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Parental Burnout: Causes and Solutions

Holly Smith

By: Holly Smith, M.D. - Osteopathic Medicine, B.S. - Dietetics, NASM-PES Certified Trainer,

Writer, The Fit Father Project & Fit Mother Project

parental burnout

We have all experienced parental burnout at one point or another. That feeling of absolute exhaustion that leaves you unmotivated and drained both emotionally and physically.

Typically, burnout is associated with the workplace. But as any parent knows, taking care of your kids is as much of a job as anything else!

This makes parental burnout something that can happen just as easily, especially with the increasing demands of being a parent.

Every day you are there for your children, supporting them in every way.

Between getting your kids to school and to extra-curricular activities, preparing meals, introducing them to new hobbies, enjoying trips together, taking care of them when they are sick or injured, and being a shoulder to cry on, you are a supermom!

But over time, the demands can become overwhelming.

Take the recent pandemic for example.

With schools closed, parents are being asked to either homeschool their children or assist with distance learning.

Not only this, but you also are looking to find more ways to entertain your kids without extracurricular activities available to them.

This is on top of all of your other responsibilities!

Over time, it’s only natural to feel more and more exhausted and it can be difficult to maintain a routine that includes your own job along with your children’s hobbies, meals, and homework.

This can leave you feeling cold and irritable, and lead you to blame yourself for being a terrible mother. But this is not the case — you are truly burnt out!

And there is even research to show that this is a growing issue.

Keep reading to learn more about parental burnout — and what you can do about it.

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Why Parental Burnout Is Increasing

The increased pressure on parents, combined with less time to spend with your kids due to work responsibilities, along with the lower appreciation that parents may receive from their own children, has made parenting more and more challenging.

Oftentimes, moms begin to feel like they are failing as parents.

Studies have found that feeling pressure to be a perfect mother is related to parental burnout, and this relation is further enhanced by parental stress.

What Exactly is Parental Burnout?

Parental burnout is a specific syndrome due to chronic parenting stress.

It includes three main issues: overwhelming exhaustion stemming from the parenting role, emotional distancing from one’s children, and a sense of ineffectiveness in parenting.

Exhaustion

Exhaustion is the central component of parental burnout.

This comes from being overextended and completely drained of one's emotional and physical energy.

The increased demands of being a parent can lead to exhaustion to the point where parental burnout emerges.

This is very common in the majority of households where parents are balancing their own careers, along with caring for their children along with all of their extracurricular activities.

As you constantly move from one task to the next, it is almost impossible not to become burnt out.

As this exhaustion increases, parents tend to put their own health and fitness on the back burner, which can further worsen their overall wellbeing.

Emotional Distancing

Emotional distancing, or depersonalization, refers to a negative or detached response from others.

In parenting, this refers to an unwillingness to connect with your children on an emotional level.

Oftentimes, this helps protect parents from unwanted drama, anxiety, or stress.

The pressures of parenting and feeling of being overwhelmed can lead parents to want to avoid any other negative stressors.

So by distancing themselves from their kids, parents can avoid additional tension within the household.

However, this has the consequence of losing interaction with your children that can lead to further parenting issues down the road.

This can also have a significant impact on your mental and emotional health, as well as that of your children.

Ineffectiveness

This combination of work and family is not always easy, and parents have to make decisions regarding the extent to which they spend time and energy on their family or on pursuing a career outside of the home.

Reduced efficacy refers to feeling incompetent, or unaccomplished, in the role of a parent.

No matter how hard you try, you feel like you aren’t achieving what you need to as a parent.

Because women have traditionally been seen as the family caretakers, moms can often feel guilty when they decide to pursue careers outside of the home.

This can also make them feel less effective as a parent.

When you add in trying to take care of your own health and fitness, this can make you feel like you are spending too much time away from your kids.

This leads to further feelings of ineffectiveness as a parent.

Parental Burnout Does Not Make You a Bad Parent

A lot of moms may feel like they are “weak” if they admit to feeling burnt out from parenting.

But the fact is, it truly shows how much you care about your kids and your family.

You want to be at your best, and when you feel exhausted, detached, and ineffective, that is not possible.

The consequences of parental burnout affect both you and your children.

For example, low maternal emotion, which can also be considered emotional detachment, is associated with an increased risk of engaging in child maltreatment.

While this may not be intentional, the psychological aspect of depersonalization can greatly affect your children.

In addition to affecting your children's’ health, parental burnout can have a significant impact on your own wellbeing.

If you are chronically exhausted this will impact your ability to care for yourself.

You will be less likely to exercise, your diet will suffer, and you will likely not get adequate sleep and rest.

Managing Parental Burnout

Addressing parental burnout early on allows you to tackle these issues from the start before they can be detrimental to your health or your kids’ health.

When we talk about health and fitness, this does not just mean focusing on the gym and building muscular and cardiovascular strength.

This also refers to your emotional and mental health as well.

There are a few different ways to help manage parental burnout.

If you are feeling exhausted and overextended from the day to day grind, it may be time to ask for some help caring for your kids.

A grandparent, sibling, or friend may be able to step in for a day, or even afternoon, to give you a quick break.

If you are feeling emotionally detached, or even depressed due to the stress of parenting, this is something that should be discussed with your doctor.

Therapy sessions or meetings can be helpful in discussing your feelings and receiving feedback to help you along.

Fitness also refers to your mental and emotional health, and your family’s wellbeing.

These issues are all interconnected. It’s not easy being a mother and juggling numerous responsibilities.

But by understanding where parental burnout originates, you can take steps to address any ongoing problems with your family.

This will keep you living a healthy life as the fit mom that you are.

Holly Smith
Holly Smith

Writer, The Fit Father Project & Fit Mother Project

Holly is an osteopathic physician, runner, triathlete, and fitness and nutrition enthusiast.

She is board certified in nephrology and internal medicine, has a bachelors degree in dietetics and is a certified personal trainer with NASM-PES certification.

Holly has completed four full ironmans, twelve marathons, countless half ironmans, olympic distance triathlons, half marathons and numerous other road races.

Holly joined the Fit Father Project in May 2019 as a regular writer, contributing articles on health, wellness, exercise, and nutrition.

She has also recently qualified for the 2020 World Championships for Ironman 70.3, in New Zealand!

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