Parental Burnout Is Real: Here Are Signs To Watch Out For And Advice On How To Cope

You’ve got to take time to renew your physical and emotional resources.

February 13, 2018
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Most weekdays I wake up and get my toddler dressed before running out the door to the gym. While I wait for classes to start I usually check my work email, and when I’m done working up a sweat we drive directly to her school. I run home to shower, work, and hopefully throw in a load of laundry before getting back to school for pick-up time, which always comes too soon. Afternoons are filled with playdates and dance class, and by the time bedtime rolls around I just want to yell “Please give me five minutes to myself!”

If the moms in my circle of friends had to sum up their lives in a word, two of the most common responses would without a doubt be “busy” and “tired.” After all, most of us are juggling preschoolers and an infant (or pregnancy) along with a full-time job, running the household, and trying to carve out time for self-care. That’s a lot of responsibilities for one mama!

It’s no wonder that many moms (and parents in general) are feeling burned out. Burnout is more than feeling tired or overwhelmed: It’s the sense that you’re completely drained of your resources, losing connection with your kids, and failing as a parent. And according to a 2017 study published in Frontiers in Psychology, between 2 and 12 percent of parents feel this way.

Here are the signs to be aware of—and how to combat burnout.

What is burnout?

According to the study published in Frontiers, burnout is defined by three characteristics: “overwhelming exhaustion, a depersonalization of the beneficiaries of one’s work, and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.” People who are burned out feel that they’ve completely drained their emotional and physical resources and don’t have the ability to carry on doing what they’ve been doing.

For parents, this manifests in a few specific ways. The depersonalization might show up as you snapping at your kids, perceiving that they are ungrateful, or feeling detached in general. The sense of ineffectiveness might leave you thinking you’re a bad parent or that things all parents deal with (such as temper tantrums or rebellion) are related to your parenting instead of just par for the course of being a parent.

How to Prevent and Heal Burnout

Burnout happens when you’re feeling drained of resources, so the way to prevent it from happening is to make sure that you always know that you have tools at your disposal. One way to do this is to outsource when possible. This might mean hiring a cleaning service, getting a mother’s helper, passing up some projects at work, or ordering meal delivery. Anything that gives you more time can increase your happiness and satisfaction with life, according to one recent study.

Another opportunity to replenish your emotional toolkit is intentionally connecting with your kids—taking a mindful approach to parenting and savoring moments with your kids without worrying about everything else you “should” be doing. This mindful approach to parenting has been shown to decrease stress among parents of kids with disabilities, and it can work for you too.

Parental burnout is a serious issue that seems to be on the rise, becoming more prevalent with our society’s increasingly pressure on—and unrealistic expectations of—parents.

By taking these steps you can keep being the parent you want to be!

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