How to Avoid Parental Burnout and Find Your Parental Bliss
Updated: Oct 22, 2022
As a parent, do you know the NUMBER ONE thing that will tip you from feeling blissful or balanced to burnt-out?... It's probably not what you think.
In this two-part article on the crucial yet under-recognised topic of parental burnout, you'll learn:
How to tell if you have parental burnout and how to find your parental bliss.
Simple, practical ways you can create balance and feel re-energised.
Part 1: How to Avoid Parental Burnout and Find Your Parental Bliss
Are you blissfully unaware of the stress of FOOKMO?
It feels like we're emerging from the forced hibernation of the pandemic and thrust into a whirlwind of parties, events, and activities. With everyone packing the last 2 years into the weekend, it's easy to be swept away by the craze and FOOKMO - my version of FOMO for parents. FOOKMO is the 'Fear Of Our Kids Missing Out' on fun activities. In contrast, FOMO is one's own 'Fear Of Missing Out' on a particular event.
And so, with the backlog of post-pandemic celebrations, we will soon be misbehaving if we don't proceed with caution and conscious intention. As parents, we'll be yelling and missing the magic moments as we race the clock to get out the door. Our kids will be "acting up", meaning they'll be less than compliant and moody as they absorb the emotional frenzy.
We all feel this typical example of parenting stress from time to time. And just as the stress of rushing off to celebrations can quickly suck the life out of any party, the chronic stress of mundane tasks can slowly suck the joy out of living and lead to parental burnout.
But, before we start exploring parental burnout (PB), let's learn about its polar opposite state - parental bliss.
What is parental bliss?
Hello! Do you know what you're looking for?
Parental bliss is a positive emotion, not a particular event. An event can cause a feeling of bliss, but the event itself is not bliss. This means two things. Firstly, only you can decide what bliss feels like to you. Secondly, there are many ways to get that feeling. So, to reach for and enjoy your 'parental heaven' on earth, you must start by defining it. Why? Because If you don't know what you're looking for, how will you notice those moments of joy when you find them?
How to find your parental bliss.
To find bliss take a few minutes to do the following visualising exercise. After you do the 'Imagining Bliss' exercise, you'll know what to strive for, and you might be surprised about what you can be grateful for.
Imagining Bliss Exercise
Close your eyes and imagine your ideal day of parenting. It could be a day you've had or wish to have.
Use your 5 senses to picture the scenario/event in vivid detail.
What do you see? i.e. Where are you? What's the weather like? Who's with you? What are you doing?
What can you smell?
Maybe you are tasting something?
What sounds do you hear?
What can you feel on your skin, with your hands or underneath your feet?
How do you feel emotionally? What are the physical sensations you feel in your body as you experience these emotions?
Open your eyes. Write out your description of parental bliss and focus specifically on the feelings.
This is your unique definition of parental bliss. Now you know what you're looking for.
Note: Repeat this exercise as often as you wish. The scenarios you picture may change, but the feeling stays the same. Parental bliss is a feeling, not a place. The more you do the exercise, the clearer you'll become on what brings you joy as a parent. Regardless of current events in your life, you can do this exercise at any time to conjure up within you, this emotion of parental bliss.
What is parental burnout?
What you want to avoid!
Burnout is a metaphor used to describe the mental, physical and emotional exhaustion due to prolonged periods of stress. Different types of burnout are named according to the primary source of stress, e.g. work-related-, parental- or caregiver-burnout.
But, parental burnout is more than occasionally "feeling stressed" while caring for your children. According to world leaders in parental burnout research- Moïra Mikolajczak and Isabelle Roskam, parental burnout is "a condition characterised by intense exhaustion related to parenting, emotional distancing from one's children, and a loss of parental fulfilment."
Why does parental burnout matter?
The reasons you should care.
