- Parental burnout is caused by chronic parenting stress, with severe symptoms and consequences.
- Being a perfectionist, less agreeable, and lack of social support are some primary causes.
- Adjusting expectations and putting relationships first can reduce parental burnout.
What is Parental Burnout
Parental burnout occurs when chronic parenting stress severely overwhelms the parent’s ability to cope. The demands placed on parents outweigh the resources available, causing exhaustion syndrome.
Raising children can be a wonderful and rewarding experience.
But parenting is also one of the most demanding and taxing jobs. It requires continuous effort, attention, and thoughtfulness.
Having a child can place a great deal of stress on the parents from birth.
Children bring with them daily hassles (e.g., schoolwork), acute stressors (e.g., sibling fighting), and chronic stressors (e.g., behavioral problems).
When parents lack the resources to handle chronic stress, they become at risk of parental burnout 1.
Parent burnout differs from ordinary parenting stress in that it goes far beyond that2.
Stress is inevitable in parents’ lives from time to time, and that’s perfectly normal.
But parental burnout is a state of overwhelming exhaustion brought about by the chronic depletion of inadequate resources. This serious condition has severe consequences for both parents and children.
Parental Burnout During Lockdown
Parenting is hard, even at the best of times. But the recent worldwide lockdown made it worse, a lot worse.
The closure of daycares, schools, and nonessential businesses caused significant disruption to families’ everyday life.
Working from home while simultaneously parenting and homeschooling was a new challenge for parents.
Many people had financial concerns as they lost their jobs or experienced reduced income. They could not pay their bills since they did not have emergency savings to cover basic living expenses3.
Chronic exposure to overwhelming stress escalated to parental burnout for many parents during this difficult time.
Although the media focused a lot on maternal burnout, parenting burnout is not exclusive to mothers.
Studies have found that mothers and fathers who experience parental burnout exhibit the same symptoms and antecedent conditions4.
Symptoms of parental burnout are similar to job burnout, but they are unique in the parenting context. Here is how you can spot signs of burnout in parents.
Physical and Emotional Exhaustion
Burned-out parents experience intense fatigue. They feel exhausted and are tired of parenting.
They may have physical symptoms such as increased somatic complaints and decreased sleep quality.
Their energy levels are extremely low. It is exhausting for them to get up in the morning and face another day with their children.
Even the thought of their parental role drains them. They feel they are at their wits’ end5.
Emotional Distancing From Their Children
To conserve their energy, burnt-out parents emotionally distance themselves from their children.
When depleted, parents tend to engage less in their children’s upbringing and do the bare minimum in child care.
They detach themselves emotionally.
Their interactions are limited to functional aspects, such as feeding, to the detriment of their relationships and emotional connections6.
Does Not Enjoy Being A Parent
Contrary to how they used to be and wanted to be, burnout parents no longer enjoy spending time with their children or even want to be parents.
They disengage emotionally and decrease the possibility of having a positive relationship with their children7.
Tired parents may feel guilty because they think something is wrong with them. They also feel ashamed for wanting to abandon their parental roles and worry that people will view them as bad parents.
Loss of parenting efficacy
Exhausted parents have doubts about their abilities being parents.
They feel a lack of personal efficacy.
Compared to how they used to be, the parents cannot deal with problems calmly or effectively. They feel like an ineffective parent and are not the parent they wanted to be8.
Any parent can occasionally experience some signs of parental burnout.
But the severity and frequency of these symptoms make parental burnout such a worrying psychological condition.
As burnout symptoms become more frequent and severe, their severity directly correlates with burnout’s pervasive effects.
Here are the effects of severe burnout on parents9.
- Mental health issues such as depression, suicidal thoughts, and escape ideations
- Deteriorating the parent-child relationship
- Increase in marital conflict
- Additive behavior, such as increased alcohol consumption
- Physical illnesses
- Sleep disorders
- Child neglect
- Child abuse
Parental burnout develops when parental resources are insufficient to meet the demands of parenting. We can determine what causes parental burnout by identifying the demands (risk factors) and resources (protective factors).
Risk factors can increase parents’ vulnerability to burnout.
Parents are at a greater risk of burnout when they
- Aim to be perfect parents
- Are more neurotic, less conscientious, and less agreeable
- Lack of emotional regulation skills
- No emotional support from the co-parent
- Poor child-rearing practices
- A higher number of children
- Disabled children or children with special needs that interfere with family life
- Work part-time, stay-at-home parents, or single parents
- Lack of social support
Protective factors are resources and strengths parents can draw upon in tough times. They help to significantly decrease parental stress10.
Parents are more protected from burnout when they
- Have self-compassion
- Are more conscientious, agreeable, and extraverted
- High emotional intelligence or stress management skills
- Good parenting practices
- Spend time on leisure
- Positive co-parenting
- Supportive social environment
How to Recover
Replace Perfect With Good Enough
Humans are not limitless. No one is perfect or can do it all.
Let go of unrealistic expectations of yourself.
Even those who seem to have it all have sacrificed something. With limited resources, we have to prioritize.
A perfect parent, if such a thing exists, is not in our children’s best interests.
It is more important to be a good enough parent for our children. Our imperfection allows our children to comprehend and adjust to the realities around them11.
Have more self-compassion and psychological flexibility by allowing yourself to make mistakes and be imperfect.
Get rid of the never-ending to-do lists.
Close relationships and open communication can lessen parents’ burnout, whether with their children, spouse, or co-parent.
That means spending more quality time with our children instead of focusing on nagging them to finish their homework or chores.
Make time for your spouse rather than hustling all day.
Meditation and Mindfulness
Meditation is the most common form of practicing mindfulness.
Mindful parenting can help parents stay in the moment rather than ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. Parents’ emotional regulation can be improved, resulting in a reduction in stress12.
Do Not Compare
Parents of school-aged children often compare their children’s performance with their peers. Sometimes they also compare themselves to other parents.
Whether you compare yourself with other parents or your child with other children, comparing only serves to stress or depress you.
By being mindful, you can catch your unconscious comparing thoughts and stop them.
Get Enough Sleep
Parents’ sleep quality and quantity matter.
Sleep disruption and stress form a vicious bidirectional cycle: sleep disorders decrease the resources needed to cope with stress, adversely affecting sleep quality and quantity13.
Having enough rest is critical in preventing parental burnout. Seek medical attention if you have trouble sleeping.
Parents often feel guilty about taking time away from their children to care for themselves, as if they are cheating them. A working mother or father may struggle to find enough time for themselves.
A healthy and happy parent is essential for a child’s development and success.
Maintaining your mental health may seem a luxury, but it’s essential.
Set aside alone time to do something fun and relaxing. Take a walk daily, pick up a hobby, or do something enjoyable with your children.
Ask For Help
Parents of children with disabilities are more likely to suffer from social isolation.
Reach out for social support and build a support network. It does take a village.
If you are experiencing burnout, seek help from mental health professionals as soon as possible.
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- 2.Brianda ME, Roskam I, Mikolajczak M. Hair cortisol concentration as a biomarker of parental burnout. Psychoneuroendocrinology. Published online July 2020:104681. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2020.104681
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