The Danger Of ‘You’ve Got This’ When It Comes To Parenting

'We are a nation of burnout mothers who praise each other for being strong, but then proceed to sit behind the closed doors of our game faces feeling anything but,' says Anna Mathur.

Parental burnout

by Anna Mathur |
Updated on

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‘You’ve got this’. We cheerlead one another through rough days and tough parenting challenges, but what’s most important is that which follows. There is a hidden cost to digging deep and pushing through, and for the sake of our mental health, we need to unearth it.

'I’ve got this'

One afternoon, with two kids under two, I called my husband. He whispered outside a conference room as I sat on the cold tiles of the kitchen crying shoulder-shuddering tears of overwhelm. ‘I can’t do this’ I cried. Before donning large sunnies, a smile, and pushing the double buggy to a playgroup.

‘You’ve got this’ he said.

In labour, contractions rolling through my tired body, a guttural wail leapt from the very core of myself ‘I can’t do this’. Not long later a red-faced and wailing baby emerged

‘You’ve got this’ they said.

Recently, juggling my toddler whilst home schooling my sons, parental burnout meant each toy car driven over the radiator reverberated like thunder through my mind. A ball of molten rage formed by deprioritised needs and unexpressed feelings threatened to erupt. ‘I can’t do this’ I typed out in a message to a friend, before breathing deeply and printing another worksheet.

‘You’ve got this’ she said.

And I did ‘have it’. I scraped it together, I dug deep, I pulled through, I emerged out the other side of the meltdown, the maternity unit, the difficult morning.

We applaud ourselves and we verbally pat each other’s tired backs for making it through.

‘See? You’re stronger than you give yourself credit for’

When we say I can't do this and then we go and do it, it's not because we’re dramatic or doubting ability of strength, it’s because, in that moment we acknowledge we’re spending something we didn’t have to spare. And then we clap each other on the back and say ‘See! I knew you had it in you’.

Sometimes what we need most of all isn't purely to be clapped for what we've managed but to have the cost acknowledged, and to be supported in trying to save some of ourselves up for the next time.

The cost and debt of ‘You’ve got this’

Everything costs something.

Even a blooming flower costs the water and nutrients taken from the soil. We don’t think about what is depleted at the cost of the bloom, until what is lacking stops the flower from blooming at all. And thus is often the same with us, we don’t give enough recognition the cost of pushing through, until we are so depleted that we are forced to a halt, but burnout, illness, emptiness.

This happens on a personal level and a cultural level, which is why, I believe, we are a nation of burnout mothers who praise each other for being strong, but then proceed to sit behind the closed doors of our game faces feeling anything but.

There is cost for pushing through and digging deep into the dregs of our resources, and when that cost is overlooked, we find ourselves at risk of burnout, be it mentally, physically, emotionally, or all of the above.

The exhaustion, the aches and the pains, the stretched tendons and sinews, the stiches hidden away, they need acknowledgement. The emotions that were put aside for the sake of making it through? They require validating. The needs that were denied to make space for meeting the needs of the circumstances? They deserve to be tended to.

Lockown 3.0? ‘We’ve got this’…at a cost

The challenging time we’ve been through doesn’t end at the dates set by the government. As each date passes, the cost of this time on your heart, mind and body deserves to be recognised and attended to. It’s easy to ignore because it takes time to tend to yourself when the needs of those around you are shouting louder.

However I’ve come to realise that I need to tend to it more, because I need energy to rationalise anxious thoughts and make informed decisions. I even need energy to laugh (have you ever noticed how your sense of humour can be impacted by depletion? That’s why). I need energy to put the to-do-list aside to focus on enjoying the present moment every now and again. I need energy to parent consciously rather than on autopilot. I need energy to untangle my own emotions and meet my own needs.

Acknowledging my needs isn’t indulgence, it’s the foundations upon which everything I love and enjoy can stand firm.

When I ignore the cost of my pushing through, it touches everything. Acknowledging my needs isn’t indulgence, it’s the foundations upon which everything I love and enjoy can stand firm.

Sure, let’s continue to cheerlead one another through challenging moments and seasons of motherhood, let’s refuse to collectively lean into the illusion that it stops at the finish line. Let’s choose to stand with one another as we tend to the aching joints and the tearful, tired minds that come from the fight, even though the battle may have been won.

But how can we do this?

Are you okay? I’m not, I’m living at the end of my resources. These times are hard, because they are hard, not because we are failing. Much of what we feel is a normal, human response to the circumstance. Here are some things that are helping me and my clients:

Acknowledge the costs of pushing through. What has it cost you? What areas of your being now need some care and attention? How might you meet that need in a small way at least?

Check that you’re not labelling meeting your basic needs as an act of self-care. Being fed, watered and rested are acts of self-respect that even death row prisoners are afforded. When you’re in your reserves you need more than those basic acts to refill and refuel you. You need to go above and beyond. Talking to a friend, early nights, nourishing food, seeking and accepting support are some ideas.

Ensure that some people in your life aren’t just cheerleaders of your tough times, but are given the chance to listen to and validate the costs that come with them. Let them know that you don’t need them to ‘fix it’, just to listen and hear you as you process what that challenge has costed you.

Find compassion for yourself. It can be helpful to consider how you would advise or support a friend as we often find it easier to access compassion for others than ourselves.

Amend the expectations and standards you place upon yourself. Often the reason we don’t feel ‘good enough’ is simply because we were never made to be ‘enough’ to fulfil the number of roles we have to the standards we are set (by ourselves and others). How might you be kinder and more realistic in these standards?

Anna Mathur is an author and psychotherapist


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