Parental Burnout: How To Cope With It

The never-ending demands of parenting can feel overwhelming at times, leading to parental burnout — a condition that is more common than you think. Here are a few ways to avoid falling prey to it.

By Amrita Gracias

Parental Burnout: How To Cope With It

Parenting is an exciting journey but one filled with stresses that can overwhelm you at times. So, are you feeling exhausted, irritable, less productive and hopeless? Do you feel like you just don’t have the drive to go on? If your answer is yes, then you are probably suffering from ‘parental burnout’.

So, what is parental burnout? The term can be used to describe the feelings of physical and emotional exhaustion, frustration, lack of motivation and, in some cases, depression, that parents experience as a result of the stress caused by parenting and other responsibilities.

Parental burnout is not as uncommon as we may think. In fact, it is now officially considered a ‘syndrome’ following a recent study by Roskam et al entitled, 'Exhausted Parents: Development and Preliminary Validation of the Parental Burnout Inventory', published in the Frontiers of Psychology (2017). The researchers found that several social and cultural changes in our lifestyle have contributed significantly to the increasing instances of this condition.

Signs of parental burnout

Some of the warning signs include, feeling:

  • irritated and frustrated for no apparent reason
  • emotionally disconnected from the child
  • resentful towards the child and his needs
  • worthless and inefficient as a parent
  • exhausted with no motivation to go on

Effects of parental burnout

Chronic stress because of exhaustion, thoughts of being an ineffective parent, and emotional withdrawal can affect a parent in many adverse ways. Some manifestations of parental burnout include the development of:

  • violent and neglectful behaviour towards the child
  • discord between parents
  • substance addiction
  • suicidal ideations
  • feelings of estrangement
  • acting-out behaviours in children

Coping with parental burnout

Here are a few causes of parental burnout and some strategies to deal with them:

1. Excessive commitment: Along with parenting responsibilities, you need to take care of your work and social obligations as well. But some of us tend to over-commit. We become a part of social initiatives that demand regular attention or, enrol our children in various activities such as martial arts, dance or music. The result? We end up shuttling from one class to another. Such over-commitment can stretch you to the limit.

  • What you can do: Understand what is important and prioritise accordingly. At work, avoid over-committing yourself so that you enjoy a healthy work-life balance. At home, plan your time to prevent overworking yourself and don’t commit your child to too many extra activities as well. This way you won't add to your already busy schedule and will have the time to connect with those around you.

2. Braving it on your own: Trying to deal with everything on your own will, ultimately, leave you stressed and exhausted. And it will also make you less efficient. Accept the fact that you need help because you can't handle everything on your own. Acknowledge that you need some time to take care of yourself as well.

  • What you can do: Seeking support from family members such as your spouse or parents will take some weight off your shoulders. You can even seek help from friends and the larger community, especially if you are a single parent. Remember, there is no shame in asking for help.

3. Lack of time for yourself: Some of us are constantly racing against time to meet our commitments — both as parents and as individuals. Such a lifestyle will leave you with almost no time to relax or wind down. Over a period, such constant pressure to perform, coupled with the inability to de-stress, can lead to burnout. So, do not burden yourself to such an extent that you can't make time for yourself.

  • What you can do: Take a break from your duties to make time for yourself and your own needs. Engage in a physical activity like yoga or aerobics; indulge in a hobby or simply take some time out to relax, even if it is only for a few minutes every day. Also, ensure you spend quality time with your partner regularly.

4. Unrealistic expectations: Quite a few of us set unrealistic goals for ourselves and feel frustrated and unhappy, if we are unable to achieve them. Think about whether you have unrealistic expectations from yourself. It can prevent you from enjoying a sense of gratification, and you will always feel stressed about achieving your impossible goals.

  • What you can do: Have realistic goals and expectations. This allows you to experience happiness with every step that you take towards your goal, and makes you less stressed. Also, understand and accept the fact that you need to re-look at goals you may have set for yourself before you became a parent. For, the demands of parenthood may not allow you the time to work towards achieving them.

5. Comparing with others: Comparing our parenting skills or achievements with other parents, or our child with other children, only leads to resentment, dissatisfaction and frustration. Are you someone who can't help comparing yourself (or your child) with others?

  • What you can do: Avoid such comparisons. While it may seem like other parents are doing a better job at raising their child, remember that what works for them might not suit you. So, focus on your own priorities and develop your own strategies, keeping in mind what is best for you and your family.

6. Trying to be the perfect parent: There are no perfect parents. So, striving to be one is an exercise in futility. Trying to achieve this unrealistic goal can be immensely exhausting and frustrating. Besides, you will face resentment from your children and family members, which will only add to the existing negative feelings.

  • What you can do: Try to find out what works best for you. Improve the situation by adopting a more effective parenting style and strategy. This will guarantee fulfilment, joy and perfect moments.

Unlike a regular job, parenting does not allow you to quit or give up. But, by keeping these simple tips in mind, you can ensure that you will always feel happy and satisfied, and never suffer from burnout!

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