Health & Well-being

When life weighs you down

Parenting Place coping with life lethargy

The past few years in New Zealand have been big. Scratch that, huge. We’ve collectively navigated a pandemic, multiple lockdowns, a series of devastating weather events, increasing financial pressures and a less-than-average summer to boot (North Islanders, we’re looking at you!). As a result, ‘parental fatigue’ has taken root and is affecting many families across Aotearoa right now.

The year is only just getting started, but for many of us there’s a lingering feeling of lethargy – of running on an empty tank. Anecdotally, some of our kids are also feeling a bit ‘meh’ about the year ahead.

What’s going on and why are we feeling this way? We talked to one of our family coaches, Sheridan Eketone, to help us make sense of this unexpected exhaustion and find renewed hope for the remainder of 2023.

Is lethargy legit? Are other whānau feeling like this too?

SHERIDAN: Yes, absolutely. This is certainly a very common theme in family coaching right now. Over these past three years, the world has experienced a period of change unlike any other. We’ve been through a lot as a nation and as individuals, and for many of us, managing our own deep-seated fatigue while navigating tough seasons with children in the mix adds even more pressure.

It’s understandable that there is a tangible sense of unease and uncertainty for families at present. Pre-2020, life seemed reasonably predictable, and that predictability is something many of us are longing for again. Our kids included. Children have had their own internal challenges throughout the last few years, and as we attempt to move back into a sense of normality, it can be really hard for them to adjust and make sense of it all.

In this current moment, when we’re feeling the weight of the world, what are your key tips for coping?

Firstly, focus on simplicity. One of the gifts of the long lockdowns was that we were given an opportunity to evaluate our priorities in life. Many of us realised that it's our relationships and family that are most important to us – staying together, staying healthy and staying home.

We have now slipped back into living our typical, busy lives in full force again, even though parents and kids alike may not have felt ready to re-enter the hectic rat race. Many of us simply don't have the energy or desire for that anymore. But old habits die hard, so we need to think carefully about what we want to focus our energy on now, to allow space for recovery.

Old habits die hard, so we need to think carefully about what we want to focus our energy on now, to allow space for recovery.

As we consider the shape and pace of our days, it helps to ask ourselves questions like:

• What would it look like to schedule in downtime?

• What would it look like to not fill the week with activities, but rather block out space for parents and kids to have time in nature, to enjoy unstructured play, to simply breathe and think. Taking this time each week refills our emotional tanks which gives us better capacity for life.

Do our kids need to have extra-curricular stuff on every day after school or are they drained too? Do they need more time to simply be and to unwind, just like we do?

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The other key right now is self-care. I remind parents of this all the time – we can’t pour from an empty cup; we absolutely need to take good care of ourselves so we can take good care of our whānau. Self-care looks like all those things we know are good for us, even if we don’t always do them: healthy eating, getting enough sleep, drinking lots of water, going to the dentist... You know, boring but good stuff! I also encourage parents to carve out time in the week to do something that brings them joy: a beach walk, a coffee date, a good book on the couch, a creative project, some gardening...

Be kind to yourself and be kind to your partner - extra grace for each other is always helpful in times of pressure and fatigue. And the other thing I think we ALL need a LOT more of is fun. We need to play! Laughter is such good medicine; joy is good for our souls and is also proven to be good for our stressed brains.

The other thing I think we ALL need A LOT more of is fun. We need to play!

This season has been so hard, I’m desperate for life to go back to normal… is that realistic?

That is the big question at present. I think it's important to remember that life is full of different seasons – there are ups and downs in all aspects of our lives. Sometimes we are cruising through a beautiful valley, sometimes we’re plodding up a steep, rocky hill and it’s hard work.

Whatever the season, connection is key. Research has shown that relationships are our greatest predictor of well-being. As parents, we can take confidence in the fact that when we stay close and connected with our kids, we’re helping them cope with life’s current stressors, but we’re also investing in their future. Consistent and reliable connection with parents and caregivers sets kids up for navigating their own challenges later in life, because challenges will always come.

At what point do we think, ‘Hey, I need more help with these feelings?’ And where do we get that help?

Definitely seek help when you or your child don’t seem able to bounce back. This could look like talking to your partner, a friend or whānau member, a family coach, a psychologist or a counsellor. We all benefit from having someone to ‘compare notes’ with. It’s especially valuable to have someone in our world we can be honest with about the things we’re finding hard. There is real power in talking through our challenges with someone who can listen and lend support.

As parents, we want to be brave and lend our kids our calm. To do this we need to put on our own oxygen mask first, so that we have capacity to be with our children in their struggles. That's why self-care is so important and why we need to do our inner work, making sure that we are okay first and foremost. Taking care of ourselves is also a great opportunity to model to our children how to prioritise well-being and be kind to themselves too.

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Parenting Place

For over 25 years, Parenting Place has been here offering support and advice to New Zealand parents. We think that with the right support, parenting any age and stage can be a relatively stress-free and fun experience. You're doing great!

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