Parental burnout is essential to be aware of because it affects the whole person, impacts the entire family and can have devastating consequences. Parental burnout results in hormonal imbalances which affect the whole person - emotionally, mentally and physically. The suffering parent may experience headaches, bodily aches, pains, illnesses and sleep disturbances. Emotional consequences include guilt and shame. Mental health effects range from emotional distancing to suicidal or homicidal thoughts, which arise from a desperate desire to physically or permanently escape. Some of the stories we read about where good parents go bad could have resulted from parental burnout.
Parental burnout doesn't only affect us as parents or partners. It has a domino effect that impacts the whole family, especially our child(ren), whom we love very much. There is a parental disconnect. So, instead of aligning with our intention to "do want's best" for our child(ren), we end up unleashing our frustrations on them by yelling, spanking or unjustly punishing them. So, although parenting-related burnout commonly ends in child neglect, it can also lead to child abuse. Family disagreements or violence arises. Sometimes violence is directed toward the partner because the burnt-out partner feels unsupported or because the other parent stands up for their child(ren). Relationships suffocate in toxic home environments until separation or divorce appear to be the only escape. The domino effect can also knock down work performance, and job loss may become a reality.
But what causes parental burnout?
The difference between feeling happy and balanced to feeling lost and out of control.
So how do you know if you're a parent at risk of burnout? Studies reveal a laundry list of personality traits and personal circumstances that can increase your chances of developing parental burnout. Individual factors include perfectionism, anxiousness, ineffective stress management skills and poor child-rearing practices. Events leading to burnout include lack of social support, caring for children with special needs, past history of a traumatic childhood, working part-time or not working. The broad list of risk factors indicates that all of us are at risk. Which makes this information both helpful and unhelpful. We need to know: "Which of these factors is most likely to tip us into parental burnout?"
The tipping point.
"How will I get everything done?"
If you ever wondered, "How will I get everything done?" you're not alone. Stress is a normal part of life. But stress alone is not enough to cause burnout. So, what's the tipping point? Thankfully, a 2018 landmark study by leaders in PB research, Mikolajczak and Roskam, revealed the answer. The tipping point to burnout happens "when parenting stress severely and chronically overwhelms parents' coping resources".
This means you might burn out when you are under a lot of stress for a long time. But, according to Isabelle Roskam, "You will burn out only if there is an imbalance between stress and resources."
Lack of support will tip you from parental bliss or balance into burnout. Adequate support is crucial in preventing burnout and restoring balance in your parental life. These findings again prove the timeless wisdom of the African saying, "It takes a village to raise a child." But, let's be honest, the interconnected modern life is busy, and the internet doesn't sleep…even if you have the privilege of the village. So, you must know how to tell if you or someone you know might be developing parental burnout.
How to tell if you or someone you know might be developing parental burnout
A key symptom of parental burnout is "intense exhaustion related to parenting". But, how do you tell if you're feeling 'exhausted' because you're busy or 'exhausted' because you're burnt out? Parental burnout is a prolonged response to chronic and overwhelming parental stress.
This prolonged burnout stress causes hormonal imbalances which affect your body, mess with your mind and crush your spirit. So, it's important to remember the problem is not all in your head; it's in your body too. You may experience fatigue, appetite change and disturbed sleep. In a desperate bid to self-manage, you might develop unhealthy coping habits such as emotional eating, excess drinking or other substance-abuse. The problem is these behaviour changes can be associated with various conditions, including depression. This is why parental burnout is best diagnosed by a trained medical doctor or psychologist.
So, how do you tell if you or someone you know might be developing parental burnout? Fortunately, they are early warning symptoms you can look out for and an online Parental Burnout Assessment you can take. Parental burnout presents as a progressive increase in the number, frequency & length of four main stages of symptoms:
Stage 1 is overwhelming exhaustion or feeling run down in your parental role. Burnout stress is not limited to physical exhaustion but also causes significant mental and emotional exhaustion. The predominant exhaustion depends on the age of the child(ren). If you're a parent to young, energetic children, you might feel more physically exhausted. Whereas if you're a parent of teens, you might experience more emotional exhaustion from the endless arguments. Commonly expressed phrases or thoughts include: "I feel completely run down by my role as a parent." or "I have zero energy for looking after my child(ren)."
