Becoming a mom means becoming an expert at juggling the needs of everyone except yourself: balancing work, the needs of your children, completing all of your household chores, doing the groceries, making medical appointments, and taking care of everything else involved in raising children can be physically and emotionally draining. Parenting is not an easy job. Although it is incredibly rewarding, at the best of times parenting can be hard work, but when your child has additional needs that consume your time and dominate your family life, you may feel that you need a break, that you can’t cope, and succumb to care giver burnout. When you have a child or children who have high needs (be those medical needs or mental health needs) this caregiver burn out is often referred to as parental compassion fatigue, a medical condition which is determined by being overwhelmed by the continual need to provide compassion and constant caregiving for someone you love.
What is Compassion Fatigue?
Compassion fatigue is a term that was first coined amongst health care providers, a group that are known for building careers around the need to provide consistent compassion. Compassion fatigue is effectively experiencing a sense of helplessness and an inability to provide adequate help when an individual is responsible for caring for someone who is in a great deal of pain, and whose pain and suffering seems insurmountable and never ending. Compassion fatigue is characterised by mental and emotional symptoms such as anger, feelings of hopelessness, depression and despair, irritability and low self-esteem as well as physical symptoms such as frequent headaches, Gastrointestinal complaints, and frequent sleep disturbances.
Compassion fatigue can lead to a profound shift in the way that you view the world, and it can also affect how you view your children, causing you to lose patients with them and lose the will to give them support. Because of this, it is essential that parents who feel they are suffering from compassion fatigue seek help and support as soon as possible.
What Can You Do If You Think You Are Affected?
It can be hard to take time for yourself when you have a family to look after who depend on you, however taking time to look after your own wellbeing is essential in order to help to overcome the symptoms of compassion fatigue. Every parent already possesses the tools that they need to recover from compassion fatigue, but cultivating a life outside the confines of your family takes time and support: it also means overcoming the mom-guilt that is in-built in all moms and leaving in your children in the care of others in order to gain the respite and reprieve that you so desperately need. But both for your health, and ultimately the health of your family, finding this balance is vital.
Make sure that you are exercising regularly, for at least 30 minutes every day, take the time to eat healthy and nutritionally balanced meals, and accepting support and asking for help whenever you need it can all help you to overcome the condition more rapidly, and return to a place where your mental and physical health are back in check.
It’s important to remember that no one is to blame for compassion fatigue. It is a natural reaction to being placed in the stressful position of caring for a high needs child and is often nothing more than a physical reminder that you need to care for yourself as well as caring for your family. Although it may sound like a cliché, a healthy and happy mom is integral to having a healthy and happy family.
Helen Young is a writer who left the hurly burly of working in finance when she became a mom to her two children. She and her husband, Phillip decided to home school them as soon as they were of the right age and feel it’s been the best decision all round.
“Parenting and compassion: the neurobiology of stress”, Dr James Dobson, http://drjamesdobson.
“Caregiver stress and compassion fatigue”, Healthy Place: America’s Mental Health Channel, http://www.
“Compassion fatigue: Is it happening to your family?”, Recovery.org, http:/
“Transforming compassion fatigue: key strategies for helpers and caregivers”, Hopeful parents, http://www.
“Recognising compassion fatigue”, The compassion fatigue awareness project, http://www.
“Compassion fatigue: What it is and how to deal with it”, Mamas Health, http://www.
“The impact of burnout, compassion fatigue, and compassion satisfaction on foster parenting”, by McLain, Kimberly Bradford, Ph.D., STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK AT BUFFALO, http://gradworks.umi.