My mom burnout remembrance.
I was reading an article about mom burnout for those of us who are at the end of our rope with a certain child or adolescent. This can happen if you have a difficult child, or a challenged child, or a child with a physical disability, or one with a challenging mental illness.
While reading the article I painfully refocused on a period in my life when my youngest was a teenager. At age 16, my daughter was rebellious. She had wrecked her car several times without many consequences.
Bad behavior at school.
She often skipped school. Her behavior in school was described as disrespectful and insolent, and she was called into to assistant principal’s (AP) office for “a talk” on a regular basis. He regularly assigned her Saturday school and community service hours.
There was one meeting we had with the AP and her math teacher in which she literally insulted her teacher in front of us all sitting at the table – the AP, her teacher, her father, and me. We were embarrassed beyond belief and scolded her in the teacher’s presence. My daughter was failing math and her teacher had helped her the previous year with her dyscalculia (dyslexia with math). Many of her teachers had served as tutors to help her with various aspects of her dyslexia.
A bad boyfriend.
She had fallen for a boy who was a few years older than she was. He lived in a small town about 40 miles outside of our city. He had served as a youth counselor for a mission trip that she attended the summer before her junior year of high school. (He overstepped his position by flirting with her, and then getting involved with her, but that is another story. In addition, I had strongly encouraged my daughter to attend that mission trip, and this factor contributed greatly to my feelings of guilt about their relationship.)
She commonly drove to his small town to see him and would drive back home very late at night. One night she drove into a tree and her father had to come and rescue her. Once she “ran away” to see him and was gone overnight before calling me at work the next day to come and get her.
An argumentative nature.
Knowing that I would fight back, she targeted me for quarrels. She could pick a fight better than anyone I know. Since my husband does not fight, she only had me to argue with (her siblings were were both off at college.)
She often showed wide swings in her mood since different things would set her off. Sometimes, she had physical bursts of outrage in which she slammed doors and smashed her fist into walls. Once she kicked a hole in a door after slamming in shut.
She commonly stole money from our wallets when we foolishly left them laying around. On several occasions she stole a credit card from my wallet and went on a shopping spree.
The pet pig incident.
The culmination of my inability to deal with my younger daughter happened one early evening. She and a friend had visited the local pet store. She visited that store often to view and hold the puppies and kittens. This particular afternoon, she saw a cute pink pig there in the pet store.
Unbelievably, the sales lady sold that pig to my daughter. She and her friend named the pig Tulip, and she brought it home. She entered our front door with that pig right as her father and I were going out to a professional dinner gathering. Of course, we argued about her bringing home a pig. Then I called the pet store and scolded the saleslady for selling a pig to my daughter. She returned the pig to the store that evening.
So, you get the picture that my youngest was a difficult child. I described her to others as a difficult teenager, but in retrospect, she was showing early signs of her mental illness which was diagnosed later while she was in college.
Stress in my life.
Back to mom burnout. My younger daughter was a handful and living with her and trying to counsel and raise her made me feel physically and emotionally exhausted, on many days, if not every day. I became so tired of dealing with her antics and all the troubles that constantly swirled around her.
This was happening at a time when my practice was very busy, I was stressed from work, and probably short on patience after my long days in the NICU. Surely my work life contributed to how I felt about my abilities to deal with her.
There were times when I did not like her anymore. Literally, I thought to myself, “I do not like this child anymore.” Honestly, I often wondered if I still loved her. This is referred to as depersonalization or detachment. It is a sign of serious burnout.
Finally, I thought that I was a bad mother, and certainly thought that I was not the right mother for her and her needs at this time. I thought that I was the wrong mother for her specifically, and I was at a loss as how to help her. This feeling that you are no longer making a difference is also a sign of serious burnout.
Three sure signs of serious mom burnout.
These three things described in bold above are the sure signs of mom burnout:
- physical and emotional exhaustion
- feeling disconnected from your child – like you do not like them anymore
- feeling like you are a bad mother, that you are not a good mother for your child
I got through my period of mom burnout by seeking help from a psychiatrist/psychotherapist. She and I worked together for many years, and I slowly learned how to not fight with my daughter, how to have compassion for her, how to make sense of her behaviors, and how to understand her illness.
My daughter got help, too. She was willing to work with a child psychiatrist and that helped her immensely. As it turned out, she was more than a difficult teenager.
Seek professional help.
By relating this story to you, I want you to know about the worst form of mom burnout, should it happen to you. If it does happen, you need to seek professional help.
These kinds of mom burnout thoughts and feelings can be overwhelming but quite normal considering the situation. They are unusual, however, and always indicate that something is wrong – with your child, with you, or with the circumstances and stresses with which you are both struggling.
You cannot fix these feelings alone. You need professional help. By telling you the story of me and my daughter, I am giving you permission to get the help you need with your child if you need it.
What you are doing can be difficult at times. Some children are more trying than others.