Parental Burnout Is Real—Here's How to Cope

Parental Burnout Is Real—Here's How to Cope

Photo Credit: @shoparq
Between toddler tantrums, never ending to-do lists, and often little to no sleep, motherhood-induced burnout can get the best of us. While we often associate burnout with the workplace, the role of "mom" is the one job with no PTO, no sick days—oh, and no pay. Which is why we wanted to talk about parental burnout, a new term that may come as no surprise to parents. To help, we pulled in reproductive psychiatrist, Dr. Sarah Oreck, to share her tips for coping.

"Burnout is a term typically used to describe difficulty coping with overwhelming workplace stress. But parental burnout is increasingly being recognized in the mental health field and in research studies," says Oreck.

Here's your guide on how to manage parental burnout.

Am I experiencing burnout? How do I know?

Some of the symptoms of parental burnout include physical and mental exhaustion, fatigue, aches and pains, insomnia, emotional distancing from your children, hopelessness and a sense of incompetence in their role as parent. Prolonged and untreated parental burnout can increase the risk of depression, anxiety, conflict with a partner and, at its most extreme,  suicidal ideation, child abuse and neglect.

“Burnout” is a phrase that gets thrown around often, but it’s a real thing. How common is burnout?

It is definitely a real thing and increasingly recognized in the medical community. Early research indicates that in 5 to 20 percent of parents, parenting-related stress can lead to parental burnout.1

Feel like you're getting burned out? Here are some tips to help.

The current hypothesis is that parental burnout occurs due to an ongoing imbalance between the demands of parenting and resources available to that  parent to meet those demands. We have to tip the scale for these parents. The demands of a particular child may not change, so we have to work on the other side of the equation—the resources available to that parent. In other words, ask for help! Though this, of course, can be difficult to do with the 24/7 role of being a caretaker.

  • Talk about it.
    In early research in this area, we find that participant sharing can be extremely beneficial in reducing parental burnout. This can be through individual counseling with a mental health professional or in support groups or group therapy. In areas of workplace burnout we also have good evidence for the benefit of mindfulness, meditation, breath work and self-care.  
  • Let’s stop judging other parents and ourselves.
    Self-oriented and socially-prescribed perfectionism around parenting and our children can often worsen burnout. It’s okay if your children watch screens a couple of hours longer then they would so that you can have a break and take care of yourself. 
  • Take care of yourself, so you can take care of others.
    It’s like the old saying when we fly on airplanes: “Put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others.” This includes your children. If you are not well, you can’t take on the enormously important role of parent.

Speaking of self-care, what are some ways you can practice self-care today?

Especially to new parents, even the basic forms of self-care can improve emotional wellbeing. This includes showering, brushing your teeth, wearing clothing rather than pajamas or sweatpants all day, eating a proper meal while sitting down and exercising. Two to three minute mindfulness exercises while you're in the shower can also be helpful. And it might take you indicating to your loved ones that you need help taking care of the children in order to get some of these moments in.

Have you experienced burnout? We want to hear your story. Share by joining our community on social or by subscribing to our newsletter.

Griffith AK. Parental Burnout and Child Maltreatment During the COVID-19 Pandemic . J Fam Violence. 2020;1-7. doi:10.1007/s10896-020-00172-2

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Perelel.