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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Parenting: I’m burned out from parenting for 30 years, but my youngest is only 10

By Meghan Leahy Washington Post

Q: How can I get more invigorated about parenting in the home stretch? I love my kids and have always engineered my life and full-time work around them. Last night, I was pondering why I feel so much less engaged and had to be honest with myself that after doing this for 31 years, with eight left to go, I am so ready to live on an island with some turtles. I know that’s not fair to my baby girl, who is 10. Please give me some perspective.

A: Thank you for writing in; I think a lot of people reach a breaking point in parenting that requires some kind of reassessment. I am assuming the “eight left to go” is the 10-year-old turning 18 and leaving the house, so let’s zoom out and then zoom in.

Parenting fatigue is real, and working full time while parenting can leave us far more exhausted than we realize. Because many of us are unconsciously pushing through stress, we can believe that our exhaustion is somehow abnormal or unhealthy - that we are broken for being tired. But everywhere you look, from our child-care system to our health care system, our culture is often not built to support parents (especially non-white parents). Like a fish doesn’t know it’s wet, we don’t recognize how our culture has set up many parents to feel chronically tired.

I don’t know why you engineered your life and work around your children, but love is not the only answer. It could also be from implicit or explicit messages from your own childhood; something you didn’t get or did get and wanted to replicate; guilt; fear or anxiety. Whatever the case, you’ve put yourself second (or third or fourth) in your own life for a long time. To be clear, I am not blaming you for this choice; if we don’t slow down to make conscious choices, it’s easy to be swept into “doing it all” very quickly. And if you need another excuse to work through this worry, rest assured that children don’t want or need you to “engineer your life around them.” While every family is different, responsibility and developmentally appropriate independence grow resilience in children. Simply put: Children are meant to understand that everyone has needs, and they don’t need to be or shouldn’t be first. I love Jessica Lahey’s book, “The Gift of Failure” for more of this message.

Now, for whatever reason, you have reached the point where you are ready to throw in the towel on the life you have built (island with turtles and whatnot). You need to figure out what living on the island with turtles means to you - possibly with the help of a therapist, a self-help book or a good friend. Are you fatigued by serving others? Do you seek more solitude? Do you need more spaciousness in your time? Do you need more exposure to the natural world? Getting to the root of what your mind, body and soul need is the ultimate goal here, because any other choice is just a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. And needing a coach or a therapist is normal; there is nothing unusual about reaching a crossroads in your life and needing support for the next chapter.

While you are getting your own needs sorted out, I agree, we need to reinvigorate your relationship with your 10-year-old. The easiest way to do this is schedule time with her like a legitimate appointment. This sounds impersonal, but I have found that connection and fun beget connection and fun. A weekend trip, movies, meals, painting pottery, a home project, local theater or sports, and the library are some ideas to get you started. From spending lots of money to spending very little, there are a million ways to connect with your daughter. Look for quality over quantity and, if possible, weave in something that brings you joy. It is easy to forget that joy is contagious, and our children love to see us happy and full of life.

Whether you use a physical or digital calendar, bring your daughter into the decision-making process. The process of choosing what to do can itself be fun! But remember: If you don’t seek to understand these new needs in your life, you will remain exhausted and wanting to escape. Get curious and look for support. Good luck.