All parents, especially mothers, suffer from parental burnout at one stage or the other. World Mental Health Day was recently observed on the 10th of October and mental health is a widespread issue around the world. Parental burnout adversely affects mental well-being.
When parents constantly give priority to the needs of their children over their own needs, parental burnout is bound to occur.
Parenting is a long journey which has its ups and downs. It starts from sleepless nights with the newborn, to managing physical and emotional transition as the child grows into a teenager and then an adult.
According to Ohio State University research, two-thirds out of 1,285 parents in a survey in June 2022, showed signs of parental burnout.
Let’s understand the causes and symptoms of parental burnout and how we can control it.
Why does parental burnout occur?
Parental burnout may occur due to various reasons:
Lack of support from the spouse
Being a single parent
A physically or mentally challenged child
An over-anxious parent
A helicopter parent
The constant engagement of parents in raising children without taking a break or spending time on self-care, rejuvenation and personal growth causes parental burnout.
Signs of parental burnout
Most parents don’t realise that they are suffering from parental burnout. For them, it’s simply catering to the needs of their children without realising that the burnout is not only affecting their own well-being but also their children’s growth.
Irritable behaviour – overwhelmed by childcare duties, you may stay constantly irritated and become short-tempered. Parents become irritated due to the monotonous nature of tasks involved in childcare. Also, catering to children at the cost of neglecting the needs of your own mind and body gradually leads to irritable behaviour. As a result, parents lose their calmness and frequently get involved in arguments with children, spouses or even with their colleagues. They also start scolding children even when it’s not required and might also spank them at times. Does this happen to you too? It means you are undergoing parental burnout.
Emotional distancing from your child – this is one of the worst symptoms parents can undergo when burnout occurs. When parents get overburdened with childcare duties, they start experiencing emotional detachment from their kids. Although they do their duties, they start lacking emotions for children. Deep in their subconscious they still might be emotionally attached to kids, but feel angry when they are around. Even if they feel guilty about it they enjoy time away from children.
Feeling inferior as a parent – most of us agree that we cannot be perfect in parenting. But parents who get affected by burnout, get deeply affected by this belief. They constantly blame themselves for every wrong thing that happens to the children, whether it’s behavioural issues, physical development issues or their poor performance in studies. Mums or dads overdo and exert themselves to prove that they are perfect as parents. Many undergo stress and gradual depression when their children do not meet expectations.
If you are also undergoing one or more symptoms stated above, and feel overburdened with childcare duties, then you are suffering from parental burnout.
What are the effects of parental burnout?
Behavioural issues in kids – since burnout causes parents to stay angry, irritated or detached, kids gradually get detached from their parents due to a lack of desired emotional support that they need in their growing years.
Deteriorating relationship with spouse – as per research conducted by the Institute of Family Studies on what couples with children argue about most’, 41% of arguments are about children. This clearly shows that parental burnout leads to rift and separation between parents which affects the family life and also the psyche of growing children.
Mental and physical problems – it is natural that the responsibilities related to children if borne all alone, will negatively affect the mental and physical health of a person. A tired mind and body will not only develop health issues but will also not be able to carry on their duties efficiently.
How to deal with parental burnout?
Take breaks and unwind – ‘Me time’ is extremely important to remain a good parent because a stressed parent cannot satisfactorily carry the duties well. So whether it’s the mum or dad, make sure to practise a hobby, hang out with friends, go for regular walks, exercise, and shop for yourself. So, you are rejuvenated to give your 100% to the child.
Shout for help – since no one can do it all, the first rule for avoiding parental burnout is to rely on support from family, friends or a nanny to whom you can offload some of the child-care duties. Most of the mums stay adamant about doing things by themselves when it comes to raising children. They are either hesitant to ask for help or do not trust others. But, this can be dangerous as you will get worn out and lose your energy which you must save for more crucial things like spending quality time with children or self-care.
Accept that no one can do it all – stop being a perfectionist and start believing that no one can do it all. It’s okay if your child is wearing dirty clothes, missed taking an important notebook to school or did not arrive on time for class. Remember, you are trying your best, but things can still be imperfect as you are a human being who can make mistakes.
Manage your expectations – parents should put their best foot forward when it comes to raising kids, but at the same time accept it’s unfair to have the same expectations from everyone. So, do your bit without high expectations so that you are not stressed, or feel the heat of failure.
Network and connect with other parents – by networking and connecting with other parents on social media sites, forums or in the park when you are out to play with your kids, you will realise that your problems are no different from theirs. Such interactions will give you more confidence as a parent and also mental solace that you are not the only one.
Parenthood is a journey where both parents have equal responsibilities. If one parent is affected by burnout, he or she should talk it out with the partner and ask for support. They can also depend on more external support like hiring help or extending the daycare hours. Many times, extended family members like grandparents can be a huge support in sharing the burden of raising kids.
Whichever way you choose to manage the situation, it’s important to avoid and control the adverse effects that parental burnout causes in the long run.
Do read and watch Parent World’s video feature on World Mental Health Day, where we talk with Ping Qi, Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder of Holding Ground – a private psychology practice focused on maternal mental wellness.