How to Prevent Parental Burnout
Updated: Jul 11
Practical ways to relieve the pressure
How to Avoid Parental Burnout
With kids home for the summer, it may feel reminiscent of life during Covid-19. Trying to keep children occupied while continuing to work and take care of home and family responsibilities can stretch any parent’s mental, physical, and emotional resources. And not just during summer, or a pandemic.
The regular day-to-day of kids picking at their dinner, battling bedtime, having homework meltdowns, squabbling with siblings and struggling with friendships can all add up, causing some parents to reach the point of burnout.
But it doesn’t have to get to this point. Finding practical ways to relieve the pressure and preserve your energy can help reduce your burnout risk.
What is parental burnout?
According to the American Psychological Association, “burnout” is defined as physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion accompanied by:
· decreased motivation
· lowered performance
· negative attitudes toward oneself and others
It’s caused by a high degree of stress and tension, especially from extreme and prolonged physical or mental exertion, or an overburdening workload.
If you can relate, you’re not alone. Most parents have experienced some level of exhaustion at some point, or many points, along the parenting journey.
The type of exhaustion you experience may vary, depending on the age of your kid(s). Physical exhaustion is common during the younger years, while mental and emotional exhaustion are more likely during the ups and downs of parenting a tween or teen.
But parental burnout goes beyond feeling worn out at the end of a rough day. The excessive or prolonged exhaustion takes its toll, especially when you have a lack of resources to deal with it.
What are the symptoms of parental burnout?
While burnout affects everyone differently, there are some common signs to look out for:
· physical or emotional exhaustion
· emotional distancing from your child
· lack of motivation
· feeling alone
· isolation or detachment from others
· physical symptoms, such as headaches or muscle aches
Unlike other jobs, the role of parent is one you can’t quit, which can leave some parents feeling trapped. As a result, they may resort to things like yelling, avoidance, neglect, or violence, even if they’ve never engaged in these types of behaviors before.
This can lead to feelings of shame or guilt, which may result in unhealthy coping patterns, such as overeating or drinking. It becomes a vicious cycle of negative behaviors leading to negative feelings leading to more negative behaviors.
Tips to prevent parental burnout
While you can’t escape exhaustion altogether, there are some things you can do to avoid reaching the point of burnout.
Let the little things go.
It’s natural to want to be the best parent you can be. But when perfection is the goal, it’s easy to get stuck in a sea of “shoulds.” Research suggests parents who are perfectionists or put pressure on themselves experience higher rates of burnout.
Try to remember there’s no such thing as “the perfect parent.” See how it feels to let go of some of the smaller things. Maybe the pile of laundry in the corner can wait another day, or you end up giving in to “just one more hour” of screen time. Sometimes a good day is good enough for today. And that’s ok.
Take a parental “time-out.”
It’s hard to meet your child’s social/emotional needs when you’re feeling wiped out yourself. If you can, step away for a brief period, especially when stress and emotions are high. Getting out of the house, or just in a closet for a few deep breaths, can help you return to the situation with calm and focus.
While it might seem like adding one more thing to your “to-do” list, self-care can soothe your nerves and recharge your battery, so you actually have more to give as a parent. Adequate sleep may seem elusive at times, but it can make a huge difference, along with getting regular exercise and prioritizing healthy foods. Fun is self-care, too, so do whatever speaks to your soul, whether it’s soaking in a warm tub, reading a novel, or spending a night out with your partner or friends.
Ask for help.
Of course, finding time for yourself is not so simple. When? How? Consider leaning on family and friends, or perhaps trusted members of your religious community. You may be surprised how willing they are to babysit or pitch in where needed, especially if they’re familiar with the demands of parenting. This also extends to your children. Enlist their help with chores to take some of the household duties off your shoulders.
Finally, if you find it difficult to manage stress on your own, reaching out to a therapist can help you work through difficult thoughts and emotions, as well as find other ways to get the support and relief you need.
Susan Fishman, NCC, CRC, Website
Sources: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2021/10/cover-parental-burnout; https://dictionary.apa.org/burnout; https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-ocd-monster/202105/7-tips-prevent-parental-burnout; https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10826-019-01607-1