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Are You Suffering from Parental Burnout?

Updated: May 4, 2023

ou’ve likely heard of burnout, most often it is talked about in the workplace but it’s also very common in our home life. The main difference that differentiates the “job” of parenting from its workplace equivalent is that there is no option to resign.

Even the guilt around voicing that something is “off” means the symptoms get buried or denied and worse. Parenting can cause chronic stress and overwhelming exhaustion, making many feel emotionally distanced from their children. This can leave them feeling as if they are failing as a parent.

Whatever the cause, burnout is unlikely to go away on its own and if not tackled can worsen over time, impacting on physical and mental health.

Counsellor Margaret Ward-Martin BA (Hons), MA, PGCE, PG Cert. Coaching, Dip Couns. MBACP holds over 30 years’ experience as a teacher, coach and therapist. Here she looks at the signs of parental burnout, what causes it, the effects and how to recover.

Signs of Parental Burnout

  • Feeling overwhelmed and anxious

  • Brain fog, confused thinking and forgetfulness

  • Short temper – snapping more at children and partner, quick to anger

  • Low tolerance – you have less patience with your children

  • Depression – feelings of hopelessness

  • Feeling isolated from those around you

  • An increase in conflict and misunderstandings especially with children and partner

  • Disrupted sleep – waking up in the night, worrying and not fully rested the next day

  • Stomach upsets and/or headaches

  • Heightened sensitivity to environments and emotions – crying more, reacting to loud noises or bright lights

  • Obsessive compulsive tendencies – checking repeatedly that loved ones are safe

  • Using alcohol, food, drugs to self-medicate or numb the pain

What causes Parental Burnout?

So many things. The sheer physicality of looking after a child or children; the school runs/pressures/calendar commitments is relentless. When a child is sick or has significant needs, it is stressful. Cumulatively, this can lead to burnout. New babies, home schooling, home working, financial pressures, relationship stresses and health worries can all add to the mix. The pandemic was the final straw for many.

The Effects of Burnout

Not unlike workplace burnout, parental burnout affects your physical and mental health and likely impacts relationships with your partner, friends and family and your children. Burnout can leave you feeling like you can’t cope and emotional, that you can’t think clearly (cognitive impairment) and feeling tired all the time (fatigue). It is likely to progress gradually with many parents not realising they are at risk of burnout until the symptoms are profound.

That said, it is never too late to reverse effects and avoid significant mental and physical health issues Being aware of the above symptoms is a great place to begin.

How do you recover from or prevent Parental Burnout?

  1. Ideally, take time out. Garner support for an hour or a day or whatever you feel comfortable with.

  2. Learn to let go of the small things.

  3. Address your perfectionism. Good parents do not need to be perfect people and little humans are deliciously unfettered.

  4. Look after yours and your family’s needs first. Outside demands can wait.

  5. Find a safe other to discuss your distress with. A friend or relative if no partner available.

  6. Ask for what you want. “Please wash the school kit before you bring the children back to me this weekend”. Be specific.

  7. Sleep. Whatever works for you but please prioritise sleep, It’s medicine.

  8. Move. Getting to the gym may be expensive or impractical. Try to walk or take the children to an outdoor play area.

  9. Eat as healthily as you can and enjoy your food.

  10. Try to limit use of drugs and alcohol to cope. Short term solution with possible long-term problems.

  11. Set boundaries. If you are too tired to entertain a child for a playdate, please say no. When you do that, you are refusing the request not the person.

Finding the right help

Remember, you are unlikely to be alone. Speaking to other parents that you trust may allow you the opportunity to get support. Sites such as Mumsnet are a great place to find community. If speaking to someone you know is not an option please consider calling Stress Management Society – 0203 142 8650 or MIND – 03444 775 774.

Reading to this point is a great place to start. If you see yourself in these words, take control and make some changes. Remember, small changes can make big differences. You don’t need anyone to give you permission for radical self-care, it’s like riding a bike, you may feel a bit anxious and unsteady about meeting your needs to start with, but once you power through the nervousness, you’ll have the skills for life.

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