10 Signs You Have Parental Burnout

Any parent is susceptible if there’s an imbalance between the stress and their resources.
By Mitchell Qualls
March 9, 2022

Have you ever felt like you can’t parent any longer? Like you’ve given everything you’ve got, and there’s nothing left? These feelings are a reality for many parents. They are simply exhausted. And if they don’t address it, exhaustion can lead to burnout.

What is parental burnout?

Psychologist Herbert Freudenberger describes burnout as a severe stress condition. It leads to extreme physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. Burnout goes well beyond stress or fatigue, though. With burnout, navigating day-to-day responsibilities can be a challenge.

Burnout is often discussed in professional circles. But parents are at risk, too. Board-certified neurologist, Dr. Puja Aggarwal, defines parental burnout as “the physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that one feels from the chronic stress of parenting.” 

Continual exposure to stressful situations brings on this state of mental and physical exhaustion. For some parents, burnout is all too real. 

All parents are at risk, though. Parenting is tough. And parenting can be stressful, especially during the early stages of child development. But what do we do? 

Being aware that parental burnout is real and being mindful of the signs can help you get the help you need.

In recent years, Drs. Isabelle Roskam and Moïra Mikolajczak have extensively researched parental burnout. After surveying more than 900 burned-out parents, they developed a Parental Burnout Assessment (and anyone can use it). They’ve also studied more than 17,000 parents in 45 countries to learn more about what causes burnout.

“Burnout is the result of too much stress and the absence of resources to cope with it,” Roskam said. “You will burn out only if there is an imbalance between stress and resources.”

Here are five signs of burnout according to the Parental Burnout Assessment:

1. Constant exhaustion.

Parenting is tiring; we can all agree on that. But feeling tired or drained all the time is a whole other level. Studies show that parents may experience different types of exhaustion based on their children’s age. Parents of younger kids are often more physically tired. Parents of teens often experience emotional fatigue caused by conflicts with their children.

Frequently, burned-out parents stress over how they will get everything done.

2. Distancing yourself from your child(ren)

Burned-out parents may do this to preserve energy. Have you ever heard a parent say, “I love my children, but I can’t stand being around them anymore”?

3. Loss of fulfillment.

Parents often find they are not the parents they used to be or would like to be. They see a difference in who they are. This can lead to extreme guilt and stress.

4. Suicidal thoughts or ideas of escape.*

With job-related burnout, you can find another job. But leaving is not an option for burned-out parents. Some parents reported feeling trapped and had thoughts of escape or even suicide. These thoughts were more common among parents than in those experiencing job burnout. 

5. Being violent or neglectful toward your child(ren).**

Even if a parent opposes being violent or neglectful toward their child, burnout can cause them to be. 

Psychologists have also identified other signs of burnout. They include:

  • Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, or self-doubt
  • Headaches, neck pain, and muscle aches
  • Loss of motivation
  • Changes in appetite or sleeping habits
  • Feeling isolated or alone

It’s essential to know and recognize the signs of parental burnout. 

Any parent is susceptible to burnout if there’s an imbalance between the stress and their resources. Burnout is preventable, and help is available, too. 

You can take steps today to stop the cycle. Here’s How to Stop the Cycle of Parental Burnout.

*If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are a number of websites and organizations with excellent resources for you. HelpGuide is a great place to start, along with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 988.

**Contact the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) for more resources or to report abuse.

Other blogs:

Is It Normal To Have A Bad Day With Your Kids? – First Things First

6 Keys to Being a ScreamFree Parent – First Things First

5 Mistakes Parents Make With Teens – First Things First

My Spouse and I Disagree About Parenting – First Things First

Sources:

Roskam I, Raes M-E and Mikolajczak M (2017) Exhausted Parents: Development and Preliminary Validation of the Parental Burnout Inventory. Frontiers in Psychology 8:163. 

Burnout Research: Emergence and Scientific Investigation of a Contested Diagnosis

How to Identify and Prevent Burnout

The impact of parental burnout

Parental Burnout: What It Is and How to Cope

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