This week’s question:
How do you balance your personal/work life and how do you deal with provider burnout?Stressed In St. Louis
This is a great question and something I have recently found myself dealing with. In all honesty, I’m probably NOT the right person to give advice on this topic, however, I CAN empathize.
I’ve been doing childcare in some capacity for over 25 years. Caring for young children is a very rewarding profession but can be draining if we don’t remember to take care of ourselves. This can be super difficult; especially when we have small children still at home. There is always a long list of responsibilities outside of childcare hours…the daily tasks of raising our children, running a household, maybe we are also trying to go to school at night or even have aging parents ourselves were caring for as well. The list is long and pulls us thin.
In the last few months I’ve felt burnout creeping in and I was becoming unhappy. I know deep down in my soul that childcare is my passion and my purpose, and I want to keep it that way, so I knew it was time to make some changes.
I first began by taking a close look at my program itself and its policies. I was working extremely long hours. Children are typically in our care for ten hours or longer per day. Most of us have set open and close times, and I found myself becoming lax on allowing those hours to be stretched longer and longer.
I decided to have an open and honest conversation with my parents. I went back to my original hours of availability and implemented a new “wrap around fee” for extended care. Most states have overtime laws, and most employees would refuse to work overtime for free. Childcare providers should be no different. Just because we work from home doesn’t mean we need to be available 24/7. Many providers have a difficult time saying no, but its imperative we learn to speak up and respectfully use our backbone. Along the same lines, don’t be afraid to schedule in vacation days. YOU DESERVE THEM. Parents WILL understand and make other arrangements.
I then took a look at my environment. Family childcare programs that our in our own living space can sometimes feel crowded and overwhelming. I spent some time decluttering and reorganizing the children’s space and our home. My grandmother had a saying “A place for everything and everything in its place.” As childcare providers, many of us like to collect a lot of materials to have on hand. Our spaces many never be perfectly tidy, and that’s ok…but pairing down and a good organizational plan is key to controlling the “mess” and helps make me feel calmer.
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Next, I decided to talk to my physician about my anxiety and exhaustion and what my next steps should be. He ran some blood work and tests, and we found some interesting results that although are easily fixable, they may be contributing to my anxiety and sleep deprivation. I would also highly suggest you reach out to a therapist or other mental health provider. There is a stigma around mental health, and people sometimes even find it taboo to talk about. This is preposterous to me. Our mental health does not define us, it is simply a part of us, and sometimes having someone to talk to is enough. Different therapies and medications may be necessary, and that’s totally ok too. Taking care of our mental health is just as (if not more) important than our physical health and doesn’t mean for one second that you’re not strong or are less than capable.
I also decided to carve out some time to take care of my physical needs. I am eating healthier and exercising. I spend some time every morning stretching and doing gentle yoga. I take my dog for a long walk at night, do Zumba or weightlifting. Exercise is not only good for our physical health, but for our mental health as well. I have found it to be a great stress reliever.
There are many other ways to offer self care. You need to find the things that make you feel relaxed and rejuvenated and DO THEM. Sometimes, that may even mean carving out time to DO NOTHING. I know how difficult it is to put yourself first when so many other people need you. Childcare providers are givers by nature. Remember to give to yourself FIRST, because if you don’t take good care of you, you can’t take good care of others.
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