“I can’t do it anymore!”
I said it. It was not easy but I needed to let emotions go and tell the truth. I didn’t know it but I had hit parental burnout. It did not come out of nowhere but I had kept the situation at a distance for some time. I did not want to show my weaknesses. I did not want people to see this side of me.
For months and months I kept repeating to myself that I could manage, that some other women had more than one kid, some had more issues, illness, parents to deal with and they could make it work at the end of the day. Therefore, I could too.
The breaking point
Then, one day, I found myself locked in the bathroom, crying. Tears were heavy and on the other side of the door was my kid but I could not come out; I could not find the strength to make a step towards him; I could not get past my anger and pain—like I had many times in the past—and give him a hug.
I was not myself anymore. In addition, after every crisis, I hated myself. I was afraid of my violence, of the words, of what my own body and mind were able to do towards the most precious person of my life. I even asked myself at some stage if I really loved my son and if it would not be better to let him go live with other people. Home wasn’t safe. Family life felt like hell.
I was so ashamed I could not tell other mums or even family or friends. How can one say “I don’t like being with my child?” I was thinking that if I tell, Social Services would take my child away from me; or worse, give him to his dad. I could not imagine this.
I kept smiling outside, and the worst is that people told me I was a good mum. They didn’t know how awful these words made me feel, even guiltier than I felt already!
I kept crying indoors. I thought about my son, the one who helped me get away from an abusive marriage. And, here I was, making a mess of his life.
I cried for a long time this day and when I got out, I made myself only one promise: ask for help.
Asking for help
A week later, I was spilling my guts in front of a psychologist. I told her all the things I could not tell myself. I said out loud that I was scared to go home, that I was scared to cause harm to my son, that I could not go on like this, exhausted, feeling empty and mentally absent. I told her I was just surviving, doing the things that needed to be done.
Week after week I let go, I told her the chaos, my violent outbursts that I could not control, the fear in my son’s eyes when I was shouting and knocking on the walls, my wish, many times, to kill myself as it was becoming too hard and harmful for both of us. I was losing confidence as a mother, as a woman, as an individual. My life was slipping out of control.
This is called parental burnout. It refers to a prolonged situation of emotional imbalance, where the burdens of stress overcome personal resources to deal with life as it is. It can be compared to post-partum depression but it’s mostly linked to one’s parenting role and tasks.
Asking for help saved my family. I started writing at the same time, sharing my story with others, as guilt and shame were slowly fading. It’s not something I like to remember but I know that personal experiences can be of help. When facing such hardships in one’s life, loneliness is a killer.
We should all be strong together, being able to listen, without judgement, but with an attitude that will help women to open up before it’s too late. Parental burnout is a real and scary reality for many parents, especially single moms.
Have you heard about parental burnout before? Have you been there or do you know someone living such an experience?