In stage 2, you emotionally distance yourself from your kids subconsciously or consciously in an effort to conserve energy. You may think or say, "I'm no longer able to show my child(ren) how much I love them."
During Stage 3, you begin to consciously feel a loss of fulfilment or fed-up with parenting. This is commonly expressed as "I do not enjoy being with my child(ren)." Or 'I love my child(ren), but I can't stand being around them anymore." Or "I can't take being a parent anymore."
Stage 4 is contrasting yourself with the parent you were or aspired to be. You might say, "I don't think I'm the good father/mother that I used to be to my child(ren)." Or "I'm ashamed of the parent I've become". These thoughts can lead to feelings of "inescapable" distress, shame, and guilt. As a parent, you feel trapped because, unlike work-related burnout, you can't suddenly take a vacation or hand in your resignation.
Now that you know how to identify parental burnout, how do you avoid it?
Part 2: Creating balance.
Between parental burnout & bliss lies balance.
Your journey to burnout is driven by stress, fuelled by lack of support and fast-tracked by poor lifestyle choices like sacrificing sleep, not prioritising personal time or indulging in unhealthy coping behaviours. But, if you're travelling down the road to burnout, fear not! Two vital factors can help you slam the brakes on the burnout ride and make a U-turn that will put you on the path back to parenting bliss.
So, what are TWO factors that will move you significantly closer to parenting bliss?
Self-care because it will help you manage stress better
Seeking support because that's how you share the parenting load.
Parental Bliss Tip 1: SELF-CARE.
Self-care is the foundation of stress management and success because it is the one area of your life you can immediately take control of. Five important pillars form the foundation of healthier and happier parenting. The good news is that all five are entirely within your control, and you're already or can easily do most of them. All you need to do is work intentionally on strengthening these pillars. I call these the 5 HERSELF HEALTH Lifestyle Pillars, and they are:
Physical activity. Moving your body more often and energetically releases mood-boosting hormones and improves energy levels.
Sleep. Getting better quality sleep is known to improve emotional regulation and decision-making ability.
Mental activity. Doing regular brain exercises improves your mental and emotional fitness. It leads to greater life satisfaction and fulfilment, even in challenging times. Examples include practising gratitude, calming breath techniques, mindfulness, meditation, challenging negative thoughts and creating empowering beliefs
Nutrition. A nutritious diet is good for overall health and improves your energy levels.
Social and soulful connection. Improving the quality of your most important relationships is better than focusing on the quantity of time you spend on them. This is because better quality relationships lead to increased understanding of each other and result in fewer conflicts.
These 5 HERSELF HEALTH Lifestyle Pillars are the foundation of your self-care routine. They will set you up for better health, happiness & sanity. Taking care of yourself helps reset your emotions, refocuses your mind, re-energises your body, and reignites your joy & passion for living. Simply put, you refill your near-empty cup of giving, which makes you feel good. And when you feel good, you have a greater capacity to give and do more. Find out more about the 5 HERSELF HEALTH Lifestyle Pillars here.
Parental Bliss Tip 2: SUPPORT.
Support is the biggest problem and most important solution for burnout. Often we underestimate the needs of a growing baby. Although it only takes two to make one baby, it takes a village to raise one child. Because we underestimate the demands of raising a child, we undervalue the needs of the adult raising the child and vice versa. We are not designed to live or parent alone. That's why as humans, we are pack animals or social creatures (if you prefer a more sophisticated expression). Although it's not always easy to get support, there are many ways to be supported. You may need emotional, mental and/or physical support.
Get emotional and mental support by talking about it.
Opening up isn't easy. So, often we self-isolate because we feel ashamed admitting we need help. But remember, humans, are not designed to be alone or do things alone. And parental burnout is more common than you think. Reports show numbers as high as 30 out of 100 parents in some countries. You're not the only one snapping at your kids or giving them more than the recommended daily dose of tv.
