The Why, How and What of Parenting Burnout

Parenting burnout is a sneaky thing – it creeps up on you over time and makes you feel useless, guilty and alone. It has been a busy time for our family due to normal stuff like exams, but also our impending move home has taken up a lot of energy. So I found myself on a very short fuse with little bandwidth to cope with my family’s mood fluctuations!

Symptoms of parenting burnout

There was a small part of me that recognised the symptoms of parental burnout – loss of connection, feeling like a failure, feeling guilty and not in control. We somehow expect exhaustion with younger children because the sheer physicality of meeting a small person’s needs can feel completely overwhelming. But when they get older, that “you’re not a good enough parent” voice in our head can still be very loud! Sometimes it can feel like when we compete with strong emotions from our teenagers. We have to suppress our own emotions, which leads to more disconnection.

This feeling of wanting to have your head stroked and lie in a darkened room is completely normal, though – even just noticing that we are experiencing these feelings can give some kind of release. It allows us to think about what we are feeling and why that might be, rather than instantly judging ourselves.

If your feelings persist and you cannot function, or you start to have suicidal thoughts, it’s important to reach out for support from a mental health professional.

Causes of parental burnout

Parents dealing with financial issues, lack of support or social isolation, as well as single parents, parents who have emigrated and parents of special needs children already have a lot of stress on their plate. So just a small thing can tip you over into burnout. The pandemic brought added stress to already overworked parents, and there was often no escape.

So, if you are starting to feel signs of parenting burnout such as increased anxiety, annoyance and frustration, a sense of disengagement or disconnection, or just plain sadness, what can you do about it?

7 ways of coping with parental burnout

    1. There has been lots of research on dealing with stress, but specifically for parents, one of the key things is putting yourself first. Do something simply for you – as a giver, the best place to start is to give to yourself. Then you can recharge your batteries and have enough energy to give to others again.
    2. Switching off the negative noise – or any noise – in your head can give instant relief from guilt. Try sitting or standing comfortably, close your eyes and listen to the furthest away sound you can hear for as long as you can and then the closest sound. If your mind wanders, that’s ok, just try to refocus and start again.
    3. Emotion is good! In the words of the song from Frozen – let it go! It’s a physiological reaction that is part of the healing process following a period of intense stress.
    4. However bad your day feels, make a list of the three best things that happened. A bit of gratitude can go a long way.
    5. This is a tough one but ask for help. If you are a ‘coper’ then this might feel like a weakness, but you will be amazed how people respond – everyone likes to feel needed. I bet that you are an expert at helping people in need and doesn’t that feel good?
    6. Phone a friend and let them know that you need to brain dump – no ‘fixing’ required. Just being able to talk and someone listen without comment is fantastically helpful.
    7. Any kind of physical activity will let your brain know that you are safe to move on.

What can you do next?

Experiencing parental stress or burnout is extremely common for many parents. It can be heartening to know you are not alone, and there are steps you can take to reduce existing symptoms by rebalancing your stress and resources. Try reading Burn Out: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagoski, or check out more info about parenting stress.

At Parents are People too, we are here to support and listen. Come and join the community and start feeling human again.

Interested in finding out more? Join our next workshop, Stress-less Parenting, to find out how to rediscover energy and joy in your family life.