How I Avoided Parental Burnout this Summer

Summertime parenting is the worst.

The kids are always around–bored, sweaty, and always buzzing with energy.

In those glorious B.C. summers (Before Children), Cindy and I would sleep until 10, split English muffins with Kelly Ripa, take naps at noon and share a frozen cocktail at 4.

But eight years later and three children later the landscape of our lazy summers have changed considerably. We’ve gone from sipping frosty Blue Moons in the shade to crawling  head-first into clammy, germ filled moon-bounces to fish out one of our crying kids.

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“Summer, Summer, Summertime/ Time to sit back and unwind.” Dammit no it’s not Will! You and Jazz lied to us!!!

Once a hammock of relaxation, our summers are now one long parenting triathlon, a Tough Mudder of exploding juice boxes, forced timeouts and deep breaths.

This summer however, I did find some relief. You could find me being constructively selfish every morning between 6:15 and 7:30 exercising, writing, reading and listening to music.

Constructive selfishness

In the waning days of every school year one of my final lectures explores the concept of  constructive selfishness– attending to your own needs while remaining grounded and self-aware. I tell my graduating seniors that this is their time to focus on their goals, dreams and desires. However, it’s important that during this constructively selfish journey to understand that their choices have consequences, that they are still apart of a greater community, they  have a responsibility to the world and that constructive selfishness does not afford them the right to be an asshole.

Destructive Selfishness

It’s pretty simple. You cut lines, steal from children, don’t carry your dinner plate to the sink, spit indoors, don’t flush and don’t hold doors. You always pick the movie and you recline 40 minutes into your 14 hour flight to Barcelona. Your needs, pleasure, and desires supersede everyone and everything else on planet Earth. In short, you’re an asshole.

A Case for the Selfish Parent

On our final day of summer vacation with our kids, Cindy and I dropped the cretins off at the babysitters, got massages at Hand and Stone,  enjoyed low-calorie salads and green tea at Panera Bread and went shopping for chinos at Banana Republic ( Can we be anymore lamely suburban?)

Later that day, while scrolling through Facebook I saw plenty of good parents posting pictures with their smiling children at the zoo, on the beach, in a pool on their last day of summer together.

Were Cindy and I being selfish? You’re damn right. Did we feel parental guilt? Nope. Does that make us assholes? Maybe… but at least we’re relaxed assholes.

I believe being constructively selfish makes you a better parent, a better person. Even though it sounds all Saint Kathrine Drexel– absolute selflessness is dangerous business. Look, I love my kids ( as much as you love yours) but parental burnout is real. I’ve felt it, seen it and heard it.  (Next time you’re driving near a Dodge Caravan that has those stick family decals on the back window, turn down your radio and listen closely… you will most certainly hear the blood-curling shrieks of parental burnout.)

As parents, our fundamental job is to care for others. And even though it’s necessary and healthy and humbling to put others needs first I’ve learned that devoting time to yourself gives you more energy to devote yourself to others. It’s a beautiful reciprocal.

Yes, selflessness is admirable but it’s not sustainable. And parenting is all about sustainability– especially in those dog days of summer.

Be well,

Jay

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