The flight from London Heathrow to Atlanta is close to nine hours. That morning, after packing up and checking out of our rental apartment, our family visited the British Museum, cabbed to the airport, spent 1 hour in the check-in line, checked our bags, got to the gate and in our seats.
The airline attendant had to move our seat assignments, so we had three bulkhead seats and one middle seat in the row behind. We couldn’t keep our carry-ons on the floor until we were airborne, so every time the girls needed or wanted something, I had to get up and into the overhead compartment. I got up and down at least 5 times in the first hour.
I was tech support since their screens were in the armrest and not directly in front of them. I was their detective every time something got lost in their seats. I was also on dinner duty, trying to get them to eat real food and not spill their drinks. It took me two hours to watch one 30-minute show because I kept getting interrupted with requests and complaints and bickering. I was exhausted, sleep-deprived, muscle sore, and dreading our eventual landing when we had to deal with customs, getting on the shuttle, and driving back home with the physical and emotional baggage of my twins on my back.
Troy finally made me switch seats halfway through the flight, after I yelled at him for trying to help me. I spent those four hours seriously researching if post-partum depression could happen three and half years in, and if therapy was somewhere in my future.
How It Started
This trip to London was about two years in the making. It was meant to be a family trip with four other extended members. But with Omicron and the UK government, it ended up being just me, Troy, and the girls after last-minute cancellations. We know full well that vacations with toddlers are not “vacations”, but at least this time, we were supposed to have extra hands and dedicated adult time. That was no longer, and the stress of those 24-hours pre-trip bled into our week abroad.
We did our best in creating a memorable trip for A&Z. The girls loved spending Christmas somewhere new and they didn’t want to go back home. They loved the cabs and Paddington bear and the Christmas lights. They charmed everyone from waiters to receptionists. But that doesn’t mean the trip was without tantrums, whining, stubbornness, and playing around in restaurants.
Every night after they went to bed, I was fuming. My shoulders hurt from dragging our girls all over the city. I was mentally spent from diffusing toddler tantrums. I was angry crying. I snapped at Troy and the girls so many times. I had to cancel reservations that I was personally looking forward to. And just overall sad that the next day, we would have to do it all over again.
And even though we had books, cocktails, and Wi-Fi in our apartment to unwind, the only thing we had bandwidth for was watching bad action movies that we had already seen five times over.
When we got back and everyone asked how the trip went, it was very difficult to tell the truth. I loved it but hated it. And even though Troy was my partner the entire time, when the girls both want to hold my hand and not his, when they want me to carry them and not him, it makes me the default parent in their eyes whether we like it or not. I needed serious quiet time away from my kids to even begin to recover and deconstruct what was happening.
At least once a week, I see a click-bait article on parental burnout. I was surprised that besides it being an appropriate term, it’s actually becoming a clinical one.
Depending upon your level of parental burnout, the impact on your mental health may include:
- Brain fog
- Limited tolerance (shorter temper)
- Increased stress levels
- Feelings of isolation
- Poor sleep
- Obsessive-compulsive tendencies
The mental health effects of parental burnout can affect your overall health. Parental burnout can also affect your relationship with your partner. Its mental effects can lead to breakdowns in communication and increases in tension. These can lead to miscommunications, arguments, and resentment. (WebMD).
Doesn’t that sound fun?
And then to tack on another click-bait article, occasional self-care can sometimes not be enough because the causes of parental burnout run so deep. When asked, I usually just say, “it’s nothing, or it’s just a tough age, or it’s the normal parent stress”.
But normal parent stress doesn’t have your massage therapist seriously questioning your life choices. Yes, we got massages to undo the physical knots from this trip. Plus, it was a small treat to celebrate our wedding anniversary, since we couldn’t do it in London on the actual date.
After a couple weeks, we are somewhat back to normal but I admit that I’ve been very selective with my time and energy. Since this is a coffee chat post, I don’t want to proclaim that I have overcome parental burnout or that I have some magic cure for miraculously keeping your life together.
I know I’m not alone in my little vacation story. Every parent has one instance where they are deeply scared/embarrassed/ashamed of what parenting stress caused them to do. Whether it’s losing your temper, exploding from impatience, locking yourself in a closet, sticking your crying kid with your spouse while you drive away for any hour; recognize that burnout happens and that we should take our own mental health more seriously.
If you think you’ve been experiencing burnout or symptoms of burnout have affected your daily routine/relationships/sleeping habits, definitely communicate it to someone who can help. We are a big fan of seeking professional help, but small things like talking to your partner, delegating and prioritizing, or adjusting your schedule can make a positive difference.