Parental burnout is real. And, it’s coming up a lot right now.
Summer is over, kids are adjusting to the routine of being back in school, pandemic restrictions and concerns have largely been lifted… yet many parents may be finding themselves exhausted, overwhelmed, stressed and burnt out.
Where are these feelings coming from or lingering from?
And what are we as parents to do about it if we’re feeling this way?
What is Parental Burnout?
Any stage of parenthood has its challenges, but overall parenthood is one of the most challenging jobs there is! Unlike other jobs though, parenthood is a job that does not offer vacation or sick leave, training, breaks or a salary.
The parenting job is often relentless…not only are we responsible for the safety and wellbeing of another human being (or multiple human beings), but the job is essentially about “juggling” many responsibilities.
Parenting is a constant state of juggling your child’s needs, your home needs, partner or family needs and your own needs. No wonder parents are tired! It’s a lot!
Throw in environmental stressors and for some (myself included at times) it can feel like a constant merry-go-round trying to find balance while not “dropping one of the balls” we’re juggling.
When Does it Happen?
Parental Burnout happens when parents become exhausted physically and emotionally from extended exposure to times of high stress. The “juggling” is stressful!
The pressure that society places on parents as well as the expectations and pressures we place on ourselves creates this extended stressful experience that can lead to burnout.
A recent interesting and concerning study from researchers at Ohio State University found that more than two-thirds of parents report currently experiencing parental burnout.
What does this mean?
It means this is a systemic problem and that if you find yourself feeling burned out, you’re not alone!
How Do I Know If I’m Experiencing Parental Burnout?
Symptoms can be experienced on a spectrum with some parents reporting mild symptoms to some experiencing symptoms more severely. Symptoms to look for may include some of the following:
-chronic worry or stress about “getting things done.”
-sleep disturbances or poor sleep quality
-physical manifestation of burnout may include headaches or physical tiredness/exhaustion or tension held in muscles and joints
-thoughts or feelings that you’re in “survival mode” as a parent
-sense of dread or dissatisfaction in role as a parent
-desire to disconnect from children in order to preserve energy
It’s important to make note that most parents that experience Parental Burnout love their children very much and usually will express how much they love their children. Burnout is not an indicator of how much we as parents love or care for our children, rather it’s experiencing difficulty with the day-to-day of parenting that may result in loss of feeling fulfilled in parenting.
*parents that report and present with more severe parental burnout may be at higher risk of harming or neglecting their children and/or harming or neglecting themselves. If you feel you are a risk to yourself or your children please contact any of the resources at the end of this blog immediately.
What Can I Do If I’m Experiencing Parental Burnout?
1) Lower Expectations
Often parents who experience parental burnout feel they have “so much to do and not enough time to do it.” I myself am guilty of this one as a parent! We set these lofty goals or expectations and then find them impossible to meet.
Re-evaluate for yourself where the desire is coming from to “do all the things” and recognize it does not make you a bad parent if you need to “say no” to things or lower the bar for yourself.
For example: If you see these cute Pinterest worthy healthy lunches on social media, but this creates added work, stress and pressure to make them… lower your expectations! No need to add this *unnecessary* stress, pack a “regular” lunch or allow your child to get lunch from the cafeteria.
Along with the concept of lowering expectations is the concept of simplifying or eliminating unnecessary or additionally stressful activities or tasks. Is it overwhelming to take your two or three children (or even one child) to various after school activities. Simplify and encourage one activity only.
If it’s challenging to eliminate activities or things from your list, look for alternative or creative solutions to simplify. Ways to simplify things could include: finding possible carpool options, ordering dinner, or having children help with household chores.
3) Find time to take “breaks”
I know this feels easier said than done, and depending on the ages of your children these breaks may be VERY short. Even a 5 minute break of alone time however may be enough to allow time for a “reset.”
Going to work outside the home or spending alone time addressing household needs (such as grocery shopping or laundry) while therapeutic for some and may be a break from parenting, can ultimately contribute to burnout. Be intentional with your breaks and be sure the break, however short or long it may be, is self-care focused (not parental or work focused).
4) Improve Sleep Hygiene
If your children are young and wake up during the night, if possible, find ways to share and simplify nighttime parent duties with a partner or family. If you do wake up during the night due to either your children’s needs or if sleep is disrupted on your own try keeping lights out or dim, if you turn bright lights on it may signal to your brain “it’s time to wake up” making it more challenging to get back to sleep.
Use a nightlight or dim light in children’s rooms or bathrooms for night wakings.
Create a positive sleep plan: attempt to be in bed by a reasonable time each night, reduce blue light exposure prior to bedtime, introduce a guided sleep meditation and/or create a routine that will promote positive sleep quality for yourself.
5) Show yourself compassion
Parenting is hard! What works for me in the particular tough moments, is to remind myself that I am doing the best I can in any given moment. I may not be as stellar as I was the day before or I may not be living up to the expectation I set for myself, but I am doing the best I can in this given situation.
Allowing grace and compassion for yourself can create room for you to work on letting go of those expectations you may have and make space for you to take breaks, practice self-care and ultimately be a better version of yourself and better parent to your children. You are doing the best you can!
6) Find support
Lastly, but certainly not least… parenthood is a journey. Many of us can lose sight of the fact that this is a marathon and we try running at a sprint pace or we don’t look for our support team to help and we’re burning ourselves out!
Let’s try to remind ourselves to be patient with ourselves, pace ourselves and find others that can help along the way. Even finding one other person on this parenting journey with a child similar age to your children can have such a beneficial impact on parental stress relief.
If you find you need more support, contact us.
We at One Heart Counseling Center can help.
This article was written by Chelsea Derossi M.A., LMFT, ATR. Chelsea currently works at One Heart Counseling Center with parents in all stages of parenting! She has completed specialized training with Postpartum Support International and is working toward licensure as a PMH-C (perinatal mental health counselor).
Here are some resources if you feel you are in more immediate need of support.
Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 988
National Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255
Post Partum Support International Helpline 1-800-944-4773
National Parent Helpline 1-855-4A-PARENT (1-855-427-2736)
Parent Stress Line 1-800-632-8188
Link to Ohio State University Study has tips and links for support: wellness.osu.edu
*Study mentioned in this blog was titled:
May 2022 Ohio State University