Parental burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion experienced by parents and caregivers. In addition to depression, anxiety, and chronic fatigue, they may experience sleep disturbances, trouble concentrating, and even illness. Fortunately, if you’re dealing with parental burnout, you can address it through self-care, improved communication, and by creating a safe space with a therapist to process difficult feelings.1
What Is Parental Burnout?
With parental burnout, you’re often completely zoned out, providing little support and showing minimal emotional expression. It can cause feelings of shame, guilt, and resentment, and be triggered by things like last minute after-school activities that make you feel like a taxi service, or the “emergency” gathering of supplies for a school project assigned over two weeks ago.
If you’re dealing with parental burnout, your metaphorical gas tank is empty, and there’s no gas station for miles. There’s a sense of mental and physical absence similar to what mom guilt, mom burnout and stay-at-home mom depression can feel like. You may have been pushed toward burnout for a number of reasons, such as society’s expectations of parenting, your own perception of what being a parent looks like, or a perceived lack of options.
Signs & Symptoms of Parenting Burnout
Sometimes, parents and caregivers experience and exhibit feelings of frustration and disappointment, which can be linked to parental burnout. Being able to recognize these common signs and symptoms allows you to take positive action sooner and prevent burnout in the future.
Common signs and symptoms of parental burnout include:3,4,5,6
- Overwhelming physical and mental exhaustion
- Changes in behaviors or interest in doing things
- Revenge bedtime procrastination
- Difficulty remembering things
- Feeling frustrated
- Chronic mental fatigue or physical exhaustion
- Sleep issues
- Isolation or avoidance of others
- Feelings of resentment
- Feeling shame and guilt
- Loss of productivity
- Emotional detachment or disconnect from your child
- Urges of self-harm or harm to others
Causes of Parental Burnout
Causes of parental burnout can include poor boundaries, lack of communication, and general people-pleasing behavior or tendencies. Overall, when you spread yourself too thin or take on more than you can handle, leaving little room for error, you create the perfect storm of potential for parental burnout.
Causes of parental burnout include:
- Poor boundaries
- People pleasing
- Lack of communication
- Unrealistic expectations
- Scheduling conflicts
- Role assumption
- Limited access or knowledge of resources
- Lack of support
- Distrust in others
Who Is at a Higher Risk of Experiencing Parental Burnout?
Parental burnout doesn’t target one specific type of parent or caregiver, but it generally occurs when parents and caregivers lack the necessary resources to take care of their children or handle child-related stress. Some specific risk factors include employment status, age of children, age of parents, and number of children. Even cultural background can be a factor to consider because in some cultures, family support is much more normalized.
Risk factors associated of parental burnout include:
- Employment status
- Financial status
- Cultural background
- Age of parents
- Age of children
- Number of children
5 Ways to Cope With Parental Burnout
Parental burnout can bring on intense feelings of guilt and shame, but there are many ways to support yourself and reduce these negative feelings, including seeking professional help from a counselor or therapist. Remember, recovery from burnout is possible and you’re not alone.
Here are five ways to cope with parent burnout:
1. Consult a Therapist
Consulting with a licensed mental health professional will help you understand what type of support would serve you best. There are many options available like individual therapy, couples therapy, and group therapy programs. Because every therapist and practice has a different style, try and schedule initial consultations to help you find the right fit. The more you know about a program or experience, the better the results.
2. Go to a Support Group
Support groups can be held online, in-person, or, depending on the group moderators, in a hybrid model. They generally allow for more flexibility in engagement, and are often peer-led, meaning there is not one group leader. Support groups are not always run by a licensed mental health professional either, but by people who have had similar experiences or feelings. Try a handful of support groups to find the right fit.
3. Call a Friend
This one may take a lot of courage or even feel inaccessible to you. If you don’t already have a close friend who you can trust, try reaching out to people that you used to be close to. As we mature, we are often able to look past old drama and better understand the importance of mental health. Fortunately, society has become slightly more open in talking about mental health, but there is still a long way to go!
