As a mental health counselor, I spend a lot of time talking about the importance of self-care for parents. And until December of last year I was working with a stressful population where there’s a high rate of burn out among professionals in that field. While, for awhile, I enjoyed the change of routine from home to work, the fact that, at home I care for two children, and at work I take care of the emotional needs of people with severe mental disorders, it started to get wearing. I was ALWAYS taking care of someone. And, for the first time in my life, I even grew resentful of having my pets. Once the kids were in bed, they were just more people to take care of, and I just wanted some me time.
Since leaving my job and going into private practice I’ve been recovering from caregiver burn out. The fact of the matter was, though, my kids were wearing me thin. At first there was exhilaration over getting to spend so much more time with them as private practice affords a more flexible and less demanding schedule. But as the realities of taking care of two children five and under, one of whom has autism set in, it became more apparent I needed some time away.
While I’ve had the night or weekend kid free thanks to my parents, it never seemed like enough. So I was both excited and nervous when I decided to go with Andy to his work conference in San Diego. A whole week without the kids! How wonderful! And how scary! What if something happened to them while we were away? What if our plane crashed? What if the kids missed me so much that they were miserable the whole time?
The type of anxiety I have is the type that I worry until I’m on the plane. Once I’m on the plane, I’m fine. I think that until I get on the plane I always have the option of changing my mind and canceling the vacation, but once I’m on the plane, whatever will happen will happen, and there’s nothing I can do to change it, so there’s no use worrying about it. Sure enough, I got on the plane, and stopped worrying, and focused on the fact that for a whole week I wouldn’t even have to take care of a cat.
And everything turned out fine. My kids adore my parents and had a great time. The worst thing that happened was that Buddy got stung in the arm by a jellyfish while swimming in the Gulf of Mexico. Other than that they had a fun time at the beach, and amusement park, and aquarium, and everything else my parents could think of to take them to.
As for me, I took a lot of long walks by the coast, saw some sights, ate a lot of fresh seafood, caught up with some friends, and just enjoyed taking care of only me.
When we got back home, and while waiting for my dad to drop the kiddos off, I experienced a bit of post vacation blues. The weather in San Diego is a dream compared to the hot, humid weather I’m accustomed to here. Plus, no ocean to walk along. But once my dad brought my kiddos home, the blues dissipated instantly.
And after a few days of getting back into the swing of things, I finally feel as though I am completely recovered from the caregiver fatigue I was experiencing. I’m enjoying my kiddos more and feel as if my buckets of patience needed when dealing with small children have been replenished. My kids seem no worse the wear from being away from me for a week, and I think in the long term will benefit from having a rested mother.
What saddens me is I have worked with so many women who feel so much guilt over being away from their kids that they could never allow themselves to take some time away from them. They are tired, they are burned out, many of them have no interests outside of their children, but they desperately need a parenting break. Because if these last two weeks have taught me anything, is that you do a much better job of taking care of others when you are well rested and cared for.