Parental Burnout: It's Real and It's Manageable

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Publication Date
August 13, 2020
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Summer is winding down, which normally is a time for parents when kids are wrapping Photo of dad working from laptop while his children jump on the couch around himup summer activities such as vacations, camps, and outings and preparing for the new school year. However, you and the kids have been home since March. You may be feeling overloaded because you have been trying to balance work, home life, childcare, and homeschooling--all while navigating the added stress and anxiety of this “new normal” and uncertain future. It’s understandable if you may be feeling a bit burned out, and don’t worry, you most certainly are not alone! In a recent article, surveys show that more parents are experiencing stress and anxiety not only for themselves, but for their children’s well-being. These feelings can lead to what is called “parental burnout.”

Parental burnout is characterized by “an overwhelming exhaustion related to one’s parental role, an emotional distancing from one’s children, and a sense of parental ineffectiveness” and can lead to more serious consequences such as escape ideation and neglect. Parental burnout can come as a result of many stressors--small and large--such as behavioral problems and sibling fights where the parent feels they have no more resources to help resolve these issues and become detached from their child(ren).

Parental burnout is common even in normal circumstances. It is no surprise that we as a society are hearing about more cases of parental burnout during this health crisis when so many parents are navigating financial strain, working from home while being full time caregivers, and facing uncertainty as to when things will go back to normal. Many parents are talking about their struggle to balance all the demands they have to juggle with little to no help at this time.

Kids can pick up on parental stress, especially infants. When children start feeling the stress of a parent, they get stressed themselves and, depending on their age, will manifest their stress and anxiety in various ways. Infants manifest stress by crying and being generally fussy. Older children may lash out, hitting or throwing objects, while others may “shut down.” Some child development experts claim that parents’ levels of chronic stress can seriously impact a child’s development. Not to mention, when kids act out due to anxiety and stress, this can then lead to more stress for you, becoming a vicious cycle!

The first thing we want all parents to know is that you are not alone. Feeling overwhelmed happens to all parents at one time or another, and everyone is doing the best they can right now. The trick is to learn how to manage stressors and remain the best parent you can be.  Below are some tips and resources to help relieve stress and, hopefully, help bring joy back to parenting.  

  • Create a routine. Although schedules can be hard to maintain depending on the age of your child(ren), establishing even one routine can help set up your home for success. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, creating healthy and consistent routines can promote more calm in the house. Even simple things like keeping morning and bedtime routines can improve a sense of order.
  • Some screen time is okay. While common advice is to try to limit screen time, don’t feel guilty about using it if you need to do some work or to regroup while your child is occupied. Not sure what media is out there that is appropriate for your child’s age?  Common Sense Media provides reviews for what your kids want to watch (before they watch it). You can also use screen time to bond with your child(ren). Carving out time to watch a movie or documentary together can not only promote conversation but also can relieve stress.
  • Plan time to get active together! A great way to relieve stress is to exercise, stretch, or move around in general. If you feel your stress level beginning to rise, take a break together! Take a brisk walk, put on some music and dance to your favorite tunes, or do some yoga or stretching. Deep breathing also relieves anxiety. Remember it’s okay to stop what you are doing, close your eyes for a few moments, and take a couple of deep breaths.
  • Go easy on yourself and practice self-care. During stressful times, it is understandable that you may slip up on some chores. It is okay to order out food or do a simple meal. It is okay to take a longer shower than normal just to get a few minutes alone. Maybe you are a night owl; give yourself time after everyone has gone to bed to relax, meditate, or do yoga--whatever relaxes you. Wake up before everyone else and have some “me” time. Things are stressful right now, and your priority should be self-care for you and your child(ren).
  • Don’t be afraid to get outside support. Although you may not be able to see your family and friends, they are only a phone call away. Don’t be afraid to call someone you love and say you are having a hard time. It’s also okay to seek professional help. There are many virtual therapy options out there and some are even offering free or reduced prices right now to help support those in need but cannot afford the typical fees. One option is BetterHelp, which is currently offering the first month free for anyone who needs to talk to a licensed therapist. 
  • Make time to play with your kids. Making time to play with your kids is always important, no matter the age. However, in times when their routines are off and kids may not fully understand what is happening, it is especially important to set aside time for play. Children often act out as a way to get attention from the adults in their lives. Give them that special time by finding activities to do together to engage in all sorts of play. While kids benefit from a schedule and structure, they equally benefit from unstructured playtime to be creative and stimulate their cognitive skills.

Parenting can be difficult. And it’s especially hard when your normal routine has changed, and you are having to balance more responsibility at home. The most important thing you can do is self-care. You can’t take care of others if you are not well yourself. Just continue to look for ways to do the best you can, and remember you are not alone.