4. Improve Your Self-Care
Like anything else, self-care is unique to you. What feels re-energizing and beneficial to you can feel like the most dreadful thing to someone else. What helps you feel rested, balanced, and in an overall better mindset? Start doing those things daily, and you’ll begin to increase your mental energy required for parenting. The longer the time in-between your moments of self-care, the quicker you will begin to experience burnout.
If you don’t have time for a self-care routine, start small. Take two minutes every morning before checking your phone or grabbing the kids to breathe deeply and think about yourself. What do you need to be happy? What do you need to feel successful? What needs to change? Then smile, and thank yourself for how far you have come and all of the accomplishments you have made along the way.
5. Practice Self-Compassion & Self-Love
Being able to take care of yourself without negative self-talk is the greatest act of self-love. We are always most critical of ourselves and automatically assume that when things don’t go as planned, we are at fault. More often than not, it is out of your control. When you notice yourself speaking negatively, take a deep breath and focus on forgiving yourself. Focus on what is in your control and recognize the things that aren’t. By focusing on the moment, you can parent more mindfully while taking care of yourself and your children.
When to Get Professional Help for Parental Burnout
Don’t wait until you’ve hit your breaking point to get professional help. If you start thinking it’s time to see a therapist, it probably is. If you wait, it may take a few weeks to get your first therapy appointment scheduled, or you may be so overwhelmed that you don’t know where to begin. The sooner you have a safe space to express your feelings, the sooner you can learn how to manage daily stressors.
Major red flags that need immediate attention are any signs of suicidal or homicidal thoughts. Medical professionals are trained to help you navigate these dark places and can offer you a variety of options based on your specific symptoms.
When deciding whether to get professional help for parental burnout, look for these four symptoms:6
- Overwhelming exhaustion
- Emotional detachment from children
- Loss of productivity and pleasure in the parental role
- Change in behavior
Who Should I Consult For Help In Overcoming Parental Burnout?
If you have a trusting relationship with your primary care doctor (PCP) or OB/GYN, consult them about overcoming your parental burnout. Or, when working with a therapist one-on-one (individual therapy), you can learn coping skills to help with day-to-day challenges. A therapist may also be able to help you notice negative patterns and explore ways to improve your environment.
Consider seeking couples counseling if there are a lot of issues surrounding communication, role responsibilities, and overall parenting styles. Initiating the conversation with your partner about going to couples therapy can be challenging, but the sooner the family unit seeks support, the sooner some of the stress will improve.
Lastly, if you are looking for even more support outside of individual or couples therapy, there are group programs or support groups with other parents and caregivers. These meetings are a great way to gain different perspectives on your situations. Group therapy is often facilitated and organized by a licensed mental health professional, whereas a support group is often peer-led.
How to Find a Therapist
You can start your search for a therapist on an online directory. Try to schedule initial consultations with therapists to determine whether they are the right fit. It is OK to ask questions in order to fully understand the therapeutic process and style of your provider. Keep in mind that depending on the severity of your symptoms, therapy may last longer. The price range can also vary depending on whether or not you choose to use insurance, the level of expertise your clinician has, and the location of services. Talking to your therapist about payment options is always recommended.
How To Support a Loved One Who Is Experiencing Parenting Burnout
To help a loved one who is experiencing parenting burnout, be honest, open, and direct. If they come to you and share, listen to them. Chances are that it has already taken a great deal of courage to open up and share these feelings, so ask them what they need from you to feel more supported. Most importantly, don’t take their responses lightly. What you initially think may be helpful is often quite the opposite.
What isn’t helpful is brushing your loved one’s feelings off by making statements such as, “Oh, everyone’s burned out” or “You’re a great parent! The kids love you!” Generalizing their experience makes people feel invalidated because when they finally asked for help, they weren’t taken seriously.
Parental Burnout Infographics