You’ve likely heard of burnout, most often, it is talked about in the workplace, but it’s also very common in our home life. The main difference that differentiates the ‘job’ of parenting from its workplace equivalent is that there is no option to resign.
Even the guilt around voicing that something is ‘off’ means the symptoms get buried or denied and worse.
Parenting can cause chronic stress and overwhelming exhaustion, making many feel emotionally distanced from their children. This can leave them feeling as if they are failing as a parent. Whatever the cause, burnout is unlikely to go away on its own and, if not tackled, can worsen over time, impacting physical and mental health.
Counsellor Margaret Ward-Martin holds over 30 years of experience as a teacher, coach, and therapist. Here she looks at the signs of parental burnout, what causes it, the effects and how to recover.
Signs of parental burnout
- Feeling overwhelmed and anxious.
- Brain fog, confused thinking and forgetfulness
- Short temper – snapping more at children and partner, quick to anger
- Low tolerance – you have less patience with your children
- Depression – feelings of hopelessness
- Feeling isolated from those around you
- An increase in conflict and misunderstandings, especially with children and partner
- Disrupted sleep – waking up in the night, worrying and not fully rested the next day
- Stomach upsets and/or headaches
- Heightened sensitivity to environments and emotions – crying more, reacting to loud noises or bright lights
- Obsessive-compulsive tendencies – repeatedly checking that loved ones are safe
- Using alcohol, food, drugs to self-medicate or numb the pain
What causes parental burnout?
So many things. The sheer physicality of looking after a child or children, the school runs/pressures/calendar commitments are relentless. When a child is sick or has significant needs, it is stressful.
Cumulatively, this can lead to burnout. New babies, homeschooling, home working, financial pressures, relationship stresses and health worries can all add to the mix. The pandemic was the final straw for many.
The effects of burnout
Unlike workplace burnout, parental burnout affects your physical and mental health and likely impacts relationships with your partner, friends, family, and children.
Burnout can leave you feeling like you can’t cope emotionally, that you can’t think clearly (cognitive impairment) and feeling tired all the time (fatigue). It is likely to progress gradually, with many parents not realising they are at risk of burnout until the symptoms are profound.
It is never too late to reverse the effects and avoid significant mental and physical health issues. Being aware of the above symptoms is a great place to begin.
How do you recover from or prevent parental burnout?
- Ideally, take time out. Garner support for an hour or a day or whatever you feel comfortable with.
- Learn to let go of the small things.
- Address your perfectionism. Good parents need not be perfect people; little humans are deliciously unfettered.
- Look after your and your family’s needs first. Outside demands can wait.
- Find a safe other to discuss your distress with. A friend or relative if no partner is available.
- Ask for what you want. “Please wash the school kit before you bring the children back to me this weekend”. Be specific.
- Sleep. Whatever works for you, but please prioritise sleep; it’s medicine.
- Move. Getting to the gym may be expensive or impractical. Try to walk or take the children to an outdoor play area.
- Eat as healthily as you can and enjoy your food.
- Try to limit the use of drugs and alcohol to cope. Short-term solution with possible long-term problems.
- Set boundaries. Please say no if you are too tired to entertain a child for a playdate. When you do that, you refuse the request, not the person.
Finding the right help
Remember, you are unlikely to be alone. Speaking to other parents you trust may allow you to get support. Sites such as Mumsnet are great places to find community.
Reading to this point is a great place to start. If you see yourself in these words, take control and make some changes. Remember, small changes can make big differences. You don’t need anyone to permit radical self-care; it’s like riding a bike, you may feel anxious and unsteady about meeting your needs, but once you power through the nervousness, you’ll have the skills for life.
Margaret will be running a series of Healing from retreats early next year; places are available on 6th–8th January, 9th–11th February and 31st March–2nd April 2023. These small group retreats are being held at High Leigh Conference Centre in Hertfordshire.
For more information, please visit here.