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Dealing with parental burnout

Updated on: 02 September,2022 06:57 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Rosalyn D`mello |

Prioritising myself amid balancing the prospect of a full-time job, conducting a week-long workshop, and continuing other initiatives while being our child’s primary caregiver

Dealing with parental burnout

Walking through the vineyards on the way to the woods. Pic/Rosalyn D’Mello

Rosalyn D’MelloBy the time the week had begun I had already hit my threshold. It was becoming increasingly difficult to tap into my dwindling reserves of patience and kindness, not only towards others but also towards myself. August has been an intense month. Funnily enough, a ‘memory’ that popped up reminded me that in 2020, when I had first moved to Tramin, August had been similarly demanding. Back then I had balanced different jobs, from babysitting to cataloguing art books for a private collector to apple harvesting, besides intellectual work. Two years since, I found myself balancing the sudden prospect of a full-time profile which landed in my lap so conveniently I couldn’t refuse, then conducting a residence-based workshop for MA students of Peace Studies at the Innsbruck University over a week while continuing the full-time copywriting job, managing other self-initiated projects while still being our child’s primary caregiver. 

I was experiencing a textbook version of what is called parental burnout. Entering the week when my stay permit was no longer valid as a document that offered mobility within the EU added to the swelling feeling of claustrophobia. I began to crave alone time. In fact, I was able to identify that its absence was making me feel lonely in my experience of everything. I had no time to process my feelings, and the direct consequence of it was that I was starting to stock up on resentment and envy. So I quickly researched parental burnout, which resulted in suggestions about the vitality of looking after oneself. One site proposed walking as an excellent form of self-care. But I walk almost every day, I thought, especially with my child. Then, on Sunday morning, I woke up and decided to walk alone.

I simply put on a pair of shorts, a T-shirt, and my new mountain-friendly running shoes, left our child in my partner’s care, and took off. It was the first time I would walk into and through the woods alone. I had gone through the route multiple times with my partner. I had always loved the rule he often enforced, that once we entered the green-pole barrier that formally marked the beginning of forest territory, we should remain in a state of silence. I found that for the first 20 minutes my thoughts were centred primarily on managing my anxieties. I was going through lists in my head, thinking about all the things I would like to alter about my current routine, indulging in wishful thinking about what constituted the right kind of logistical support when one is a working mother, trying to decide what assumed a greater priority, learning Italian or learning to drive, and wondering when I would get to return to India without the fear of not being able to return to Europe… And then suddenly, at some point, I arrived at a state of stillness, as if all the nervous energy and anxious thoughts had bubbled over and evaporated. I felt calmer and was able to locate myself. I could feel the pressure of my feet upon the ground, I could hear the leaves rustling, could smell the moistness of the damp earth and hear the birds chirping. I began noticing more intently the vegetation, little wayside flowers in myriad colours and different shades of green that occupied the mountainous terrain. I realised it was indeed a privilege to inhabit such a proximity to the forest. 

I’m still working out a routine that allows me to repeat this walk first thing in the morning. I am unsure how it will feel as we move closer to autumn and these early hours will be a lot colder. The days I managed even a 40-minute walk after waking up were days when I found myself at my most patient and unnerved best. I felt a lightness in my step and felt so good about being able to tap into my body and draw strength from within its core…how I used to feel when I was able to exercise regularly during the first lockdown when I was in Delhi, emptying out my apartment. 

The human body was really not designed to be tethered to a chair. It is in movement and in symbiosis with nature that it feels most alive and animated. Attempting to reclaim walking alone has become my way of trying to reclaim my solitude after the life-altering fact of motherhood. It’s not always possible, and I try to be kind to myself on days when I am not able to go out because I’ve had a rough night. But I like having this new pursuit which has me gradually re-arranging my life in order to make time for my solitude. 

In prioritising myself, I am able to maintain the sense of wholeness that I had worked so hard to arrive at during my therapy. 

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx

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