Parental Burnout: What It Is and How to Avoid It

The transition to parenthood and being a parent will include both pleasure and satisfaction, as well as hardship and pressure. As their children grow and reach new developmental milestones, parents will experience new obstacles and stressors. Some parents can effectively tackle the hurdles, while others suffer from long-term stress as a result of parenting challenges.

Globally, around 5% to 20% of parents experience stress associated with their parental roles, which occasionally results in parental burnout.   

The COVID-19 epidemic has raised the prevalence of anxiety and depression by 25%, and it has increased the likelihood of parental burnout.   

It was discovered that Western parents are five times more likely to experience parental burnout than non-Western parents.   

The Institute for Life Management Science (ILMS) have compiled definitions of parental burnout from numerous scientific journals and defined parental burnout as a syndrome that emerges in parents and is the result of a long-term imbalance between stressors and the parents’ abilities and resources to cope with parenting situations that cause them to feel exhausted, emotionally distant from the children, displeased with parenting responsibilities, and have conflicted sentiments and ideas about being a parent. 

Understanding parental burnout

Parents who are at high risk of burnout frequently exhibit the following symptoms, which develop in four stages  

  1. The first stage is exhaustion in the parental role. It is distinguished by parents’ exhaustion to the point that resting does not replenish their energy to care for their children. These feelings cause parents to assume that their responsibilities have pushed them to their limits. These symptoms show that they are at risk of burnout. 
  2. The second stage is emotional distancing. When exhaustion worsens, parents will try to save what little resources they have left and will take self-protective measures. Parents will emotionally withdraw from their children. At this stage, parents have difficulties expressing their emotions and communicating with their children. 
  3. In the third stage, parents will experience feelings of being fed up. Parents believe they are no longer capable of being good parents–they can no longer handle their role and could not appreciate the time they spent with their children. These symptoms indicate that parents are burned out. 
  4. Finally, burned-out parents no longer see themselves as the parents they aspired to be, which is in contrast with their past parental selves. This contrast may cause parents to feel helpless with misery, shame, and guilt from which they are unable to escape.

According to research, parental burnout harms both parents and children. Burned-out parents are more prone to having suicidal and escape-related thoughts than those with job burnout or depression.    Burned-out parents are more likely to want to abandon the family, disappear, or live a life other than that of a parent.   

In addition to increasing the desire for physical escape from the parenting situation, parental burnout is also connected with psychological forms of escape characterized by addictive behavior involving alcohol, narcotics, and gambling.  

One of the detrimental effects of parental burnout is an increase in parental neglect and violence toward children. Burned-out parents are more likely to overlook their children’s physical and emotional needs and may even be violent toward them. Moreover, it was found that the more burned out a parent is, the higher the likelihood they will treat their children with neglect and violence.   

Who can be affected by parental burnout?  

Parental burnout affects any parent who accumulates long-term stress without adequate compensating resources. As soon as the balance shifts to the negative (i.e., stresses outweigh resources), parents will begin to experience the majority of burnout symptoms daily (she/he is “in burnout”).   

It was found that perfectionism and neuroticism are the risk factors for parental burnout. When parents strive to be perfect parents, they put themselves at risk. Perfectionist parents believe that being perfect is essential for parenting a child, and this notion causes parents to exhaust themselves by always attempting to do too perfectly (overcommitted and overzealous). Striving for perfection also causes parents to pay too much heed to the opinions of others (friends, family members, etc.) on how they should raise their children. This will increase the likelihood that perfectionist parents will experience burnout.  

Neuroticism is a parent personality trait marked by frequent anxiousness as well as heightened emotional instability, which includes more frequent and strong negative feelings (fear, sadness, anger, guilt, etc.). A high level of neuroticism is linked to a reduced ability to deal with stressors. Parents tend to react to stress and daily obstacles with frequent and intense emotional outbursts, and they are not particularly effective at problem-solving. High levels of neuroticism are linked to a higher likelihood of parental burnout.

How to cope with parental burnout

There are large numbers of practices that parents can learn to help them cope with burnout. The three practices listed below, on the other hand, can serve as a starting point for you to incorporate into your daily life. By trying out the practices below, you can find out what works best for you and even change them to fit your needs.

