Avoid Parenting Burnout: Sharpen Your Saw

Avoid Parenting Burnout

Avoid Parenting Burnout – a Little Perspective

As parents of six children, it’s been a constant battle in life to avoid parenting burnout. Unfortunately, Liza and I understand it all too well with our own children. We get it – kids can run you ragged. Even a 1:1 scenario is unfair because they seem to come prepackaged with astronomical energy levels. It’s almost impossible to keep up!

Face it: You can’t win by cleaning up faster than they make messes. You’ve got to do things smarter. You’ve got to keep things in perspective, or you’re going to burn yourself out.

Liza and I began learning this principle when we had four kids under four (and no twins). It felt like all we were doing all day was changing diapers. We literally had a line item in our budget specifically for diapers and wipes!


The “Sharpen the Saw” Principle


If you’re going to avoid parenting burnout, you’re going to need to keep things in perspective. Parenting burnout gets triggered for a variety of reasons, but most of them are simply the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The root causes are actually more common than you might think.

In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey shared a short story as an introduction to the 7th Habit, and forms the foundation for how to avoid parenting burnout:

Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.

“What are you doing?” you ask.

“Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.”

“You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?”

“Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.”

“Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you inquire. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”

“I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!”

Dr. Covey then concludes this story with a simple message:

Habit 7 is taking time to sharpen the saw. It surrounds the other habits on the Seven Habits paradigm because it is the habit that makes all the others possible.

Astute readers will see where I’m going with this already: To avoid parenting burnout, you’ve got to take care of yourself.


The Four Dimensions of Renewal

To avoid parenting burnout, you’ve got to take care of yourself in at least four areas. Dr. Covey calls them the “Four Dimensions of Renewal,” and they are:

  • Physical
  • Social/Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Mental

Each of these items falls squarely in Quadrant II of the Time Management Matrix, meaning they are important, but not urgent. Parents living in Quadrant I (urgent and important), will typically neglect these four dimensions because they live a crisis-filled life. But living that life will contribute significantly to parental burnout, so it’s important to address time management issues to make room for these.

Assuming you’ve got the time management piece covered, let’s look at the Four Dimensions of Self Renewal.


The Physical Dimension

This dimension is pretty straightforward. To renew yourself physically involves taking care of your body. Eat right, exercise, get enough sleep, and avoid putting unhealthy things in your body (e.g. excessive sugar). Do those things and you’ll be well on your way. One thing you might want to keep in mind, though, is to not neglect muscle mass. Cardio is great, but make sure to also include strength training in your exercise program. According to an article published by McLeod, et. al. (2016),

…individuals over the age of 60 years, classified in the lowest third for strength, were 50 % more likely to die of all cause mortality than individuals in the upper third for strength. The same trend also applied when considering deaths associated with cancer, indicating that muscle strength, albeit correlative, has a protective effect from the incidence of cancer.

If you’re doing cardio without strength training, consider swapping a couple of days per week to include focusing on your muscles.


The Social/Emotional Dimension

This dimension largely involves connecting with others in meaningful ways. To avoid parenting burnout, you need to have positive and healthy interaction with others. In the context of parenting, I would like to highlight one small paragraph from Dr. Covey that I believe has great meaning:

There is intrinsic security that comes from service, from helping other people in a meaningful way. One important source is your work, when you see yourself in a contributive and creative mode, really making a difference. Another source is anonymous service – no one knows it and no one necessarily ever will. And that’s not the concern; the concern is blessing the lives of other people. Influence, not recognition, becomes the motive.

If you’re able to serve others – whether anonymously or overtly – you’ll find great renewal in the Social/Emotional Dimension. If your only social interactions during the day are with your children, then this service-based approach can help make those interactions meaningful as well. This is one of those times that perspective really can make the difference.


The Spiritual Dimension

For the religiously inclined, the Spiritual Dimension may involve connecting with God (or your religious deity of preference). This may come through prayer, through studying scripture/religious text, or other forms of formal or informal worship. But the main thing is connecting with the higher power to which you subscribe with more than just casual or fleeting thoughts.

For those not religiously inclined, the Spiritual Dimension may involve meditation, connecting with yourself, or pondering the big picture of life and where you fit in it.

Either way, the Spiritual Dimension means feeding the soul – making time for things that inspire you or elevate your spirit. It’s a critical element to avoid parenting burnout, and shouldn’t be neglected.


The Mental Dimension

The Mental Dimension involves developing your mind. This may come in the form of either formal or informal education. It may involve reading, writing, pondering particularly difficult challenges at work, or planning for important stages in life. Your brain is one of your most important assets, and investing in the Mental Dimension is one of the best ways to “sharpen the saw.”


Maintain Priorities to Avoid Parenting Burnout

If you’re struggling with burnout, remember to take a deep breath. The hard years are doing something to you that you can’t learn in any other way. They’re teaching you to be strong. To be patient, kind, generous, loving, and service oriented. But you have to keep yourself from breaking along the way and you do this by investing in yourself. By investing in the Four Dimensions of Self Renewal.

Because once your saw is sharp, even the biggest trees of life will fall.



What specific things do you do to sharpen your saw? Let me know in a comment, or Contact me to share your story.

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