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Thursday, December 12, 2019

I ate marijuana edibles, and it eased my parental burnout and guilt about being a single dad

I ate marijuana edibles, and it eased my parental burnout and guilt about being a single dad

"It's all about your child now," a cashier said as he pointed at my 2-year-old son who squirmed in my arms while I bought groceries. I rolled my eyes. It was the umpteenth time a random stranger told me the painfully obvious. Of course it's all about him. Is his diaper dirty? I'll clean him. Is he hungry? I'll feed him. Is he hurt? I'll apply a band-aid.
What I didn't need was a reminder about the all-consuming nature of being a parent. What I needed was a reminder to check out. 
Parental burnout is real, and it's worse than it was in the past. Parents today are expected to pour more time, energy, and money into their children than past generations, yet there's been minimal improvement in government support such as paid leave and subsidized childcare. Parental burnout can lead to overwhelming exhaustion, depression, and feelings of inadequacy.
While financial factors certainly contribute to burnout, research shows that a parent's personality traits, such as being a perfectionist, actually account for more of a risk. 
For me, there was also the added stress that comes with being a single dad. 

I developed parental burnout, which led me to feel exhausted, overwhelmed, and depressed

I'm a co-parent who rides four trains a day to shuttle my son to his mother. It is exhausting. We were never married and constantly balance our separate lives while passing our child back and forth. It's not official custody. We just do what is best for him, which is hard to do.
The pressure on young families in the US is also panic-inducing. Good schools have waiting lists. Private ones are prohibitively expensive. So I practice intensive parenting and give the best of what I have. I read to him, sing to him, get the highest quality daycare I can afford and stack building blocks like a small towers. It leaves me wrung out like a rag. I rush to meet deadlines. I forget to cut my hair. I don't call friends. I have "Baby Shark" playing in a loop in my head. 

I felt guilty about not being able to give my son a traditional family unit, so I tried to be a 'perfect' dad

When my son was born, I held him in one hand and a copy of "Your Baby's First Year," a book about child development, in the other. It was like getting a PhD in baby.
How do I feed him? How do I cure a diaper rash? I threw myself into childcare and it numbed me to everything else in my life.
Months after he was born, his mother and I made our unofficial separation official. In order to compensate for failing at a family, I focused on being the dad of all dads. I buried any problems I couldn't deal with under a ton of dirty diapers. 
I talked of child-rearing constantly, even at a bar with friends or at a mentor's birthday party. I talked about how much I loved my son and the cool new words he could say or how he was running so well. I did not talk about the struggle to be everything all the time.

I didn't tell anyone I was depressed and exhausted, but it was clear to others 

After a year of co-parenting, I was a mess. My hair was a bunchy afro. My clothes were covered in baby vomit, urine and food; they looked like a painter's splattered overalls. I didn't tell anyone I was depressed and exhausted.
But my friends could see it for themselves. They said it was time for a psychedelic vacation. It wasn't a wild idea. I did LSD in college. A lot of us tripped at underground raves just outside of Boston in the '90s. But I was a dad now, so I resisted. 
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