Practice mindful self-compassion

Mindful self-compassion, which combines the qualities of mindfulness and self-compassion, is a valuable tool for emotional resilience. It assists parents in letting go of crippling self-criticism and learning to accept themselves as flawed people deserving of kindness.   

Mindful self-compassion helps parents to recognize and accept challenging thoughts and emotions with openness and curiosity, as well as respond to these upsetting thoughts and emotions with empathy, compassion, and understanding to calm and comfort themselves when they are in pain.   

Parents can begin by using soothing touch and gentle vocalizations. Soothing touch consists of placing one or two hands on your body in a warm, caring, and gentle manner to help you feel safe and reassured. The suggestion is to find a physical touch that feels encouraging and utilize it to care for yourself when you’re stressed.   

Alternatives include “one hand on your heart and one on your stomach,” “two hands over your heart,” “gently massaging your chest,” and “crossing your arms and giving yourself a soft hug.”   

Gentle vocalizations are languages or phrases that are used to elicit mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness through a compassionate voice tone and friendly facial expression. When you notice yourself experiencing tension or emotional distress, approach yourself with these words of kindness. (1) Mindfulness —”this is a terrible moment,” for example; (2) common humanity —”pain is a part of life, and (3) self-kindness —”may I accept myself as I am.”

Have regular microbreaks

Self-care can benefit a person’s health as well as their life quality, satisfaction, and general well-being. Parents must schedule time for self-care. Parenting requires a lot of patience and energy, so it is crucial to recharge by spending time alone with yourself or your partner. Parents who practiced self-care regularly reported feeling more skilled and confident as parents, as well as being able to focus on parenting tasks despite external stressors.  

The most effective way to practice self-care is to include it into your daily routine in small, manageable parts.   

Self-care activities can be performed at any time and in any location as long as they are performed consciously and regularly. Setting aside 5-10 minutes every day for self-care activities such as journaling, meditation, or sitting in the sun will help you relax. These activities can be done in the morning, when the kids are napping, or after dinner.   

There are four types of self-care that you can cultivate:   

  1. psychological self-care, such as journaling, digital detox, or coloring/painting;
  2. physical self-care, such as getting enough sleep (7-8 hours per day), getting a relaxing massage, or going for a short walk;
  3. spiritual self-care, such as meditation, yoga, or praying; and 
  4. social self-care, such as scheduling time to talk with friends or family, or participating in volunteer activities with your communities.

Improve co-parenting relationship

Coparenting requires an active relationship between parents as well as a shared perspective on parental roles. Supportive co-parenting is commonly defined as a positive endorsement of one’s partner’s parenting skills, emotional and practical support in the face of parenting strains and stressors, and appreciation of the partner’s and the couple’s parenting accomplishments and successes. Co-parenting that is supportive protects both parents and children from the negative impacts of parenting stress.  

The keys to building supportive co-parenting relationships are for both parents to acknowledge and appreciate each other’s contributions to parenting, to provide emotional support, and to discuss parenting strategies and decisions.   

To begin, prepare a list of things to say to each other, such as “You’re such a fantastic dad,” “I admire how patient you are with the kids,” or “I feel really blessed to have you as a mother to my children.” You can say it directly or put it on a card and present it to your partner occasionally, especially if they are weary or stressed.   

Second, when necessary, offering emotional support for one another, especially when the other parent is exhausted and overwhelmed, such as by giving a hug, making a cup of tea, or simply being present and ready to assist or listen.   

Third, make it a habit to talk about your children and parenting. Discuss the benefits of co-parenting as well as any concerns, solutions, or ideas for dealing with future challenges. During those scheduled sessions, you can express your parenting thoughts, appreciation, expectations, problems, and so on.

In conclusion

Parents should be aware that burnout can come at any time and affect themselves and their children. Understanding the cause and how burnout manifests itself might help parents avoid burnout. Regularly implementing the preceding strategies can also help parents maintain their health and well-being, lowering the likelihood of burnout. Even if parents are already experiencing burnout, the recommended practices might help decrease the impact of burnout on their everyday lives.

If you would like to learn more about parental burnout, visit the Parenting Science Labs. The lab uses the research of the Institute for Life Management Science to produce courses, certifications, podcasts, videos, and other learning tools. Check out the Parenting Science Labs today.

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