While it’s often romanticized as overwhelmingly joyful, parenting can be stressful and is often difficult. Parenting burnout is the physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that one feels during the chronic stress of parenting. Burnout is the result of prolonged stress where the demands placed on an individual outweigh their ability to meet expectations. It’s a condition in which you’re so exhausted that you feel you have nothing left to give. Here are signs of parental burnout, along with causes and ways to cope with it.
Signs and symptoms of parental burnout
- Feeling tired or drained all the time
- Overwhelming physical and mental exhaustion
- Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and doubt
- Changes in behaviour or interest in doing things
- Loss of motivation
- Changes in appetite or sleeping habits
- Isolation or avoidance of others
- Difficulty remembering things
- Feeling frustrated
- Feelings of shame, guilt, and resentment
- Loss of productivity
- Emotional detachment and feeling alone in the world
- Feelings of disconnection from your child
- Easily angered by the child even for the simplest and smallest reasons
- Urges of self-harm or harm to others
- Headaches, neck pain, and muscle aches
Parental burnout can affect anyone; however, certain groups of people have a higher risk of developing it. Risk factors include:
Employment status: working parents have a higher likelihood of experiencing burnout.
Financial status: parents with fewer resources are more likely to experience burnout because of the compounding financial stress.
Cultural background: individualistic cultures tend to value competition, performance, and perfectionism which increases stress while decreasing resources by discouraging parents from asking for support. Communal cultures that believe in raising children in a community experience less parental burnout. This is why parents from Western societies have higher rates of parental burnout than those from eastern societies.
Age of parents and children: there is a higher likelihood of burnout among young parents with young children than among older children with older children.
Number of children: the more the children, the higher the likelihood of parental burnout. One study found emotional distancing was greater among parents with many children in total or children with large age gaps.
Other stressors: Parents already experiencing multiple stressors such as single parents, parents of special needs children, and immigrant parents have a lower threshold for increasing stress. Parents already dealing with other systemic issues like racism are also at a higher risk.
How to cope with parental burnout
Talk with your spouse, co-parent, or partner
If you’re experiencing parental burnout, one of the first things you should do is speak with your spouse, co-parent or other loved one and let them know how you’re feeling. Don’t be afraid or ashamed about admitting that you’re struggling, overwhelmed, and feeling overworked. Ask for help. Everyone needs help at some point.
Abandon the cult of the perfect parent
Society can place impossible parenting standards on parents with social media overflowing with pictures of perfect parents. Parents are flooded with parenting advice that drowns out any confidence people have in themselves and their own instincts. The myth of the perfect parent is just that, a myth. An impossible thing to achieve. Reduce parental burnout by cutting yourself some slack and allowing yourself to be a good-enough parent.
Revive the village
It truly does take a village to raise a child. Historically, children were always raised by the community and this worldview which lays all the responsibilities on parents is new. It’s also damaging. Free yourself from parental burnout by relying on your village.
Seek professional help
If you’re able to and you need it, you should seek professional help in the form of counselling or therapy. You can also consider joining a support group for others dealing with parental burnout near you.
Get enough sleep
Try and get enough sleep including taking power naps when possible. Sleep is crucial to your mental health and power naps can be restorative and reduce stress.
Finding time to exercise may seem like a ludicrous suggestion when you’re already so thinly spread and exhausted, however, exercise even in brief bursts can increase your energy levels and reduce stress.
Rest when you can
If you’re feeling especially stressed, stop what you’re doing and take a few minutes to sit down, catch your breath and even drink a cup of tea to help you calm down. Brief periods of rest can you deal with parental burnout throughout the day.
Self-compassion and love
We are most critical of ourselves and so learning to be kind to ourselves is a lifelong habit we should all get in the habit of. Arrest any negative self-talk and reverse it by focusing on forgiving yourself and showing yourself kindness. Be patient with yourself. Raising children is both challenging and rewarding so allow yourself to feel your feelings without judging yourself harshly.
Parenting can leave you feeling like all your time is spent meeting other people’s needs with no time left to care for yourself. As difficult as it may seem, you should try and practice self-care. It can be as simple as taking two minutes to journal daily or even practising yoga or meditation. This can help manage and reduce parental burnout.
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