Updated: Mar 5
If you’re a working mom, who’s ever wondered, “How will I get everything done?” you’re not alone.
More than 70% of childcare duties usually fall in the hands of mothers. So, as a working mother, it means you work the ‘double shift’ and are at risk of two types of burnout – work and parental burnout.
Parental burnout is chronic stress-related to your parenting duties.
This article highlights the devastating consequences of parental burnout and the importance of support in protecting mothers and fathers.
What is parental burnout?
Parental burnout is more than occasionally “feeling stressed” while caring for your children. A key symptom of parental burnout is “intense physical, mental and emotional exhaustion related to parenting.
According to Parental burnout research experts -Moïra Mikolajczak and Isabelle Roskam, parental burnout is “a condition characterised by intense exhaustion related to parenting, emotional distancing from one’s children, and loss of parental fulfilment.”
You may also experience the following:
Physical symptoms such as appetite change, headaches, bodily pains, disturbed sleep, and illnesses
Emotional consequences include guilt and shame.
Mental health effects range from depressed mood to suicidal or homicidal thoughts, which arise from a desperate desire to physically or permanently escape.
To self-manage, you might also develop unhealthy coping habits such as emotional eating, increased screen time, e.g. scrolling social media, excess drinking or other substance abuse.
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.
Why does parental burnout matter?
Awareness about parental burnout is crucial because it has a devastating domino effect that impacts the whole family, especially our children. Consequences include:
Child neglect and abuse
Family arguments or violenceRelationship separation or divorce
There is a parental disconnect, so instead of “doing want’s best” for our child/children, we end up unleashing our frustrations on them by ignoring, yelling, spanking or unjustly punishing them.
Who’s at risk of parental burnout?
Any parent who doesn’t have enough support in their parenting duties is at risk of burnout. Because most childcare duties full in the hands of mothers, they are at higher risk of burnout than fathers. Part-time working and stay-at-home mothers are most vulnerable because of exposure to the parenting role.
Overall, a combination of personal, parent-child relationships and family dynamics increase your chances of developing parental burnout:
Personality traits include:
Ineffective stress management skills and
Poor child-rearing practices.
Personal circumstances include:
Lack of social support,
Working part-time or not working,
Caring for children with special needs,
Past history of a traumatic childhood.
How to tell if you or someone you know might be developing parental burnout
Parental burnout results in hormonal imbalances, which present 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 fatigue.
The predominant exhaustion depends on the age of the child/children. 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, & guilt. As a parent, you feel trapped because, unlike work-related burnout, you can’t suddenly take a vacation or hand in your resignation.
How do you avoid parental burnout?
Parenting can be stressful. 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.
Support is the most critical factor in preventing or recovering from parental burnout.
What to do if you suspect or someone you know might be developing parental burnout
Talk to a trained medical professional.
Parental burnout is best diagnosed by a trained medical doctor or psychologist.
Take the online Parental Burnout Assessment.
A quick way to determine if you’re at risk of burnout is by taking the full online Parental Burnout Assessment.
Prolonged stress of parental burnout 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.
Parenting is stressful at times.
Parental burnout happens when you have high-stress levels for prolonged periods without sufficient coping resources.
Adequate support is crucial in preventing and recovering from burnout. With support, you can have balance and harmony in your parental life.
A critical early symptom of parental burnout is “intense exhaustion related to parenting”.
Look out for the 4 main stages of symptoms of parental burnout :
Intense exhaustion related to parenting,
Emotional distancing from one’s children,
Loss of parental fulfilment, and
Look for signs of behaviour change:
Unhealthy coping habits include emotional eating, increased screen time, e.g. scrolling social media, excess drinking or other substance abuse.
If you suspect you or someone you know has parental burnout:
Contact your local doctor for support.
Let’s make parenting healthy & happy!
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.
All content and media in Dr. Masi’s newsletter and on the HERSELF HEALTH Website are created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice.