety inducing that time of my life was.

Having children is obviously a huge change and most will attest to realising they never knew what busy was. But having autistic kids is further challenging in the sense they don’t gain independence as soon or at all compared with their peers. Thus parents have greater responsibilities for a longer time frame. This means we are busier and because challenging behaviour is constant, we are stressed.

I am pro acceptance, anti compliance based therapy. I’m a breastfeeding, baby wearing, cosleeping mama who chooses to be peaceful and gentle in all of my child raising and finds it especially important in the case of my boys. I don’t see value in trying to get them to conform to society’s ideals. I just want them to be happy and healthy.

But achieving that isn’t easy. Even if i place little demand on them they still get distressed. Being autistic for them is difficult sometimes, mostly due to speech issues and sensory processing challenges. So enter super hero mum and dad who try to help things be a little easier to manage. Cue both parents at home to manage two little people with lots of extra needs. Result? Burnout.

Unfortunately burnout is often the case for lots of families of autistic kids.

So what can you do?

1. Ask for help

2. Find time for your own pleasurable activities – even 5 mins a day will help

3. Prioritise sleep

4. See your doctor

These tips are basic but I know I’m not even doing these basic steps! What about you?

The unequalness of household chores after baby

Listening to Weekend Life Matters on Radio National (via podcast) on my way to Toy Library duty this morning, I was inspired to share how minimalism has enabled our household to more fairly share the household chores since we began our family in 2015.

I am absolutely a type A personality and have always prided myself on my ability to multi-task, be extremely organised and get a lot done. However, since discovering minimalism in 2014, I realised these qualities were actually not helpful for my wellbeing, particularly in the way the constant busyness hid anxiety.

Certainly, when we were pregnant with our first child, I thought being a stay at home mum was the best job in the world – there would be so much time to cook and have the house perfect, I would play with my child and then they would entertain themselves. I could write while they slept… ha ha ha. None of that happened!

But what I did find is that I increased my standards of perfection as a result of the anxiety of having a quite unwell and demanding child, and nothing I did was ever good enough, for my own unrelenting standards. My husband was completely supportive but he did not have the same high standards, not even close. Mine were unrealistic and we discovered we needed to meet in the middle.

I loved how Eve explained the way she brought values to the discussion about garbage (in the podcast). This strategy has helped us too – we have discussed what is important and made a compromise in the way it should be done, how frequently etc.

Overall, minimalism, the intentional practice of letting things go and placing value on what is truly important, has played a large part in allowing me to free up some time for myself. Even right now, having moved home 2 weeks ago, the floor needs to be swept, the toy room is a mess, the beds not made, but instead of doing all that, I am here, writing. A few years ago I would have done ALL the housework before I made time for myself.

I’m still a recovering perfectionist, and a some time control freak – it’s not an end game, it’s an ongoing practice in the art of unwinding perfectionist and the busy mindset. Over time, you can change these parts of yourself, softening and allowing more freedom and less demanding standards.

Despite all of this, with two children who have additional needs, I am still performing far more of the home life load, and this means I don’t have the capacity to work much (freelance) nor could I find a job (no childcare at the moment) – but these are sacrifices I choose at the moment. I do need to keep working on finding time for my passions, hobbies and creativity – what about you?

Perspective, and it’s role in understanding others

We often judge each other based on limited information and decide another person has an easier life, more money, more friends, or is more relaxed. Perhaps others just seem to be happier or have a better life overall.

When someone judges your situation and verbally labels it by making a comment, it can be affirming or insulting. Of course, the person making the comment doesn’t mean any harm, and their comment is derived from their own feelings about their personal life. But when it does feel insulting, what should be the appropriate response?

Personally, I feel the best way to respond is to smile, nod, and say thank you. Nothing good comes from arguing the point. Perhaps in another conversation at a later date, if appropriate, you can share some of the struggles you face to help balance the picture. At that time, the person may be in a different frame of mind to consider your perspective without being clouded by their own emotions. Or they may not be the type of person who can take your perspective, so save yourself the energy and let it go.

Empathy is a highly regarded skill that develops with age and experience. But not everyone has the same capacity for empathy and psychologists don’t necessarily understand why this occurs. My guess is like most things it’s a mix of nature and nurture – what comes naturally and what we are taught combine to place us in a certain category of personality and thus level of empathy.

Not sure about your own capacity for empathy? I argue it’s an essential life skill and becoming more important as our world continues to shrink due to globalisation and technology, but the pressures on us as individuals and the Earth due to climate change create serious issues. The first step to empathy is to become more self-aware. Take time regularly to read about personality, development, and emotions, and use this to guide your understanding of yourself.

Empathy comes from putting yourself in the shoes of another and actively trying to understand their perspective. It’s a key skill for all humans to develop and with greater empathy, the world could be a much better place.

Comparison games

Comparison is a tricky thing. As a mother to a non typically developing child, the temptation to compare is everywhere. It’s unavoidable. I hazard all parents struggle with comparison but there can be no doubt it’s more complicated for the smaller group of differently wired kiddos.

Everywhere you go, everything you read, there are typical kids growing, learning and developing along a pretty standard curve. Yes there are differences but overall most kids fit into the main part of a bell curve.

Whenever a special needs mama or parent says this, parents of typical kids just don’t get it, at least in my experience. They want to believe their kids are challenging, tough to handle etc. But there can be no comparison there.

Reading “special” by Melanie Dimmitt, she says

It comes down to not seeing your child as broken – be that broken in comparison to typically developing children, or a broken version of the child they were ‘meant’ to be

The answer to comparison woes is

  • Consider what your child and family CAN do
  • Consider the next step in your child’s development, on their timeline, their path
  • Allow yourself to feel whatever you need to; you’re not a bad person for doing so
  • Celebrate your child for who they are

Hopefully those steps can help temper comparison and the way it can wreak havoc on your contentment

Why I dislike using the word ‘behavioural’

There is something about the word ‘behavioural’ that really irks me. For so long, I have had specialists and health professionals tell me that my kids’ sleep issues are ‘behavioural’. Apart from some of it actually being completely normal (see the link to some studies), there is also a view that I am gradually becoming more familiar and comfortable with, about control in relation to children.

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

For me, the word behaviour conjures the idea that the child is doing something on purpose, intentionally. Certainly, I think a lot of parents actually do believe two and three-year-old children are capable of intentionally manipulating their parents. Sarah Ockwell-Smith argues that manipulation is a myth, and I agree! There is no doubt that we as human beings are all interested in having our needs met, and that can look selfish to some, but it is completely typical and normal. The difference is that children are actually completely incapable of manipulation, some scientists believe that type of thinking is actually not possible until our mid-twenties…

So how can we look at the way children ask for their needs to be met, without calling it manipulation? I am continually told that my breastfeeding at night was the reason my kids woke. This makes absolutely no sense to me. Firstly, how can he be asleep and think to himself, I am going to wake up now so I can breastfeed. No, he isn’t capable of doing that, in fact, I don’t think anyone can will themselves awake while asleep… However, when he does wake, he needs to be comforted for whatever reason, and I happen to choose to use breastfeeding as a comforting and soothing practice. I’ve talked before about why that actually is not a problem; it’s only a problem if I don’t want to do it.

Exploring the reasons our children do the things they do, whether it is night-waking, or screaming tantrums, or hitting their little brother or sister, all leads back to the same place, the same question. What needs do they have, that are not being met? Do they need your attention, do they need a cuddle, are they hungry or cold, did they have a nightmare? The questions and possible needs are definitely endless and also often impossible to distinguish from one another.

Photo by Myles Tan on Unsplash

However, instead of calling it behaviour, why can’t we just call it ‘asking’, ‘communicating’ or ‘needing’? Why do we as a society need to view children as behaving incorrectly when all that they want or need is something from you in order to be regulated back to a calm and happy place. Even Raising Children have a good article on self-regulation where they explain that school age children start to be able to regulate properly, seeing both sides of a situation. I would love to see the word behaviour removed from all situations involving children. Children don’t behave poorly, they are communicating and asking for their needs to be met.