Parental burnout is the physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that one feels from the chronic stress of parenting.
In 2018, Roskam and her colleagues developed a measurement called the Parental Burnout Assessment after surveying more than 900 parents they had determined to be experiencing burnout. From these subjects’ testimonies, the researchers extracted four dimensions of parental burnout: exhaustion in one’s parental role, contrast with previous parental self, feelings of being fed up with one’s parental role, and emotional distancing from one’s children.
Remember, one does not get weekly off from parenting!
State of mind in Parental Burnout
Parents might feel like wanting to get away from their child, and not engage emotionally. Frequent fits of anger and irritation can happen. Some issues reported are forgetfulness and/or increased feelings of anxiety or depression. Some questions like these arise:
- Do I even deserve to be a parent?
- Do I have any qualities of parenting?
- Why am I so tired and lonely?
- Why can’t I understand what the baby needs?
Burnout is not a short, transient phase. It happens when the feelings persist for a long time. It becomes deep-seated. The starting point is when parents and those around them place a lot of parenting expectations and judge harshly.
That leads to tiredness all the time, a lack of interest in any activities, a feeling of hopelessness, and dwindling motivation towards anything and everything.
What does one feel during Parental Burnout?
- A sense of feeling drained all the time
- Feelings of self-doubt
- Headaches, neck pain, and muscle aches
- No interest in daily chores
- changes in appetite
- Fits of Anger
Why is burnout becoming more common?
This phenomenon is not that new. It has been around. Some reasons why it has been becoming more common are:
- Changing gender roles - While it's so encouraging to see women joining the workplace and driving corporate and government changes, it has created a gap in traditional child caregiving needs at home.
- Breaking of the joint family system - The tradition of all brothers and their families staying together in one large house is getting outdated now. So, the extended support of other family members is not there anymore.
- Increased social pressure - With increasing social media and sharing of information, there float new rules and suggestions for good parenting. Often, the chaos of these demands makes parents wonder if they are good enough.
- Urban life - Commute, traffic, pollution, demands to excel at various levels draw the energies of parents in multiple directions.
- Not wanting to repeat their own parents’ mistakes - Young parents want to be careful that they don’t repeat the mistakes their parents made. That may make them too harsh on themselves.
Steps towards Dealing with Parental Burnout
- List out your feelings on paper
A simple exercise to list out all the things overwhelming you is the best start point. So, don’t say - ‘What’s there to write? I know them in my head. It helps get it out there, to prioritise problems, fears, and concerns. It will also help you recognize triggers and learn ways to better control them. This can be a cathartic experience, providing a release for pent-up emotions that may be causing stress and anxiety. Writing down your thoughts and emotions can help reduce stress and anxiety by providing an outlet for negative feelings.
- Mum and Dad, please talk to each other. Follow a conversation process like this -
- These are the feelings I am struggling with.
- This is how I feel physically most of the time.
- When this happens (trigger), this is how I tend to react.
- These are the changes I see in my usual self
Even if tempted to, please don’t judge or give suggestions to each other yet. If you feel that feelings are very raw and it might get sensitive, ask someone to moderate the discussion for you.
3. Now, use the S.T.O.P. method
Stop. Take a deep breath with a longer exhale. Just observe what you’re thinking and feeling and then proceed
4. Acknowledge that it’s “just hard”
No parent is perfect. Everyone is struggling. Mess is real. So, When family life is messy, We often believe that it’s our fault, but parenting is challenging even in the best of times.
“You’re not doing it wrong. It’s just that hard.”
5. Start caring for yourself
A strong body with good immunity is your best ally. Get into a good exercise routine, eat well. Eliminate sugars from your diet - replace them with seeds and nuts and see how the body starts becoming more agile.
The easiest way to develop a self-care habit is to attach tiny steps to your regular routine. For example, drink a glass of lemon water in the morning, start mild stretches throughout the day, or rest your legs up the wall for a few minutes before bedtime, practise deep breathing.
6. Sleep well
Sleep deprivation is a common side effect of anxieties related to parenting duties. And, it can become a vicious cycle - no sleep leading to more anxiety leading to further stress and insomnia. Try Yog Nidra, warm showers, and a relaxing bedtime routine. Try to give each other a break from baby care to get the mind space to sleep.
7. Banish that phone
Technology is a great tool, part of the recent smartphone that has made our lives so much better. But with the benefits, it has brought us issues like being hyper-alert to all the pings, acutely aware of something or the other you need to attend to. This leads to a constant worry in the head, a lingering alertness that stops you from relaxing.
It is important to decide what type of relationship you want to have with your technology. Phones and alerts are stimuli. You have choices about how and when to respond to stimuli. Not every stimulus needs a response or a response right now.
So, reflect deeply and think about the 3 Rs:
Recognize what kind of stress the phone is causing without you noticing it.
Redirect your attention - do you need to be alert to the phone all the time?
Resolve by making a plan not to obsess with replying to emails immediately or scrolling through social media too much.
Try to sit in fresh air without the phone and just soak in nature.
6. Don’t stray into the “cult of the perfect parent”
All your child needs is a happy parent who is responsive and available. So, don’t other people’s standards fill you with guilt.
Open up a bit about your struggles to someone you feel you can trust. We are not as alone as we often believe, and there’s nothing more comforting than finding someone who understands.
Offer help. Simple gestures of kindness toward others give us a boost, too.
Team up with a friend or a neighbour for practical and moral support. A community is a big help and people in the same situation will offer genuine empathy and even good suggestions. If your struggle is too much, getting therapy is a good idea. Working through your negative thinking habits in therapy will help you develop a stronger sense of self-compassion, which can reduce emotional burnout and fatigue.