Are you craving a vacation from your kids? Wishing they’d go spend the night literally anywhere else? Have you been yelling at them a lot more lately? You might be struggling with parental burnout. Here’s what to do.
- What is parental burnout?
- Top 10 Symptoms of Parent Burnout
- How does parenting burnout affect children?
- How to recover from parental burnout
What is parental burnout?
Parental burnout leaves parents exhausted and fatigued, causing them to feel like they have nothing more to give to anyone. They may even wish they weren’t parents or never had kids. Many people think this is a normal part of parenting. It’s not.
Note that some people do wish they never had kids and hate being a parent, and their experience is valid. This article, however, is geared towards parents who did want to have children and now find themselves hating the fact that they are parents.
This is especially true of parents with special needs children. You are not a martyr just because your child is disabled. Yes, parenting is exhausting. Parents of special needs kids are actually at a higher risk of burnout.
Parental burnout is also referred to as “depleted mother syndrome” outside the US, possible because mothers are most frequently expected to care for children.
Top 10 Symptoms of Parent Burnout
- Extreme physical and mental exhaustion
- Feelings of depression, stress and anxiety
- Increased addictive behaviors, including doom-scrolling social media
- Feeling emotionally detached from your child (also called compassion fatigue)
- Feeling unfit to parent, inadequate
- Idealizing yourself escaping your current life
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Extreme weight loss or gain
- Thoughts of suicide and/or murdering your children (Severe – please seek immediate help.)
- Wishing your kids were kidnapped, suddenly died, got taken away, not too old to be put up for adoption, or never existed (Severe – please seek immediate help.)
How does parenting burnout affect children?
Here are some ways that parent burnout impacts kids.
Parentification is when a child has to provide emotional support or care for a parent on a regular basis. There’s a comic floating around Facebook of a small child bathing his mother in the shower, touted as “the beautiful bond beyond mother and child”. That illustration represents parentification.
Parentified children grow into adults who struggle with anxiety, depression, maintaining healthy adult relationships, boundaries, people-pleasing behaviors, and taking care of themselves. When a child is expected to do things beyond their development capabilities, this impacts them into adulthood.
Parents who feel shut off from their children emotionally may also do so physically. Addictive behaviors tend to alienate the people around you and cause irritability towards the people who depend on you.
Research indicates burnout parents are more likely to engage in child abuse and neglect, especially if poverty is involved. All of these things contribute to trauma alone; however, disabled children are at a higher risk of developing trauma than their able-bodied peers.
Abuse, neglect and murder
Severe parental burnout might lead a parent as far as murdering their children and/or killing themselves. This is frequently witnessed in the autistic and similarly disabled communities.
Based on the studies, I presume filicide happens due to mothers needing more resources than are currently available. Patriarchal society expects mothers to be selfless and go out of their way to take care of their families. Often, this means dealing with fragile man children who believe women should infantilize them while infantilizing the women for raising the children.
Accessing support is difficult when it’s not readily available. You’re deemed to not need help “enough”, or that support is nonexistent. I used to hate on parents who ultimately took their children’s lives in addition to their own; now, I realize the measures people go to when in desperate need of help.
Filicide (the killing of one’s own son or daughter) is a sensitive topic, so note that I’m NOT condoning the heinous crime. Murder is murder; patterns paint a reason why. I acknowledge filicide to stress the importance of readily available resources and the seriousness of parental burnout in hopes that less people will be gaslit into believing this condition is normal.
How to recover from parental burnout
You’ve recognized your own signs of parental burnout…what do you do now?
1. Accept your exhaustion
Accept that you need sleep. If your children go to school and you stay home, use that time to sleep. Contrary to public opinion, taking care of yourself is productive. Not everything has to be what society deems useful.
You do NOT have to contribute to society in order for your life to mean something. Your life means something already.
2. Give yourself grace
You don’t have to have a super clean house or pick up on the daily in order to be worth something. For centuries, mothers have been touted as “lazy” if they don’t go to work and make money, instead staying at home to care for the kids. You’re not lazy; you just have unmet needs.
3. Identify your stressors and whether they can be removed
What exactly is stressing you out?
- Is it doing more than you can handle right now?
- Trying to do everything?
Make a list of everything that is causing stress, overwhelm, or anxiety in your life so you can reassess how to reduce those effects.
If there are things you can stop doing, do less of, or delegate to your partner or relative, try doing that. I know a mother who pays someone else to take her kids to and from school so she can go back to sleep for a few hours after getting them ready for school (where they eat breakfast).
4. Lean on your community
Ideally, you have a support system of friends, family, and other parents that you can lean on for support. Talk to your partner and kids about how you need more help taking care of the home.
Being transparent with your kids about what you’re going through models what they should do when they’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed or depressed.
5. Seek professionals when you need them
Burnout has a way of developing into depression if it festers long enough. Sometimes, burnout symptoms are underlying signs of other conditions. Seeking professional help covers your bases even if it really is burnout.
Burnout is often minimized, but did you know it is likened to a form of PTSD? Residual trauma, whether from childhood or high stress, tends to initially surface as burnout, no matter the kind.
Even though burnout is minimized by modern society, it’s still a valid concern. Please don’t discount yourself even if it feels like everyone else around you is.
Have you struggled with burnout? Share about it in the comments below. You are not alone.