The Mighty Logo

How Burnout Impacts Me as a Parent With Depression

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

If you know me at all, you know I stay fairly busy. I’m a mother of two busy little girls. I also work full-time, maintain a freelance writing career, and play in a community orchestra. I also attend weekly therapy sessions and do other things to keep my depression symptoms and other mental health conditions in check.

While I like staying busy, it sometimes impacts my mental health — namely in the form of burnout.

Burnout impacts nearly three-fourths of all working adults, and it definitely intersects with other aspects of our identities too. In fact, there are several ways in which burnout impacts me as a parent who also lives with depression.

1. Burnout impacts my energy levels.

Burnout causes both physical and emotional exhaustion. Unfortunately, parenting often causes sleep deprivation and exhaustion, as does depression. The combination leads to an all-consuming cloud of darkness that essentially zaps our energy levels completely.

There are days when I have zero energy to give to anything, and my kids notice. They will ask if I’m tired or if I’m sick. Although I know it’s just the fact that I’m experiencing burnout, the answer is entirely too complicated to share with my children. So although it’s counterproductive, I usually try to push through these low-energy days, which often increases my depression symptoms and my level of burnout, which ultimately lowers my energy level even more. When this happens, I sometimes fall asleep in the recliner in my kids’ bedroom or use my lunch hour at work to nap because my body literally shuts down.

2. It also impacts the condition of our house.

What happens when our energy levels decrease? Well, I think most adults would agree that housework is one of the first things to go out the window when you feel tired or overwhelmed. The same is often true for people with depression, which makes depression plus burnout a nightmare for housekeeping.

Unfortunately, kids also contribute to the lack of tidiness around most houses, especially when they’re young. Children don’t always think about putting dishes into the sink, picking up their toys, or placing dirty clothes into the laundry hamper. Instead, they need reminders and behavior modeling from their parents.

But what happens when you’re a parent who already has a hard time with housework because of depression and you’re dealing with the effect of burnout? Well, you end up with a  house that looks about like mine with baskets of clean laundry waiting to make it into the dresser, a dishwasher full of clean dishes that remain untouched despite an entire load of dirty dishes still sitting in the sink, and items scattered around the house.

3. Burnout impacts my memory.

I often joke with other moms that each child you birth removes about 25 percent of your brain function. While I know this isn’t true at all, I do know that stress impacts your short-term memory, and so does depression. This means that the combination of burnout and depression makes remembering all the little details of each child’s day-to-day lives a little bit harder.

I can’t tell you how many times I walk back into the house to grab a forgotten item in the morning or get an email reminder that a bill is past due. My kids often respond to my questions with, “Mom, you already asked me that earlier! Don’t you remember?” and if I don’t put an appointment into Google Calendar, I won’t make it there. While I don’t love this fact about myself, it’s not something I can always control.

4. It impacts my “chill.”

When my partner walked in the front door from work the other day, the kids immediately ran to her and said, “Something’s wrong with Mom! She’s being extra strict today!” My partner laughed it off and told the girls I probably just had a stressful day. The kids didn’t buy that answer at all, but the exchange told me everything I needed to know about where my burnout levels were.

Although I’m normally a very relaxed parent, irritability and cynicism are common symptoms of burnout. Unfortunately, depression and anxiety already leave me on a short fuse some days, so burnout compounds the problem even more. I hate that my mental health conditions and the stress of everyday life impact my kids in so many ways, but unfortunately, it’s a beast I need to learn to tame.

If I happen to catch myself in time, mindfulness exercises and religiously using my PLEASE skill from dialectical behavior therapy can help restore my chill. However, sometimes I need a reminder like the conversation between my children and my partner to help me recognize what’s going on.

5. Worst of all, burnout impacts my ability to be present for my kids.

When my depression and burnout reach critical levels, I usually just want to close myself off from the world and sleep. Even before that, though, I can become quite preoccupied with my automatic thoughts and worries. Unfortunately, all of these things impact my ability to truly be present for my kids — and that’s the worst side effect of all.

I want my kids to know that I love them and care about them always… even in the moments when I seem distant or distracted. While I can sometimes force myself to be present enough to enjoy family game night or sit down with them for a meal, sometimes I simply can’t offer much more than a warm body to them. Knowing this absolutely breaks my heart, and I often try my hardest to avoid reaching this point — but it’s hard.

I don’t think parents often think about their stress levels in terms of how it impacts their children, but I think it’s important that we change that. We need to learn how burnout intersects with our other health conditions and look at how our burnout levels impact the way we interact with our loved ones. By doing this, we can hopefully recognize our burnout levels sooner and, with any luck, take the needed steps to combat burnout.

Getty image by Ray Kachatorian.

Originally published: December 13, 2021
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home