Signs and Symptoms of Parental Burnout

Let’s face it: Parenting is hard. So, it’s no surprise that researchers have identified a syndrome known as parental burnout. What is it? What causes it? How can I treat it?

The problem with parental burnout is that most people think that it’s a normal part of parenting. What makes it worse is that burnt-out parents feel ashamed or guilty for being tired. Sometimes parents are so “in it”, living day to day in survival mode, that recognizing burnout can be difficult.

Parental burnout comes with a set of specific symptoms:

  • Extreme physical and mental exhaustion
  • Emotional detachment from partners, friends, and children
  • Irritability and frustration  
  • Feelings of inadequacy or loss of a sense of accomplishment related to parenting
  • Brain fog including confusion and forgetfulness
  •  Health issues such as poor sleep and increased stress levels
  • Mental health concerns such as an increase in addictive behaviors, and a higher risk of depression and anxiety, possibly causing suicidal ideations. 
  • All of these symptoms can combine to form a higher risk of neglectful and violent behavior toward the child or children.

Mild burnout is classified as a parent who is experiencing an a-typical situation, perhaps a temporarily sick child or partner who is traveling, may show signs of mild burnout.

Moderate burnout would be a parent perhaps due to prolonged sleep deprivation or other stressors for example finances, lack of childcare, and limited opportunities for self-care.

Finally, severe burnout is a parent with long-term exhaustion, stress, lack of physical/emotional/logistical support, and/or physical/mental health complications.

The root cause of parental burnout is an imbalance between the demands of parenting and the rewards. Parenting both gives energy and consumes energy.

The concept of parental burnout was introduced into scientific research more than 30 years ago.

To avoid parental burnout, the key is to balance the energy-consuming aspects of caregiving with attitudes and experiences that boost energy.

Stress-increasing factors:

  • Having a child with physical or mental health challenges
  • Feeling you need to be the “perfect” parent at all times
  • Lack of support from a co-parent
  • Financial concerns
  • Not enough support from outside the family such as childcare
  • Overscheduled kids

Factors that decrease stress include:

  • Parental self-compassion
  • High emotional intelligence
  •  Prioritizing downtime for parents
  • Positive co-parenting experiences
  • External support from family and friends.

Drop me a comment and let me know what coping skill you use to decrease stress related to parenting.

I see burnout in a lot of parents of the kids I work with. The mom who cries herself to sleep at night because she is overwhelmed by her child’s poor behaviors or the dad who hasn’t slept in 3 days because he is worried his child will harm themselves.

Strategies for counteracting parental burnout:

  • Ask for help- It might be as simple as setting up ride sharing for a child’s after-school activities or hiring a babysitter once a month for a date night with your partner. 
  • Know you’re not alone. As research shows, parental burnout is common. Release shame and guilt—it’s not helping. Letting go of self-blaming will free up emotional energy that can be used to shift what’s not working.
  • Practice self-compassion. Self-compassion involves a consistent attitude of acceptance and kindness toward ourselves. Taking this approach can help parents avoid the trap of perfectionism.
  • Join a support group. In support groups parents can talk to others who understand the challenges, emotions, and practicalities that they’re dealing with every day. 
  • Communicate your feelings. If you’re feeling burnt out, one of the first things that you should do is communicate your feelings with your partner.
  • Listen to your body. If it’s telling you to rest, then prioritize sleep. Our bodies our wonderful at letting us know what we need. Allow your nervous system to regulate and help get you back to a balanced state.

Parental burnout is real and can be treated and managed when parents are honest with their experiences. 

If you feel you cannot make progress on your own, contact us for ways we can help.

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