When was the last time you ran out of gas? And also, when was the last time your VEHICLE ran out of gas?!? For me… both occurred today.
You see, I drive old beat up vehicles. Alarms and buzzers are going off constantly, my dashboard has more flashing lights than a rave, there’s no clock in the one and in the other not all of the gauges in the instrument panel work. The gas gauge is one that hasn’t worked in over a year now.
So, I began logging kilometers and how many liters I filled up at each stop. The consequences of my first mistake showed up on Christmas Eve. We were driving back home from a Christmas program at church and in the middle of a six-lane highway, our vehicle just died. We were lucky enough to coast into a gas station that was still open just 500 meters away.
But today was perplexing. All year, I’ve gotten almost identical gas mileage every single time, but then today I discovered (on the side of the road no less) that my vehicle had guzzled a lot more gas than normal. I thought I had enough gas in the tank to get me about 82 more kilometers, but as it turns out I was running on fumes.
“Running on fumes”... that just might be the title of my forthcoming book! It’s how I feel most days. I know a lot of my friends (who are also parents) feel this way too. “Burnt out” is another phrase I hear a lot. Now while I believe this term is misused a lot of the time, as “parental burnout” is a severe and distinct psychological phenomenon that is separate from parents feeling generally stressed and exhausted; we each have our reasons for why we use that term and why we feel this way - none more significant than another, just different.
For one of my friends it’s because they are breastfeeding a newborn and having to wake up two or three times a night. For another it’s because they’re a single parent, working and raising their kids by themselves. For me, it’s the added element of having special needs kids that has depleted my energy and left my gas tank on empty.
Just like my vehicle, I can only keep going for so long before I need to fill up again. Ironically, I think this is a wake up call or very literal warning that if I let my vehicle run out of gas, I’m probably going to run out of gas next.
Being a parent is harder than ever, and “self-care” isn’t enough to fix the fact that we are running on fumes or worse, legitimately burnt out. I think this past year has been both good and bad for parents. Good in the fact that I feel the bar was lowered a bit. With more parents working from home now, and with kids having spent the better part of the year at home with those working parents, perceptions have changed.
But even though the bar has been lowered and the “perfect parent” has moved aside and given room to the “good enough parent”, it has still been a tough year for everyone. More parents have burnt out this year, than any other year. Now while I fully believe that having “a village” around you would make things infinitely better, it’s not always possible. When we don’t have a support system like that in place, we need to ensure we’re being kind with ourselves, and not holding ourselves to the expectation of being that "perfect parent".
So, the next time you glance at the (hopefully working) fuel gauge in your vehicle, ask yourself how much fuel is in YOUR tank, and what plans you have in place to prevent your tank from hitting empty.