Dealing With Parental Exhaustion
Where to turn when we feel we have no more to give
The responsibilities and accompanying exhaustion that come with parenting evolve over time. Parents of newborns quickly experience a shock to the system as they’re confronted with sleepless nights and the neediest human they’ve ever met. Fast forward a few years to young children and just keeping up with their bodies and mood swings makes falling asleep on the couch at 9 PM the easiest part of the day. I’m just entering the preteen/teenage years, and from what I can tell, if there’s a drop in physical demands it’s more than made up in the emotional ones.
Our days and nights are spent feeding hungry mouths, caring for the sick, breaking up fights, answering questions, fulfilling countless requests, transporting, teaching, coaching, encouraging, and playing. Some days we feel more like staff than parents. But you can’t quit this job. We don’t get days off, especially when we try to take them. We’re parents for better or worse.
The responsibility can become too much sometimes, and we can be tempted to throw in the towel. The sad truth is, some do.
So, how do we stay motivated? Where do we recharge?
A NON-PARENT WHO GETS IT
If there’s been anyone on earth who knows what this burden is like, it’s Jesus. No, he didn’t have children, but he knew what it was like to be in high demand, under-appreciated, and downright tired.
We get a glimpse of this in Mark 1:21–39 as we follow Jesus on a day of ministry.
In one day, Jesus went from teaching to exorcising a demon to healing a sick woman. Then after dinner, the whole town gathered to him for help, and he spent much of the night caring for them. This was a Sabbath day, by the way.
You’ve probably never experienced a day like this, but I’ll bet you can relate to some of it.
As parents, we’re constantly teaching our kids, whether they receive it gladly or not. We may not be casting out demons, but we come close some days with breaking up fights and diffusing tempers and bad attitudes. And we can definitely relate to the physical and emotional strain of caring for a sick child.
And who of us hasn’t topped off the day bombarded with countless other needs that quickly fill the evening. The day doesn’t end until everyone is in bed asleep, assuming that’s a reality in your home. You collapse in bed for a few hours of sleep before it’s time to get up and do it again.
KEEP MOVING. BUT FIRST…
Eventually, Jesus too got some much-needed sleep. But what he does the next morning is remarkable.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)
Before anyone else was awake, before the sun was even up, Jesus got alone with his heavenly Father to pray. When his disciples finally found him, he was ready to move on and continue his ministry. We don’t know exactly what he was praying about, but judging from his focus on the work at hand, it’s safe to say that time alone with God gave him the rejuvenation and direction he needed to keep moving. It wasn’t time to give up. The work was too important.
What about us? Where do we turn when we’re exhausted from the constant demands of parenting?
Too often we respond much differently than Jesus did. We turn to unhealthy habits. We make attempts to “get away”. We turn inward and become consumed by frustration, anger, or depression.
We need to turn to our heavenly Father in prayer. Real prayer. I don’t mean self-talk or meditation. I mean truly pouring our hearts out to the God who loves us and cares about our needs. I mean asking him for the help that only he can provide and seeking the guidance that only his wisdom can offer.
Follow Jesus’ example and receive the same refreshment and direction he did. It isn’t time to give up. The work is too important.