What does parenting burnout mean?
Feeling stressed about the school run, the endless jobs to do or your child’s behaviour is one thing. But if you have parental burnout, things build up so much that you’re no longer able to deal with it.
We know people can get burnout from their jobs. So it’s not really surprising that you might get burnout from parenting too. In fact, at least 1 in 20 parents experience burnout at some point. But unlike job burnout, you can’t just quit or have time off from being a parent. And this can make problems become even worse.
How do you spot the signs of parental burnout?
You’ll usually experience a certain level of stress before reaching the point of parental burnout. Stress may make you feel irritable and anxious, as well as causing physical symptoms. You may be able to manage this OK at first. But eventually it may progress to parental burnout.
Here are some signs of parental burnout.
- You feel completely exhausted, even when you get up in the morning.
- You feel emotionally distanced from your children. You might feel like you’re on ‘autopilot’, meeting their physical needs, but not able to connect with them.
- You’re no longer finding any pleasure in parenting.
- You feel completely different from the parent that you used to be – and that you’re unable to do a good enough job.
Having parental burnout doesn’t mean you don’t love your children. But the feelings of failure, or not being the parent you want to be, can leave you feeling guilty and ashamed.
What is the impact of parental burnout?
Parental burnout is no good for anyone – you, your children and any partner or close relationships you may have. If you have parental burnout, you may be more likely to develop depression and addictions, such as alcohol and smoking. If you have a partner, parental burnout can also create more tension and arguments at home.
Over time, there could be an increased chance of acting towards your children in a way you wouldn’t normally behave. For example, being abusive or neglectful – even though you wouldn’t normally agree with these behaviours. This can make you feel even worse about the parent you feel you’re becoming.
What causes parental burnout?
Anything that places extra demands on you as a parent can make you more likely to experience burnout. These can be pressures from things outside your control, as well as pressures we put on ourselves. Examples can include the following.
- Lack of support or feeling isolated.
- Putting high expectations on yourself - aiming to be a ‘perfect parent’.
- Lack of time to yourself.
- Finding it difficult to manage stress.
- Not having financial security.
- Have children with special needs or long-term health conditions.
Recognising the signs and causes of stress and burnout may help you to manage them before problems begin.
How do you avoid or overcome parental burnout?
Try these six tips to help you to avoid burnout, or to overcome it if you’ve already reached that point.
- Talk about it. Is there someone you can trust, who can listen to you without judgement? Sometimes it can help just to admit to someone that you’re struggling. If you feel like it’s really starting to affect your behaviour and ability to parent, it might be time to contact a health professional.
- Change your perspective. It can be easy to get stuck into a pattern of negative thinking. Instead, remind yourself of areas of your life you feel grateful for. Or consider those little things about your children that make you smile.
- Re-evaluate your expectations. Does it matter if the kids watch too much TV today or if you don’t accept every invitation? Stop thinking about what you ‘should’ be doing, and remind yourself that you’re doing the best that you can.
- Look after yourself. Being a better parent starts with looking after yourself. Try to eat well, sleep well and exercise regularly (even a walk round the block to clear your head). Look for opportunities to take some time to yourself, even if it’s just a few minutes to breathe and focus on yourself.
- Reconnect. Plan small, low-key activities with your kids. A walk to the park, watching TV together or five minutes with a favourite book. Try to just enjoy the moment and take the opportunity to remind yourself of your kids’ positive qualities.
- Seek support. If you don’t have a supportive partner or family members you can rely on, think about how else you can extend your network. Joining parenting groups can be a good way to meet other people. Look into childcare options if this will help to give you a break.
You might not be able to change everything straight away. But it’s important to focus on the small changes you can make. With time, you can get back to being the parent you want to be.