Learn to identify the signs of burnout and immediate ways to refill your cup.
As much as being a parent can be a rewarding experience, it can also be extremely taxing on your mental health. So much so that you can experience parental burnout. "It is best described as the emotional and physical exhaustion that occurs when the demands of being a parent outweigh the emotional resources we may have to parent well," says award-winning podcaster Kelley Bonner, LCSW, and Founder of Burn Bright Consulting. "It can leave you feeling like you have nothing to give."
"You may experience resentment and avoidance towards your children, which can manifest in small ways such as distractions to avoid being with your family or feeling like you're on autopilot— simply going through the motions— up to abuse and neglect," she says.
Identify the Cause
Although during the best of times, raising kids can be challenging, the last two years have been particularly jarring due to COVID-19. In fact, a recent report from Ohio State University found that of the nearly 1,300 working parents surveyed, 66 percent of them met the criteria for parental burnout.
“The pandemic has increased anxiety in our lives with parents contending with fears for their families’ financial and physical safety,” says Bonner. “Particularly for Black families, the ongoing reports of police brutality and race-related violence add to our anxieties,” she says.
Still as daunting as that may sound, you are not alone, and there are helpful tools to prevent and recover from parental burnout.
Understand the Warning Signs
According to a paper published in the Frontiers in Psychology, parental burnout is a syndrome that can occur because of repeated exposure to chronic parenting stress.
Here are some of the symptoms to look out for:
- overwhelming exhaustion
- fatigue when getting up in the morning, despite a full night's rest
- emotional distancing from kids
- lack of fulfillment being a parent
These feelings may feel normal, but over time they can develop and result in serious consequences. A 2018 study stated that a significant number of burnt-out parents that researchers interacted with during consultations or qualitative studies had reported escape ideation— taking the form of either suicidal thoughts or the desire to leave home without leaving any address.
Refill Your Cup
- Redefine what it means to be a ‘good’ parent. “Instead of creating unrealistic standards, never-ending lists of what you should be doing as a parent, get clear on what type of parent you want to be,” says Bonner. List the basic actions that demonstrate love as a mother/father/caregiver and practice these qualities daily instead of striving for perfection. “Take a few minutes each day to focus on your child and tell them you love them, provide affection, and listen to what they have to say,” she says.
- Set boundaries and learn to ask for help. "Proactively talk to your partner and fellow caregivers about what you realistically can and cannot get done in a day,” says Bonner. “Develop non-negotiable family routines, such as having one meal together daily and keep it free from technology,“ she says.
- Practice self-care. “Find time every day to nourish your body, mind, emotional health, and spiritual health,” says Bonner. Even it's just 15 minutes daily, taking a walk at lunchtime, spending time with friends, and meditating/praying can all serve as a mental reset. “Self-care also can be therapy, joining parent support groups, or reaching out to trusted friends and family members to ask for help,” she says.