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Parental Burnout: Signs and Symptoms

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Clinically Reviewed by:
Lindsey Rae Ackerman, LMFT

Written by:
Alex Salman, MPH on February 28, 2024

There’s no doubt about it—being a parent is hard work. No matter what age your children are, the demands and stress associated with raising kids in today’s climate can feel daunting and stressful.

As parents, it’s our job to prioritize our children’s health and happiness above everything else. However, when you begin to feel the effects of putting your child and family above your own needs, there can be detrimental effects on your mental and physical health.

In this article, we’ll discuss the symptoms of parental burnout and what you should be watching for in yourself, your partner, and other parents as you navigate the tumultuous waters of parenting children.

What is parental burnout?

The state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that parents experience is known as parental burnout.

Experiencing burnout typically happens due to an imbalance between the demands of parenting and the rewards parents receive or feel. Research shows that when parents feel more stressed and overwhelmed rather than joy and reward, the risk of burnout increases significantly and almost right away.

Similar to job burnout, parental burnout comes from consistent, intense stress that never fully goes away and, instead, increases over time. Burnout of any kind can impact our physical and mental health and well-being. It impacts motivation, sleep, focus, mood, and self-esteem, among many others.

Parental burnout increased significantly during the global pandemic, as parents became teachers, counselors, coaches, and many other roles they weren’t assuming pre-COVID.

Financial stress, job loss, and the political and social climate have all impacted the way parents experience stress and worry in the home.

For adults who are stay-at-home-parents, parental burnout is often associated with financial stress or the adjustment to no longer being working parents.

Parental burnout can present itself in many parents in different ways. From working parents to stay-at-home parents and co-parents, we all have our own feelings of guilt and stress that we carry around, likely not realizing how much it affects our daily lives and mental health.

Risk factors of parental burnout

The risk factors associated with parental burnout leave some individuals more at risk than others. These may include (but are not limited to):

  • Raising a child with physical or mental health issues
  • Lack of support from partner or co-parent
  • Financial stress or fear of job loss
  • Working parents that struggle to find work-life balance
  • Lack of a support network (family, friends, daycare, etc.)

How to recognize parental burnout

Most parents don’t recognize burnout in themselves, but rather in their partner or other parents they associate with. Here are the common symptoms of parental burnout to watch out for in yourself and close loved ones:

Signs and symptoms of parental burnout

  • Physical and mental exhaustion
  • Feeling exhausted, drained, and overwhelmed
  • Emotional distancing from family, including children
  • Frustrated, irritable, easily flustered
  • Trouble sleeping, headaches, and muscle aches
  • More conflict with partner or co-parent
  • Lack of motivation or interest in hobbies
  • Social isolation or avoiding seeing people

In some parents with severe burnout, suicidal thoughts and self-harm urges have been present.

How does parental burnout affect children?

Experiencing parental burnout, unfortunately, can have some impact on any children in the home. Burnt-out parents often lack the patience and understanding that they normally would and may act irrationally, anger easily, or lose their patience faster.

Severe burnout in parents can be associated with emotional distancing from their children, which can lead to self-esteem issues in kids, along with significant feelings of worry and unhappiness in the home.

While mild burnout may not directly affect your kids, identifying signs of increased feelings of stress, anxiety, or worry can help alleviate difficult circumstances for parents.

Combatting parental burnout

Not all parents have the coping skills to handle parental burnout properly. Particularly when coupled with other mental health issues like anxiety or depression, parental burnout can be tough to avoid completely.

When dealing with specific symptoms, it can be a vicious cycle of feeling exhausted, snapping at one’s children, and then feeling guilty for losing your temper. Combatting parental burnout is typically done by finding ways to reduce stress at home. Here are a few other ways:

Be open and honest with your partner or loved one

Share your struggles with your partner or co-parent in order to find a solution that will lead you away from your breaking point. Whether you’re married or a single parent, reaching out for help from a trusted family member or friend is critical for your well-being.

Prioritize sleep

People don’t give sleep enough credit for how it can positively and negatively impact their mental health. Most parents, particularly those with young children, fail to get enough sleep every night, which can have a damaging effect on their mental health.

Whether it’s carving out time during the day for a quick power nap or creating an earlier bedtime for your household so you can get more sleep, do what you need to do to make sure you’re giving your body a chance to rest and recover. Your stress level will thank you.

Practice self-compassion

Simply acknowledging that we experience parental burnout can send some parents into a tailspin of guilt, stress, and worry. Parents feel guilty that they can’t control their emotions and feelings enough and that their children will pick up on those feelings and blame themselves.

Being patient and kind with how you talk to yourself, especially as a parent, is critical to raising compassionate, kind, and confident children. Self-talk can significantly impact mood regulation and stress management, so remember to speak kindly to yourself the next time you feel frustrated or impatient with yourself as a parent.

Prioritize self-care

From taking time to nap, exercise, and having time alone, self-care looks different for everyone, but there is no doubt about its importance in a parent’s life. Many parents don’t properly focus on themselves, and their physical and mental health suffers.

Self-care can be something as small as taking time to perform some form of physical activity each day can work wonders for your stress level and boost energy levels while even alleviating some physical health issues you may experience.

Try new ways to find peace and calm, like bubble baths, yoga, meditation, controlled breathing, walks outside, or talking to a trusted friend or family member. Anything that makes you feel calm and relaxed—do that!

Find a parenting community

Don’t underestimate the power of a community when it comes to parenting. Having a trusted support network can do wonders for your mental health. The global pandemic showed various groups how much we rely on a community, particularly when we’re in survival mode, feeling tired or burnt out.

From parenting groups to childcare, take advantage of the resources available if you feel like you need more support.

If your burnout symptoms are not decreasing or improving after taking these recommended steps, we always support seeking professional help. Talking with a mental health professional about your feelings and emotions can only help you be a better parent in the long run.

You don’t have to go at it alone. Clear Behavioral Health is here to help.

Parenting is hard work, and every family struggles with their own individual issues and challenges. It’s normal to feel stressed and worried about your abilities as a parent. If you begin to notice overwhelming exhaustion on a daily basis, it might be time to seek professional help from a mental health expert.

If you or a family member is experiencing the symptoms of parental burnout, it’s important to know that you aren’t alone in these feelings. You are a wonderful parent, and your kids love you. The chronic stress that today’s parents carry can be emotionally exhausting, but help is available.

At Clear Behavioral Health’s Virtual Program, our experienced therapists employ multiple treatment modalities in order to provide effective and individualized treatment for burnout. We offer individual therapy, group therapy, and other routes to help families gain the skills and support they need to move forward in healthy ways.

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