By Anja van den Berg
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic reared its head, parents as a collective – across the world – showed one of the highest rates of burnout. Additionally, the group reported chronic feelings of ineffective parenting, intense exhaustion, and cynicism.
Research shows that single working parents have it even worse. Flying solo, their time is scarce and demands on them are high. The result of the global coronavirus pandemic was to put them under even greater strain. Resources like friends, family, childcare, carpools and after-school programmes have been cut. Burnout is the sad result.
Brigid Schulte says that burnout is not an isolated problem or personal failure. Schulte is the author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time. She explains that single parents should not feel guilt or shame since a culture of overwork has been prevalent even before the pandemic.
Paula Davis, from the Stress & Resilience Institute, says burnout is rooted in work systems and cultures that require holistic strategies to resolve. Examples of these are high work pressure with inadequate staff, lack of autonomy, low recognition or support, and absence of childcare.
Schulte says that organisations and public policy must step up to support single working parents. That said, she also adds that single parents can build self-efficacy and lessen at least some stress. Here’s how:
- Take a “stress inventory” to lower your demands
Burnout is about the mismatch between resources and demands. Start by taking a ”stress inventory” to clarify which tasks or situations are energising and which are draining. Try to minimise those events that drain your energy or make you feel negative. Then, cut yourself some slack and lower your (possibly unrealistic) expectations. If you are working from home while home-schooling your seven-year old child, for instance, don’t force yourself into a sparkling clean house or a home-cooked supper every night.
Work demands may be harder to control. Again, your stress inventory will be your first port of call. Investigate options to alleviate those parts of your job that’s making you feel disproportionality negative. Then, propose and present a plan to your manager to solve the problem.
- Approach other (single) parents with plans to help each other
Davis suggests single parents think broadly about how they can increase their resources. For instance, you can create a small grocery shopping group where one person visits the shop and takes the others’ shopping lists along. The person who is ”on duty” delivers the groceries to the others’ homes. Members of the group take turns. Of course, they should be reimbursed for the items purchased!
However, it’s not just money and time, says Davis, but also about strengths. If you’re optimistic, have hope, perseverance, a strong work ethic, a sense of humour, small moments of joy, how can you leverage your strengths more intentionally? Ask yourself who the important people in your life are and connect with more of them regularly – even if virtually.
- Keep track of daily progress
Behavioural scientist Adam Grant says the most robust buffer against burnout is a sense of daily progress. Make a list of the five most essential outputs you want to achieve this week – be realistic. Acknowledge the small wins and celebrate any success; don’t just focus on the things you have not been able to cross off your to-do list. Also, note the absence of certain things: you and your spouse didn’t argue today, your child didn’t object against supper, or your manager didn’t have any unrealistic expectations.
Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2021/06/combating-burnout-as-a-single-working-parent