Caretaker Burnout and the 5 Ways to Avoid It

Hey mama, good job.

I think most mothers have experienced burn out at some point in their motherhood journey.  With a never ending to-do list constantly running through their minds and somehow never enough time to get it all done, it can feel like a never ending hamster wheel that feels impossible to dismount.  Parents of special needs children have an everyday to-do list that is just as long if not longer. 

Researching the latest therapies, administering medication, phone calls, meetings, using medical equipment, endless therapy appointments, and caring for basic needs of their children can all take a toll on the mental and physical state of the parents.  After caring for mothers in my prenatal wellness practice for a decade, the one thing I have seen is the unshakable spirit of mothers.  We have cared for thousands of families who have special needs children, and as weary as the families may get mentally and physically, I am always in awe of the unshakable spirit that shows up when they have reached the end of their rope. 

The advice that I find myself giving on a daily basis is, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”  While this sounds cliche, the practice of self care and establishing a solid network of support can create resiliency during motherhood and prevent burnout as your race from appointment to appointment.  When we honor ourselves as caretakers, we show up more connected and come from space of balance and ease. 

I know self-care is almost non existent in caretakers of special needs children, so I wanted to take a minute to honor the silent warriors who are fighting a broken system.  The mothers and fathers who spend countless hours researching information and resources that are not readily available to their children.  The families who have made it their life mission to educate and empower other families who feel like they are on a sinking ship, and told to “just deal with it” from the medical system.  I want all of you to be seen and heard.  I’ve looked in your eyes, I’ve cried with you, I’ve researched with you, and no, it does not seem fair that our medical system does not have the answers that can truly help. 

The good news is that there is a community, like the Savants, that is fighting for you, educating you, and advocating for your accessibility to information that can be transformative in your child’s health and well being. 

Over the years of caring for mothers, I have seen that exhaustion both mentally and physically are a petri dish for anxiety and depression.  Unfortunately, rates of these mental disorders are higher in parents with special needs children due to overwhelm and fear of the unknown. 

Why don’t we start having conversations in the proactive model rather the reactive one? 

The proactive model of healthcare operates in prevention of disease both mentally and physically.  The reactive model reacts to the symptom with a treatment—that is usually a medication.  Moving towards a preventative, wellness based model is the largest pivot we can make when it comes to healthcare.  Examining nutrition, exercise, stress, and other lifestyle  factors in parents with special needs children can help prevent burnout and create a more balanced environment mentally and physically. 

Let’s take a look at 5 proactive ways to avoid burnout.

  1.  Grace upon grace. Define the things that are in your control and the things that are not.  Remember that there is no such thing as a perfect family, so defining what joy looks like for your family and changing the standard to progress not perfection.  Stewarding a child with special needs through this world can be a challenge, but when we let go of the things we cannot control, a peace of mind begins to take root. 
  • Community.  Building your support system is crucial in delegating the everyday stresses.  A strong community is your space to fall apart and be put back together again.  Your support system is the foundation for your self care and the safe haven we all need.
  • Rhythms of Renewal.  Establishing rhythms in your life can be transformative when it comes to your mental and physical health.  Create these rhythms with grace in mind.  If you miss a morning meditation or an after dinner walk, it’s okay.  Planning time in your schedule to nourish your mind, body, and spirit on a weekly basis can create balance in a chaotic world.  These rhythms can be anything from meal planning, a phone call with a friend, a morning run, meditation, breathing exercises, a chiropractic adjustment, massage, or remembering something you love like singing and creating space to do these things.
  • Living in the present.  The fear of the unknown can be paralyzing at times. There is a balance in honoring these feelings and their reality, but to not let them become our presence.  Seeing the God-given perfection of your child and breathing in the moments both wonderful and messy. 
  • Celebrate.  Sometimes it can feel like an endless journey of appointments and consultations.  If your little one hits a milestone, celebrate big!  Creating a culture of celebration in your family can have a positive impact for everyone involved.

If I can tell you anything it is you are not alone.  I am so thankful for the resources that the Savants are putting together and the community that they are building.  You are seen, and you are doing a great job.  I know it is hard, but you have the spirit of a warrior that does not surrender or give up.  Thank you for everything you are doing to make a difference in your child’s world.  For it is one soul at a time that we truly make a lasting global change.

In love,

Dr. Courtney Gowin

Bio: Dr. Gowin is a maternal health specialist and owns a prenatal wellness center that focuses on nourishing the mind, body, and spirit of women preconception into postpartum.  You can find more information about the NEST and her holistic practice here:

Start typing and press Enter to search

Bring The Savants to your inbox
By clicking "Subscribe," you agree to receive emails from The Savants and accept our web terms and conditions of use and privacy policy.