"Everything's going wrong," my daughter sobbed on my shoulder.
Eventually we came to the conclusion that just two things were actually off track in her life, but in that moment it felt like everything to her.
I can relate – and I know a lot of other parents can too.
Call it what you will – burnout or simply Term Four – lots of us are feeling the fog in our brains and the weight on our shoulders at this end of the year. We can see that our kids are exhausted near the end of a big year of school, but us parents are just as fatigued.
Parenting expert and psychotherapist Dr Karen Phillip says this is pretty common.
"Towards the end of the year parents can experience a type of burnout," she explains. "No doubt the year has been busy, so much running around with the kids, running the home, looking after others, working, and the list continues."
We certainly underestimate the energy and emotional and mental space that all these activities take during the year. And the problem is that, just as we're ready to wind down, we're expected to ramp our efforts up again.
"By year's end we want to stop and have a break, yet Christmas is upon us, so more work is needed this time of year," says Phillip.
"Gift buying, planning, parties, organising Christmas breakfast, lunch and dinner, wrapping, planning – and fatigue is upon you again."
Do you have end-of-year burnout?
Phillip says end-of-year burnout boils down to one thing: "Burnout happens when we fail to allow ourselves time to recharge during the year."
Yep, that sounds familiar. For me, the result of a big year of commitments and looking after everyone else has culminated in my impatience, feeling ready to throw in the towel for many of the commitments I have, and honestly I think I could sleep for a week straight.
The burnout might have hit you differently. "When we're burnt out we become irritable, annoyed over minor things, frustrated, our mind fails to focus as we are so tired," says Phillip. "Physical and mental exhaustion hits and everything starts to feel like an effort."
How to ease the burnout
While many of us would like to just run away, there are more realistic ways to ease the feeling of burnout at this time of year.
- Get out! The best way to deal with burnout is to escape parenting responsibilities for a short time. "To manage burn-out we need to have a night out or better still a weekend away, just you and your partner, no kids," suggests Phillip.
- Get as much sleep as you can.
- Spend some time alone. "Safeguard your 'me time'," advises Phillip. "When you can get even 10 to 15 minutes a day to yourself to walk or sit quietly and relax, things start to rebalance."
- Ease the pressure and put things back into perspective. "If you are a perfectionist this adds additional pressure, so adjusting your own self expectation may remove some of your self imposed pressure," says Phillip.
- Listen to your own advice. When my daughter was feeling like her life was out of control recently I suggested, "Take a bit of time to cry and feel frustrated, and then we'll do some problem solving." "There is no solution," she replied. "There's always a solution."
We'd all do well to remember that at this time of year.