Parental burnout and how to remedy this creeping malaise

Signs of this corrosive disorder include increased fatigue – both physical and mental exhaustion

Parental burnout is still a misunderstood phenomenon with many of us equating the stress and fatigue of burnout to high flying or unfulfilling careers. However, as with work settings, parental burnout is acknowledged as a valid condition consisting of prolonged emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion.

Burnout in parenthood can leave us overwhelmed and invariably vulnerable as we not only manage the mental overload and daily invisible job but also the unnatural state of balancing all the extra the pandemic brings (hopefully, now soon behind us) – home schooling, close contact scenarios, positive cases, working from home, and the perpetually blurred lines with an ever-pervasive mountain of commitments between careers and home life.

The past two years have placed an enduring additional toll on the wellbeing of parents worldwide. We have been drowning in a tidal wave of stress and uncertainty.

Since lockdown and the dreaded home schooling, there's been no escaping the stress of parenthood

Parenting coach Emma Grant sees more and more parents affected by burnout every day. "Pre-pandemic it was common for parents to confide in me that they went to work for a break," she says. "But since lockdown and the dreaded home schooling, there's been no escaping the stress of parenthood. And now as the world returns to normality the burnouts are uncovered."


Parental burnout is much more than fatigue. Most of us are used to a certain level of exhaustion, both mental and physical in parenting, however burnout takes that mindless tiredness to another level. It is not the kind of fatigue that can be softened by getting a good night’s sleep, but rather scaffolds the significant build-up of the stresses of parental life over time.

Signs of parental burnout include: increased and ongoing fatigue and exhaustion; withdrawal from social situations; restlessness and being unable to concentrate; disconnecting from family and friends; a loss of fulfilment; low mood or depression; anxiety; stress; poor sleep and eating habits, among many other psychological and physical symptoms. Burnout is quite the slow burner, meaning it can easily creep into our lives before we recognise that we are at risk. The symptoms build on each other as we compare the parent we were to the parent we would like to be and the parent we have become, highlighting further issues of guilt and blame.

Unlike workplace burnout, we are unable to take a step back

As our boundaries have collapsed due to the pandemic, it can be difficult to recognise burnout amid the widespread effects of the pandemic. Unlike workplace burnout, we are unable to take a step back, and as result have further feelings of being trapped with nowhere to turn to. For many without support or families with additional needs, the stress has been significantly greater. Our sense of safety was diminished overnight, and we have yet to reclaim that same unburdened freedom from worry.

It is no surprise that parental burnout has risen during the pandemic with the additional stressors of financial concerns and social isolation. Despite not being out of the stresses of the pandemic just yet, we have an opportunity to rebuild our wellbeing before burnout takes over.

For instance, the pandemic has shown us that we cannot control the world around us. Controlling the controllable and making small changes that will positively benefit our mindset and mood will ease some of the heightened expectations we can put on ourselves. Those stresses have been significantly enhanced over the past two years; however, we can take this opportunity to re-evaluate if our worries are valid and reconsider our perspective. While reframing a difficulty as a challenge is not the easiest of things to do, it can help us rebalance our lives and find gratitude where before there was fear.

The potential for burnout is an opportunity to consider how we parent, what we want from our lives, and how we can fill in those gaps which we seem to be falling into. We can build on our psychological flexibility. How we think and perceive the world around us is helped by and supports our self-acceptance, self-compassion, and self-care. As does the ability to overcome the thinking traps which spur on burnout. We can in many ways navigate our thought processes to alleviate the symptoms of burnout. Rest, talking to a partner, sleeping and eating well, and unearthing a balance in routine are also vital in rebuilding our physical and emotional wellbeing at times of excessive stress.

Know that parental burnout is not a reflection on you as a parent, but rather is a result of the parenting situations we can find ourselves under. These prolonged stresses outweigh our ability to manage them, which does not make us bad parents. There are ways to cope as burnout is manageable and temporary.

Further reading

Grant is the author of The Confident Parents Guide to Raising a Happy, Healthy and Successful Child and The Powerful Proactive Parents Guide to Present Parenting. Here she provides a few pointers to help avoid or overcome parental burnout.

  1. Share the load: As parents, we're usually responsible for everything but you aren't a teacher, so if maths homework is a stress, find your child a home online tutor to help.
  2. Go easy on yourself: It's easy to overlook what you've achieved when you focus on what's still to be done. Be your own best friend and pat yourself on the back for each 'to do' you check off your list. It doesn't have to be perfect. Praise your efforts as much as your accomplishments as you would your child.
  3. Don't try to be a perfect parent: People and circumstances are not always what they appear to be in the schoolyard. Everyone wants to be liked and accepted but don't try to be all things to all people, that's impossible. So just be you.
  4. Guard your precious time and set healthy boundaries: People will demand your time and attention. Volunteering and offering lifts are all worthy, loving acts, but you don't have to be the one who attends to them all the time. This scattering of time and attention, anywhere and everywhere, can result in going nowhere and doing nothing fast.
  5. Find you time: Daily time to tend to your own needs and to relax is a necessity. Exercise, meditation, yoga, painting, reading, writing, and walking in nature are all great ways to boost serotonin, the brain's feel-good chemicals.
  6. Stay present: You can't be present and ruminate about the past or worry about the future at the same time. Chose now over those times you have no choice or influence over.

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