Parental burnout is overwhelming and deflating, making it difficult to complete daily activities. Learn what parental burnout is and a few tips for how to fix it.
Burnout is when a person feels physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted due to prolonged stress. It is usually associated with work and means you feel emotionally and physically drained and overwhelmed. Parental burnout is associated with feeling these same emotions, but due to the stresses and strains of parenting, particularly for those with more than one child.
Those suffering from parental burnout may struggle to recognize it and may be reluctant to label it due to feeling guilty or like a parenting “failure”. It’s not something to be ashamed of, parental burnout is real — here are a few ideas for how to fix it.
What Is Parental Burnout?
Burnout was identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2019 as a phenomenon in relation to the workplace, but it is not regarded as a medical condition. They define it as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
Although the causes of parental burnout are different from workplace burnout, the symptoms of it are similar — such as feeling exhausted and struggling to cope with daily life, such as connecting with your children.
Parental burnout may be more common than you think. According to a study done by Ohio State University, more than two-thirds of parents experienced it in 2022. The research found that those with multiple children were more likely to experience it, as well as those who suspected their children had an undiagnosed mental health illness, or who had children with anxiety or ADHD.
The study also found that women were more likely to be affected by parental burnout, with 68 percent of women affected, compared to 42 percent of men. This is due to the traditional roles that women usually play in many households, as well as often working outside the home too.
Read more on it: The Mental Load of Motherhood & 5 Ways Partners Can Help
Parenting is not easy, and there are times when all parents will feel frustrated, tired or disappointed with their lives and the way things are going. When these feelings become constant and parents dread getting out of bed in the morning, it could be a sign of parental burnout. Take a look at some of the signs of parental burnout:
- Physical and mental exhaustion: Exhaustion is more than just feeling tired after a bad night’s sleep or a hard day at work. It’s feeling fatigued all the time, no matter how much you sleep or rest.
- Loss of interest in hobbies: Sufferers of parental burnout may find they are no longer interested in things they used to enjoy.
- Anxiety or depression: Feeling anxious or depressed is another sign of burnout.
- Feeling inadequate: Another symptom is feeling not up to the job and feeling guilty because of this — but also feeling guilty that you feel this way.
- Emotional detachment: It may be difficult to connect with your children or get involved with their activities as you used to.
- Sleep disorders: You may suffer from a lack of sleep or too much sleep, and muscle aches and headaches may also increase.
- Irritability: Things may annoy you easily and you may find yourself snapping at the kids.
So what to do about it?
1. Reconnect with Friends and Family
In certain cultures there are often multiple family members around to take care of the little ones, whether they are grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins — so take advantage of any offers to babysit that you may have from loved ones. A recent study found that parental burnout varies across different cultures, with those promoting individualism, not collectivism, such as Western countries, suffering the most.
For those unable to find a babysitter, make time to connect with friends and family regardless of whether your kids are with you. This could be by making time to catch up for a coffee, inviting them over to your place, or even just checking in by sending them a message. Open up to those you trust about how you’ve been feeling, you may be comforted to know that those with kids sometimes feel the same.
Also keep in touch with your friends that live further away: 6 Ways to Maintain Long-distance Friendships for a Lifetime
2. Take a Moment to Pause
Everyone leads busy lives and parents are no exception — the school run, cleaning the house, preparing meals, putting the kids to bed, as well as often working outside the home. There’s barely any time to breathe during the day, let alone think about ourselves — other things always seem to be more important. But that’s when burnout kicks in, this constant movement and list of activities to do can take its toll.
When you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed, take a moment to pause. Take a deep breath and exhale slowly, connect with your five senses and observe yourself. How do I feel right now? Then decide what is the best action to take next FOR YOU. If you have more time, consider mindfulness-based stress reduction, or try practicing techniques like 4-7-8 breathing or conscious breathing to help you regulate your stress levels better.
3. Let Go of the Guilt
Don’t be afraid to say “Parenting is hard”, or “I’m having a tough day”. Don’t feel bad or guilty for not always enjoying parenting, or that your life as a parent doesn’t match your pre-kid expectations. Go with the flow, try to accept what you have, and find little things to be thankful for.
Parental guilt is common and is a feeling of not being able to give as much as you want to your kids, due to other responsibilities, such as work or caring for a younger sibling.
4. There is No "Perfect Parent"
Instagram profiles with beautifully clean kids and parents with the latest clothes and hairstyles, doing fun crafting or baking activities at home as a family. Sounds perfect, right? Well don’t forget, those Instagrammers are carefully choosing what to share and what not to. Where are the photos of the kids dropping the mixing bowl on the floor or having a meltdown because there’s no blue paper? That’s right — social media has many negative effects and is not real life, so don’t compare yourself to the people on it.
There’s no such thing as a perfect parent or family. Be kind to yourself, and focus on the process, not the result. For example, maybe those cupcakes don’t turn out as well as you might have hoped — but the kids had a lot of fun decorating them with you. Practice affirmations such as “I am a good enough parent” and “I’m doing the best I can for my family”, or check out our guide to positive affirmations for self-love.
5. Introduce Self-Care Into Your Life
Parents take care of the bills, the cleaning, cooking, the kids, the pets, and the yard — but often forget to take care of themselves. Self-care should be a priority, remember the saying on airplanes, “Put on your oxygen mask first before helping others”. This can be applied to parental burnout, if you’re struggling for air, how are you going to find the energy to take care of others? One of the best things to do this Father’s Day or Mother’s Day is consider how to add a little self-care to your life.
Take some steps to add a little self-care to each day to prevent parental burnout, it doesn’t need to be anything big. For example, listen to your favorite song, buy a new fragrance and wear it every day, or step outside and feel the sun on your face. When you are feeling more positive and energetic, your kids will feel it too and it will improve their well-being.
6. Thin Out Your Schedule
Take some time to reflect and decide which activities can be removed from your daily life. For example, do the kids really need to go to soccer practice, gymnastics AND painting class — or could a couple of those be removed, to give yourself a break from the schedule and have some relaxing time at home with them, simply hanging out?
Reduce the clutter in your life so that you can focus on yourself and your family more, there’s nothing wrong with staying at home on the weekends — kids want to spend time with you, no matter what the activity.
7. Speak to a Professional About Parental Burnout
If you still find yourself feeling overwhelmed and fatigued after doing the six things above or you’re too drained to do so, it may be time to speak to a professional. So don’t be afraid to speak to a doctor and tell them about how you’re feeling. Getting treatment will not only benefit you but also your kids. Finding the right therapist will go a long way toward helping you deal with parental burnout.
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