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Mindfulness for Parents: Parent Burnout

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Parent burnout is a divisive term. Parents are either exclaiming, “Yes!” in agreement or chuckling when they hear the term. Most people are familiar with the burnout one might feel from their job, but there is a lesser-known type of burnout related to being a parent – parent burnout.

There is a harmful myth that parenting is always rewarding, joyful and that you must be a superhuman parent. Those daily temper tantrums when you are trying to get out of the door, constant sibling fights, sleepless nights, the demands, the yelling, crying or overloaded schedule are difficult to cope with and do not match the dream you had of becoming a parent.

Parent burnout is pretty common. Research has shown as high as 60% of parents have reported experiencing critical levels of burnout symptoms at some point. In the same study, many resisted getting help because they did not believe they were experiencing burnout.

What are the symptoms of parent burnout?

Parent burnout is burnout specific to your role as a parent. While you may feel accomplished at your job and feel emotionally fulfilled around your friends, when it comes to being around your children, you find yourself emotionally drained and overwhelmed, often carrying around a sense of hopelessness in overcoming your parenting obstacles. Parent burnout is more than fatigue.

As a result of burnout, you may find yourself distancing yourself from your children, a sense of numbness or feeling like you are operating on autopilot in an effort to cope. If you find yourself frequently fantasizing about what it would be like to walk away from all parenting and family responsibilities, you might be experiencing burnout.

Another symptom of parent burnout is the frequent feeling of being an ineffective parent and always doing something wrong. When parenting multiple children or children with developmental challenges, a parent’s level and feelings of burnout can be increased.

How can parent burnout affect children?

If you are a parent experiencing burnout, you might have noticed you are running on empty and feel unable to be emotionally present with your children or give all of the love and joy you’d like to give and know you are capable of giving. This reality makes it difficult for parents to model and teach coping skills, as the parents themselves are struggling. As parents react to their children with yelling, scolding and possibly even spanking when stressed, children will be more likely to respond with yelling and hitting when stressed. This makes home life even more emotionally challenging. Self-compassion in times of stress is challenging, but when practiced appropriately, it sets an example for children on how they can manage their emotions and behavior. One study found that parent burnout can interfere with the development of a secure attachment relationship with children. As parents, it’s up to us to check in with ourselves to identify when we are burnt out and what to do about it to serve ourselves and our children better.

When parents experience burnout, they tend to feel stuck or constantly trapped in situations that cause elevated stress and emotions. Research suggests there are ways to change things in our lives to reduce burn out and it’s much easier when you have help. Like children need parents, sometimes parents need someone to look out for them, too.

What can parents do to decrease parent burnout?

  • Ask family, friends, neighbors or your community for help
  • Plan to hire a babysitter, nanny or invest in after-school childcare
  • Hire help around the house with chores, or try delegating chores to your children to establish responsibility
  • Seek out laughter through connecting with friends and reconnecting with what brings you joy as an individual
  • Seek out a safe space to talk about the stresses of parenting, whether that’s with a trusted friend or professional therapy

Start small with a commitment to a self-care practice. Take space to remind yourself of what makes you as an individual feel good and whole. Perhaps it’s a five-minute meditation in the morning or a walk at lunchtime.

Whatever it may be, remember to make space for yourself. And if you need help, ask for it. It takes a village.
Resources to learn more about parent burnout: 

Psychology Today: The Burnout We Can't Talk About
Psychology Today: How to Cope with Parent Burnout

Psychology Today: Parent Burnout, What Makes it Different?

To learn more about Dr. Annotti, please click here.

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