How to avoid parental burnout

As parents, we often feel pressured to give so much to our children that we forget to take care of ourselves. Here’s what to do when the daily grind gets too much.

We’ve all heard of burnout in the workplace, however according to a new study out of Belgium parental burnout is a very real phenomenon, affecting between two and 12 per cent of parents.

And is it any surprise?

Running a household, caring for children, balancing your own relationships and working outside of the home can be exhausting.

Warning signs of parental burnout

Child psychologist Dr Fiona Martin says there are a number of red flags to be aware of.

“When we get to the point that we’re not able to remember things, we’re physically tired all the time, and we want to distance ourselves from toddlers having tantrums, for example,” she says. “They’re all red flags.”

“What causes this burnout are things like sleep deprivation, not eating well, and not getting enough exercise or social contact.”

Other risk factors for parental burnout include:

  • Lack of support
  • The number of children parents have to care for
  • Whether children have special needs or illnesses
  • Stress of work/life balance
  • Limited time for self-care

We can’t provide optimal care for our children if we’re constantly stressed.

“When we forget to take care of ourselves, we put stress on our mind and body. This can lead to physical effects like a weaker immune system and high blood pressure, but also mental health effects, such as depression and anger management issues,” Dr Martin says.

parental burnout

Self-care needs to be a priority

The mum-of-four says it’s not easy to change the way we prioritise ourselves in our hectic lives as parents.

“Remember that practising self-care isn’t about neglecting your children’s needs,” she says. “And it’s also not as simple as planning a weekend away.

“Instead, it’s about consistently showing yourself the respect and care you deserve, through routines and self-discipline.”

Her advice is to choose one area of concern and focus on making a change.

For example, it may be making it a priority to enjoy exercise three times a week, even if it means not putting the laundry away immediately.

How to prevent parental burnout

Despite the demands of parenthood, it’s imperative to practice regular self-care.

This can include:

  • Taking care of your physical health: Eating regularly in healthy ways, getting enough exercise and quality sleep, spending time outdoors in fresh air and natural light, and receiving regular, preventive medical care.
  • Investing in your social and emotional needs: Spending time with friends and family who make you feel good and supported, working on your marriage or equivalent relationship, and reducing stress by putting boundaries in place and saying no to extra tasks and responsibilities.
  • Taking time for creative pursuits: Give yourself time for self-reflection, write in a journal, spend time in nature, enjoy a hobby or try something new.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

“Sometimes practising self-care, especially in the beginning, means asking other adults for help. So don’t be afraid to ask your spouse to give you a break one night a week while you take a yoga class,” the psychologist says.

“Or ask a neighbour or friend to take a walk with you each evening. Getting another adult to support you in self-care can be a big help in making it a permanent part of your life.”

She adds that while expanding your parenting toolbox by participating in evidence-based parenting programs such as Circle of Security can be great, remember to aim for ‘good enough’ parenting.

Catch up on the full episode of The House of Wellness TV show to see more from Zoe, Ed, and the team.