According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, stamina is “the bodily or mental capacity to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity,” and “the moral or emotional strength to continue with a difficult process, effort, etc.” When you’re in the thick of parenting, it can feel like you are running out of stamina—especially during emotional, stressful, and difficult times.
I interviewed Allison Posell on the Not by Chance Podcast to discuss what parental stamina is, how to build it, and what to do when it runs out. Here are four key takeaways from our conversation that you can implement into your life to increase your parental stamina and avoid burnout.
What is Parental Stamina?
Allison has been practicing mental health counseling for the past 18 years, and prior to being a therapist, she was a nurse in the Air Force—so she definitely has been in many situations that require stamina and involve burnout. She says, “When I think stamina, I think strength….We do difficult tasks all the time. It takes stamina to do them over time in a way that you have something left over for when you need energy again.”
Allison adds: “Where we get into trouble with our stamina is when we continue to function on auto-pilot until we are burned out. We practice reactive parenting instead of proactive parenting.”
Allison explained this in a story about one of her daughters who had a difficult time coping when she didn’t get her way. As a way to express her frustration, her daughter would flush things down the toilet, which would ultimately clog and cause the water to drip down the walls and onto the furniture, carpet, and computer. Because it had been going on for so long, they would recognize the sound of the water and move the couch and computer out of the way rather than face the problem. This is a prime example of living in a reactive state of mind to survive.
To avoid getting to the point of burnout, it’s important to know how to increase parental stamina and recognize when you need to recharge mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Here are four things Allison suggests to maintain awareness of your energy levels and change course if necessary.
Know the Difference Between Survival and Sustainability
When parenting gets rough, it’s easy to fall into survival mode. Are you on auto-pilot? Take a step back and ask yourself if you are practicing reactive or proactive parenting. When you’re just trying to survive, you might also withdraw from activities and people that fill you up—which ultimately will lead to faster burnout. It’s important to fill your cup so you can sustain yourself and your relationship with your co-parent.
Celebrate the Small Victories
When everyone in the family is nearing the end of their rope, one of the best things you can do is realize how far you’ve come and celebrate the small victories in your daily life.
Allison says, “Stamina is such a vital part of watching what’s happening with the family and being that voice to encourage people not to be angry….And when we celebrate the progress they make, we’re actually giving them courage, which is encouragement.” When you lift each other up, stamina increases and everyone is stronger for it.”
Visualization Can be Helpful During Stressful Times
One of the best ways to stay grounded is to take time for yourself. It’s easy to focus on everyone else—especially when your kids are being difficult or giving you a hard time. However, self-care really is one of the best things you can do as a parent not only for yourself but for your children. There are many different ways you can practice self-care, and it will look different for everyone.
Allison suggests practicing visualization to avoid burnout and increase parental stamina. If you can spare five minutes, go to a quiet place in your house and close your eyes. Visualize yourself in your happy place—whether it’s the beach, the mountains, with loved ones, etc. When you let yourself visualize your happy places, it can help you keep going strong.
Stick to Your Margins
If you’ve ever worked with Microsoft Word or Google Docs, you know that documents have set margins. If you want to fit a lot of words onto one page, you can mess with those margins and widen them to pack in more information. Allison says our life has margins as well and when we try to pack too much inside, we can stretch ourselves beyond our limits in an unhealthy way.
Instead of taking on more than you can handle, set your margins and abide by them. This will help you keep up your stamina and make you a better parent overall. Again, you can’t pour from an empty cup, and sticking to your boundaries or margins will help keep your cup full.
There are some days when you feel like you could take on the world, while others may feel daunting and discouraging. It’s important to recognize when you are nearing burnout so you can take care of yourself and keep being the wonderful parent you are.
For more information about this topic, listen to “Parental Stamina: What It Is and How to Build It” on the Not by Chance Podcast with Dr. Thayne and Allison Posell.