What's the difference between a bad day in parenthood vs parental burnout? Here are the signs to look out for and how you can get back on track to being the best version of yourself for your kids
Being a parent is not easy. Let’s be honest, it’s a job in itself. Parents put so much time and energy into their kids that they neglect themselves. This results in parental burnout, a condition in which parents become so emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted that they have nothing left to give.
So what are the signs that parents should look out for? And what’s the impact on the rest of the family, including the little ones?
Understanding parental burnout
What is parental burnout?
Many of us can probably imagine what burnout looks like. Let’s face it – some of us might have suffered some form of burnout in our lives. But what’s the definition that’s specific to parental burnout? According to research published in Clinical Psychological Science, parental burnout is “a state of intense exhaustion in parents, resulting in them becoming emotionally detached from their children and having doubts about whether they are good parents.” No thanks to parental burnout, parents realise they are no longer the parent they were previously, nor are they the parent they wanted to be.
Do you get stressed out being a parent? Sure, that’s normal, but if that stressor goes on for too long and is overwhelming for you, then you’re probably suffering from parental burnout. Many people may think that this is a regular aspect of parenting. But it’s not, folks!
3 symptoms of parental burnout
Like most illnesses, parental burnout can affect everyone differently. The common symptoms to look out for are:
1. Extreme exhaustion
This is the first sign of parental burnout. You may be tired, but you feel like you can’t afford to rest because you have to do everything. Exhaustion can manifest emotionally, mentally, and/or physically.
2. Anger or resentment
Burnt out parents will lack empathy towards their children, resulting in increased violent behaviours. You may resent your parental role as well as the existence of your offspring. The abovementioned study highlights stress as the facilitator that fuels anger.
3. Emotional detachment
Another red flag related to parental burnout is when parents start to isolate themselves from their kids. They pay less attention to the little ones, don’t care as much, and reduce their engagement. At times, these parents may fantasise or even consider leaving their children.
Other signs include:
- Change in appetite
- Poor sleeping habits
- Difficulty remembering, forgetfulness
- Aches and pains
- Not feeling motivated or productive
The impact of parental burnout
Parental burnout can harm your mental health. Depending on its severity, parents can end up developing obsessive-compulsive tendencies or becoming depressed. Some may even have suicidal thoughts. The condition can also cause hormonal imbalance, leading to decreased sex drive.
Besides impacting those burned out, the family is also affected. Tensions and breakdowns in communication can cause marital conflict. This disorder increases parental neglect and violence (mostly verbal) towards children, negatively impacting their development.
Both mothers and fathers are susceptible to parental burnout. On top of that, single parents, those with special needs children, and adults with past or existing mental illnesses are at risk of parental burnout.
Parental burnout can result in unhealthy coping mechanisms
Even with all the information above, you’re probably still wondering: is parental burnout real? Or is it a made-up excuse for some parents’ “bad behaviours”? We spoke with Shikin Salim (not her real name), a mum of one who’s been suffering from parental burnout since having her son. She tells us that she exhibits signs and is aware of her affliction.
“It’s mostly exhaustion – physically and mentally. This is probably caused by my constantly preparing contingencies for my son should things not go as planned.”
To cope, Shikin plays games on her phone while her son has screen time. She also delays returning home from work just to have time for herself. “But doing those things makes me feel guilty. It eats me up inside.”
Does parental burnout affect her parenting skills? “Yes,” she replies, matter-of-factly. “I try to explain most things to my son, but due to burnout, I skip those steps and just pull the ‘Because I said so’ line. I also constantly say no to my son and criticise his every move. That’s not the kind of parent I want to be.”
Shikin also realises parental burnout has affected her relationship with her spouse. She feels like she has to be “on” all the time while her husband has become lax in parenting their son. “I feel like I’m the ‘bad parent’ – constantly saying no and following through.”
How to deal with parental burnout
Parents suffering from burnout may feel guilty or ashamed of their condition. That’s understandable, but please remember: you are not a bad parent. And, there are ways to help you cope.
1. Talk to someone
If you’re feeling burnt out, you should communicate with your partner. Let them know how you’re feeling and explain how they can offer support. Single parents should talk to someone they trust, like a close friend or family member.
Shikin’s unsure whether her spouse suffers from parental burnout, but even if he is, he’s not talking with her about it. “I resent him for not sharing with me and talking it out. He finds that commenting or complaining about it is unacceptable and it should just be taken in our stride.”
What if parental burnout gets too overwhelming for you? Seek professional help. They can help you understand what you’re going through and provide tips to manage your burnout.
2. Build a support network
While having a supportive spouse is great (and reassuring), you might want to look at a support network too. The more help that you can get, the better. Join a support group where you can meet like-minded folks and trade stories, get advice, and ask for help. If you need help looking after the kids, reach out to a trusted person or a childcare provider.
3. Self-care is the best care
Parents, repeat after us – self-care is not selfish. Rachel Lim, co-founder of homegrown brand Love, Bonito, succinctly puts it: “(We) must remember to take care of ourselves so that we don’t pour from an empty cup.” You can start by practising mindfulness. This can be as simple as breathing exercises before you start your day. Rest if and when you can. And prioritise your sleep! The most important thing to remember is you shouldn’t feel guilty for participating in self-care.
4. Be kind to yourself
Raising little people is both challenging and rewarding. Thus, it’s normal to feel exhausted. This is why parents must recognise the signs of parental burnout and take time out. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, be patient, and be kind to yourself. You’re only human, after all…
So, is parental burnout real? Yes, it is, and it’s existed for longer than we realise. Many parents may suffer from it, and that’s normal. There are ways to cope. Know that you’re not alone. Don’t be so hard on yourselves, parents.
Parenting is tough – but you’ve got this.