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May 15, 2009

This Wonderful Life: Burned out? Join the club

The other morning, amid the general din of breakfast requests and morning routine meltdowns, I heard an interesting statistic on the radio: One third of working mothers surveyed by CareerBuilder reported that they were burned out. One third.

Not tired, not dragging, not drained but burned out.

Happy Mother’s Day! I know this will come as a shock to all you darling readers, but being a parent is tough. And if you’re a parent in a dual-income family, the difficulty of doing your best at both family and job responsibilities compounds faster than an interest rate on an overlimit credit card.

And it’s not just hard for mothers, although they may feel the work/life imbalance more acutely. Fathers are stretched thin, as well. The days of half-engaged or disengaged fathers are quaint history, or should be. The majority of dads I know would never mistake “parenting” their children for “babysitting” their children. (Hint: Parents can’t babysit their own children, only someone else’s.)

The economy is exacerbating the situation, spreading anxiety over money and employment far and wide. Even a job you like feels different when you think you have no other options. The survey also reported longer work hours for 30 percent of mothers who work for companies that have laid off people.

Some 14 percent of working moms has taken on a second job to help ends meet.

Just reading those statistics about burned-out parents is enough to deflate me.

Burned-out parents practice burned-out parenting. Believe me, I know.

Burned-out parenting breeds morning routine meltdowns. And routine morning meltdowns. It leads to even more stress and guilt and burned-outness. And it leads to kids who grow up thinking that it absolutely normal to grow up, have a family and get burned out. How do you fix it? Most people - many of the most burned-out people - can’t just pull up stakes and switch jobs and realign their work/life balance equations. And it’s easy enough to extol the benefits of personal downtime, physical activity and creative, quality family time.

Those things really do recharge your physical and emotional batteries. But try giving another To-Do to a mom with two jobs, a few kids and zero time or energy to spare.

Here’s a question: What if communities truly put the needs of children first? What if the burnout statistic was seen as a shocking public health threat that deserved immediate attention? If a third of all working mothers contracted H1N1, you can bet that all manner of public and private resources would come together to solve the problem.

Friends and neighbors would help each other out to the best of their ability. Laws and policies would change. Innovations would happen.

Quality child care would be more accessible. Families would be welcome in a broader spectrum of settings - not just fast-food restaurants and playgrounds.

Schools would make it effortless for working parents to stay connected to their children’s days.

Looking back over the last several years of CareerBuilder’s Mother’s Day surveys, the results are similar. Year after year, mothers report that their jobs adversely affect their relationships with their children. They report missing significant life events in their children’s lives. They report feeling trapped financially and unable to make decisions that would improve their families’ lives. And those are just the mother’s answering a survey. CareerBuilder also conducts Father’s Day surveys, and the results are incredibly similar.

This isn’t good for children.

And things that are bad for children end up being bad for all of us. Elizabeth Trever Buchinger just slapped a Mr. Yuck sticker on the economy. You can connect with her at www. moremindfulfamily.wordpress. com or email her at VillageWordsmith@gmail. com.