Let’s talk about burnout in parenting.
I hear parents say, and I’ve said it myself, ‘I’m so burned-out, and I need a break!’
But have you ever stopped to think about what burnout actually is?
Burnout is a syndrome or state of being, that is chronic, characterized by:
- Exhaustion (Emotional and/or Physical)
- Having little or no sense of personal accomplishment
- Feeling disconnected from others
- Not feeling effective at your role and responsibilities
- Lack of empathy
- Use of Sarcasm (the hurtful, cynical kind of sarcasm)
Burnout was a term coined decades ago by researchers who found this syndrome to cluster in helping professions and careers where people take care of other people.
Some examples of helping professions include nurses, social workers, physicians, psychologists, therapists, first responders such as police, rescue, and firefighters. What we do know from decades of research, if you are caring for and helping others, you could be at risk for burnout.
So how does burnout apply to parenting?
Being a mom or dad is the ultimate caring and helping profession!
Let’s face it being a parent is a 24-hour/7 day a week/yearly responsibility of nurturing, caring, protecting, supporting and doing all of the supporting roles as well: working, cleaning, shopping, cooking, chaffering, you name it!
And the work is never completed! There is always some role a mother and father provides to their child across a lifetime. I believe, and have seen this over decades of counseling parents, parents will experience some degree of burnout at some point in parenthood.
The good news is you can manage your level of stress and reduce the potential of experiencing burnout by increasing self-care.
The biggest sign of burnout for parents is exhaustion.
If you feel so tired during the day, regardless of how much sleep you had the night before, and all you can do is think about when you are going to get more sleep, this is exhaustion. Most parents experience exhaustion at some point, for example, caring for a newborn, the first year of their child’s life, and during the process of adoption.
Sometimes we can identify where our stress is coming from: a change in job, partner/spouse traveling, demands caring for a sick child, financial stress, changes in support with friends and family, which can include conflict and fighting.
However, if you are experiencing fatigue and exhaustion without being able to pinpoint the source, for example, getting up in the middle of the night to care for your child, then exhaustion from stress and not taking care of yourself adequately, could be the reason.
As parents, we all have challenging days when we experience some of the symptoms of burnout. The key here is to understand how often and for how long we experience the symptoms. Feeling exhausted and irritable every now and then in parenting is to be expected. But, if you find that you have these symptoms several times a week, for many weeks at a time, then this could signal serious stress. And you’ll need to develop coping skills to manage stress and decrease burnout.
And if symptoms of burnout aren’t treated, these symptoms can develop into a mental health issue, such as depression.
As a Clinical Psychologist and mother, I am constantly in roles of caring for people. I love my job, and I love my children. Sounds like a disclaimer, right? The truth is, sometimes, I am so exhausted from the amount of giving and nurturing in my life that I begin to notice symptoms of burnout in my own life. For me, burnout shows up with being overly tired regardless of how much sleep I get, feeling irritable and wanting to be alone. Taking care of my children, tolerating their moods (two of my four children are teenagers!)and being around them can be so overwhelming when I am burned-out.
I watch carefully for the signs of burnout in my life.
Overtime, I have come to understand my subtle symptoms of burnout: drinking more than two cups of coffee a day to increase energy, feeling tearful when driving home from work, and wasting time surfing the internet as a way to cope with stress. It is amazing how much time you can spend on Facebook and Instagram! But the biggest sign I’m feeling burned out is feeling irritable caring for my children.
When I notice these behaviors in myself, I do more to take care of myself through increasing exercise, yoga, getting enough rest and to reaching out to friends, family and co-workers. And, I also learn to say no to over-committing myself.
Take a moment and think about how symptoms of burnout shows up in your life.
Make a list and keep a mental note. If you can’t think of any symptoms, pay attention this week to how stress impacts you. Try to notice patterns in your thinking or behavior which signal potential burnout. Sometimes just paying attention to when you are doing too much can help you plan to organize your time differently.
Burnout can happen at some point in parenthood. When it happens, suspend judging yourself negatively and harshly.
You are not a failure as a mom or a dad because you experience symptoms of burnout.
Instead, be compassionate to yourself, increase self-care and coping, and make small changes to manage the stress in your life.
Parenting is not an event, it’s a journey, take care of yourself.
If you’re interested in learning more about Burnout in Parenting, please take the free quiz I’ve developed, designed to tell you if you are burned out parent and what you can do to improve your well-being, prevent and reduce burnout in parenthood. Head on over to MomsWellBeing.com and take the free quiz, Are You a Burned Out Mom? or Are You a Burned Out Dad? to learn more about burnout in parenthood.