Tips for finding someone to talk to.
The ideal person would be a good listener who's non-judgemental and someone you can trust. This person sounds like a unicorn, but they do exist. However, you won't find them unless you're willing to try talking to a few people. Try speaking to someone you feel you can trust e.g.
Trained professionals. e.g. medical doctor, psychologist, counsellor, social worker,
Your partner. If you have a partner, let them know you are struggling and need their help and support.
Compassionate friend. Make sure to set expectations of the support you need. e.g. say, "I'm not asking for advice, just support in the form of a sympathetic ear to hear me out." But if you are looking for advice, let them know.
Other parents who are experiencing similar issues.
Community groups. e.g. religious, social, parenting, sports, walking or work colleagues.
Carefully selected online communities with enforced rules about sharing e.g. moderated social media groups or message boards.
Get physical support to do caregiving and housekeeping chores.
You don't have enough hands or hours in a day to do it all! Sometimes you need an extra pair of responsible hands to get the job done. One simple yet effective time management method I stumbled across is to separate your daily household tasks or to-do list into 3 columns: DO, DELEGATE or DELETE.
The DO section includes things that usually only you can do or things that matter most to you. Examples include breastfeeding your baby or attending a parent-teacher interview.
The DELEGATE column includes unpaid or paid tasks someone else can do to share the load. Examples of:
Unpaid tasks – family chores. It's never too late to get your kids involved in helping around the house or when grocery shopping. Perseverance and repetition are the keys. Just be prepared to never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up… before them.
Paid tasks – cleaner, meal delivery, laundry, babysitter.
Payback-with-kindness tasks - Carpool with friends or family for school/event drop-offs and pick-ups and, in return, cook them a family dinner.
In the DELETE section, dump anything stressful that makes you feel bad about yourself or doesn't add value to your life, e.g. scrolling through social media, toxic emails/ messages or catch-ups with unsupportive people.
It's been a long read, so here's a summary of the key points:
Parental bliss is a positive emotion, not a particular event(s).
Parental burnout is physical, mental and emotional exhaustion caused by the chronic stress of parenting without enough support and self-care.
Even if you don't think it's possible to find your parental bliss, you can avoid parental burnout by finding the middle ground: balance.
'Finding time for self-care' and 'seeking support' are two complementary factors that will help tip the balance in your favour so you can raise a happy family and feel good while doing it.
Self-care is vital because it helps us reduce the stress of trying to raise good, kind, responsible people while keeping them healthy, happy and alive.
Support is critical in preventing burnout, re-establishing balance, and bringing bliss back to parenting. This means that the quality of your #parenting life depends on the quantity of your support.
The NUMBER ONE thing that will help you avoid or recover from parental burnout and find parental bliss…
And, one more thing. Remember, at the beginning of this article, I asked, "As a parent, do you know the NUMBER ONE thing that will tip you from feeling blissful or balanced to burnt-out?" The answer is the word "No". Saying no to support or self-care is the fastest way to burnout.
So, how do you put brakes on the downhill slide to burnout and climb up to the heights of parental bliss?
The NUMBER ONE thing that will help you avoid or recover from parental burnout and find parental bliss is simply saying YES to two things:
Say "YES" to self-care and "YES" to support more often.
Contact your local medical doctor if you think you or someone you know may be suffering from parental burnout or needs further assistance. For urgent help, contact your local emergency services, hospital emergency department or emergency mental health phone line.
About the Author:
Dr Masi is a Mother, Medical Doctor and Parental Balance & Health Coach.
She delivers live and online coaching , programs and workshops that empower women with the skills to create study/work-life and parental balance so they can: Build successful careers, raise happy families and feel good while doing it.
If you are ready to feel like yourself again or your team is ready to achieve high performance and maintain a healthy lifestyle, visit www.herselfhealth.com or email email@example.com today.