What is parental burnout?
Parental burnout is what happens when you’re working too hard for too long at being a good parent and it all becomes too much. It is a lack of balance between demands and rewards of parenting.
Parental burnout has three features;
1) Physical and emotional exhaustion,
2) Feeling emotional distance from your children due to the exhaustion and therefore only interacting on a functional level and
3) Feeling that you are not doing a good job of being a parent.
These are all things that can happen to us all for short periods but the problem is when it becomes a long term issue.
Why does parental burnout happen?
You might expect that income, number of children and amount of help available would be the main factors in developing parental burnout and while these do contribute, the main contributors are actually related to the nature of the parents themselves. Parents who are really trying their hardest to get everything perfect are at more risk, which perhaps isn’t so surprising after all.
How Can You Protect Yourself From Parental Burnout?
1) Try not to focus on outcomes and enjoy the ride.
Focussing on the academic success of our children, their compliance or positive reaction to the meal that we’ve cooked can increase our stress levels, particularly when the outcome is unfavourable. To increase the rewards and reduce the demands upon ourselves as parents try to worry less about success and allow yourself to enjoy the moment that you are in with your child. Your child is doing exactly what they “should” be as a child when they misbehave, push boundaries, reject an activity that they don’t enjoy or have a tantrum when they’re exhausted after school. If we try to enjoy our relationship with them rather than assessing how we’re doing in our project of parenting them we can rebalance our rewards and demands.
2) Look at your routine and remove some parts that you don’t find enjoyable.
Sounds simple enough right? So if you find yourself stressed every Thursday when the children have multiple extracurricular activities that you have to facilitate, it’s ok to drop some of those for now. If you get yourself worked up delivering the perfect balanced diet of organic planet friendly plant based meals, consider paring down that complicated menu to a few trusty favourites. With a few small alterations to our ideas of “perfect” parenting, we find ourselves with more time with our children to enjoy their company. If it’s not possible to remove the offending activity consider accepting help from others to complete it.
3) Try not to see yourself as a helpless victim of your situation.
Whichever activities remain in your schedule after some pruning are there of your own choosing. So try to remind yourself that deep down this is what you wanted and that is why you are choosing to do it, whether it’s keeping a tidy house, home cooking or facilitating your children’s hobbies. If it’s still too much of a burden think again about changing it for something that you can manage.
Remember, you can't control everything but you can modify your attitude to your situation and you don't need to try to be perfect because your family already think that you are!
By Mary Reay
Based on the study by Roskam I, Raes ME, Mikolajczak M (2017) Exhausted Parents: Development and Preliminary Validation of the Parental Burnout Inventory.