How to Stop the Cycle of Parental Burnout
I have a confession to make: I’ve been stressed and exhausted many times. I’ve felt burned out and ready to quit, but not from work obligations – from being a parent.
Parenting is tough. It’s demanding. Before our son was born 10 years ago, I recall people telling me everything would change. I don’t remember anyone telling me I’d be taking 2AM walks to stay sane. No one told me there would be days I’d question whether I could continue. The list of things I wish I’d known then is long.
Parental burnout is a real thing, but don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t trade being a dad for anything. Researchers Hubert and Aujoulat found that “parental burnout results from situations where exhaustion occurs as a result of being physically and emotionally overwhelmed by one’s parental role.”
If you’ve been a parent for at least a couple of hours, you know that parenting stress is real. But when it consumes you, burnout sets in. There’s hope, though. You can stop the cycle of parental burnout.
The stress isn’t going anywhere, but there are some healthy ways to lessen the pressure.
Surround yourself with a community.
“It takes a village to raise a child.”
I never quite understood that until we had our first child. But it’s true. Raising a child isn’t easy. Mine didn’t come with a how-to guide.
Surround yourself with people who want what’s best for you. Think about grandparents, other parents, or friends who care about your well-being. You need people in your life to help care for your child when you need it and to help you care for yourself. Asking for help doesn’t make you weak or less than. Any person who has raised a child knows the stress involved.
Text one person and invite them over. Ask them to hold you accountable for taking time for yourself.
Take care of yourself.
When you’re responsible for a little one, it’s easy to put all your energy into making sure you meet their needs. When they get all your energy, there’s nothing left for you.
Have you ever been on a plane and heard the safety speech? If the airbags are deployed, put yours on before you try to put on someone else’s. That sounds counterintuitive to parenting, but it’s so true. If you don’t care for yourself, you won’t have anything to give. Being a parent is the best reason I’ve ever had to take good care of myself.
Exercise, eat healthy foods, get rest (when you can), or meditate. Will it be easy? No. Is it important? Extremely!
Put down your phone. Go get a glass of water, and take deep breaths as you drink. Make it your goal to do that three times today.
Give yourself grace.
You won’t be a perfect parent, and that’s ok! We all mess up. I don’t think I could list all the mistakes I’ve made. As my kids have gotten a little older, I ask them for lots of grace, too. I apologize when I make a mistake.
Don’t fall into the social media comparison game, either. You may see someone who looks like the perfect parent – but remember, social media usually shows the best moments. You may not see all the tears it took to get that perfect photo.
Allow yourself to make mistakes. Tell yourself, “My child doesn’t need a perfect parent – they need a present parent.”
Take a break when you need it.
If your child is in childcare or school, take a day off every once in a while to be alone. Enjoy doing what you like to do. Maybe that’s getting outdoors, taking a long bath or chilling with a movie. And don’t feel guilty about it. You have permission to take time for yourself.
Schedule an hour this week to take a break. Right now, ask your support system to help you make this happen.
Boundaries help to protect your time and your relationships. You may have to say no to some good things. As my children have become more independent, I’ve found that I can say yes to more things I want to do.
Prioritize your well-being and relationships when opportunities come your way.
Ask, “What have I said yes to that I don’t have margin for?” Then do your best to take that off your list.
Parenting isn’t easy, but you can do it. If you already feel burned out and have nothing left to give, reach out to a professional, coach or counselor. You don’t have to walk this road alone.
How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent – First Things First
Can Self-Care Become Selfish? – First Things First
5 Signs You Need Some Alone Time
Parental Burnout: When Exhausted Mothers Open Up. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 1021.
Breaking through the loss cycle of burnout: The role of motivation. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 84(2), 268–287.
Beating burnout. Harvard Business Review, 98-101.
The Cost of Caring Without Self-Care
How to Recover from Burnout and Love Your Life Again
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