Between juggling childcare, housework, work outside the home, and everything in between, it’s no wonder many parents feel burned out and exhausted. On top of this, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic added a whole new host of stressors for parents to manage, including distance learning, vaccinations, social distancing, and mask wearing.
Parental burnout occurs when a parent experiences repeated, unrelenting stress that leaves them feeling physically and emotionally depleted.
Key signs of parental burnout are a deep sense of exhaustion, emotional distance from children and family members, feeling ashamed in contrast to past parenting, and feeling unable to cope.
Parental burnout can be managed and treated by practicing self-compassion, asking for help, and seeking therapy.
It’s enough to make even the most level-headed person reach their wit’s end.
When parents experience this kind of repeated, unrelenting stress, it can lead to parental burnout, a condition where a parent feels completely depleted and detached from their former parenting self.
What is parental burnout?
Burnout occurs when someone reaches a level of exhaustion and is overwhelmed to the point where they feel depleted, depressed, and hopeless.
Burnout is frequently discussed in the context of high-pressure occupations or high-stress situations, but burnout can happen to anyone who experiences unrelenting stress without room for rest and recovery, including parents.
Signs of parental burnout
With many parents experiencing unprecedented levels of stress, how can you determine whether you’re experiencing typical stress levels or have gotten to the point of parental burnout?
Burnout goes beyond feeling tired or just needing a break. It’s reaching a point of feeling a deep sense of despair and lack of self-compassion. A person experiencing parental burnout might feel emotionally distant from their children and deeply ashamed of their inability to care for their children as they used to.
Researchers have developed ways to measure and detect the signs of parental burnout. Key signs of parental burnout tend to fall into one of four categories, including feeling exhausted in the parenting role, feeling a contrast with their previous parenting self, feeling fed up with their parenting, and engaging in emotional distancing.
Based on this research, here are some signs of parental burnout you should look out for:
- Feeling run down or worn out.
- Waking up feeling exhausted at facing another day of parenting.
- Feeling as though all of your resources have been depleted.
- Being in survival mode.
- Feeling ashamed of your parenting.
- No longer feeling proud of your parenting.
- Feeling as though you aren’t yourself when interacting with your children.
- Feeling as though you can’t cope.
- No longer finding enjoyment in being with your children.
- Feeling as though you can’t take it anymore.
- Parenting “on auto-pilot”.
- Feeling unable to express love towards your children.
How to manage parental burnout
If you recognize some of the signs of parental burnout in yourself, what should you do next?
Practice self-compassion: One of the most important things to know is that parental burnout is temporary, treatable, and is not a result of any moral failing or inadequacy. We all have the potential to reach a breaking point. Experiencing parental burnout does not make you a bad person or a bad parent. This isn’t your fault.
Ask for help: None of us get through life completely on our own, and that’s especially true for a parent experiencing burnout. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your loved ones, especially your spouse, partner, or co-parent, if you have one.
Take care of yourself: This is the time to make basic self-care your top priority. Ensure that you’re getting enough sleep or as much sleep as possible. If you have young children who don’t sleep through the night yet, try to take short naps during the day. If you have a spouse or partner, try trading off nights so one of you can have a few nights a week of restful sleep.
Talk to someone: One of the best ways to manage and treat parental burnout is by speaking to a therapist or counselor. A qualified mental health professional can work with you to reduce your stress level and bring your body out of crisis mode. A therapist can also help you build coping skills to help you manage your stress and avoid experiencing burnout again in the future.
Being a parent is tough enough, but the mental condition of parental burnout can leave you feeling physically and emotionally depleted. Ask for help, perhaps by talking with a therapist or counselor, and learn ways to take care of yourself.