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What To Do When Your Spouse Is A Bad Parent

You can come together and move forward as a family.

Parenting has evolved since I was a kid. But not necessarily because of cultural shifts as much as access to information. Research, blogs, and social media have made it easy to access information about how our parenting impacts kids. This information can help us to better understand the long-term impact of our parenting. It also reshapes what this generation sees as good or bad parenting. Parents often search for information to help them when they view their spouse as a bad parent.

Before we look deeper into this, let’s clarify what a “bad” parent looks like. 

If your spouse is emotionally, physically, or sexually abusive to your child (or you), this article isn’t for you. I strongly urge you to stop reading and seek help. Contact the National Children’s Advocacy Center. The following information is not intended for your situation or to condone that type of parent.

For our purposes, let’s take a look at the parenting styles to define what a bad parent looks like. There are four main parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and uninvolved. An uninvolved parenting style is typically characterized as being distant with little communication. They may ensure their child’s basic needs are met but are involved little beyond that. An uninvolved parenting style is considered bad parenting.

If you think your spouse is a bad parent, you may feel like they:

  • Show little or no affection to their children.
  • Don’t provide emotional support for their children.
  • Don’t set rules, boundaries, or expectations.
  • Don’t know their child’s friends.
  • Have no involvement with their child’s education.

We have to acknowledge that parenting, like life, has seasons. You may look at this list and say, “Yep, my spouse isn’t involved with our child. They’re a bad parent.” I would ask you two questions first. 

  • Is this a busy season?
  • Do they have a desire to be more involved?

Your spouse may be in a busy season due to work or life demands. I don’t want to justify their actions, but there is a difference between a bad parent and a busy parent. 

If you think your spouse is a bad parent and you’re reading this, you know something needs to change.

How do you help them become a more involved or better parent?

→Open the lines of communication.

You recognize there’s an issue. You may have to take the first step toward your spouse. A good rule is not to bring up these issues when frustrated. An argument isn’t going to bring resolution. 

Schedule a coffee date with your spouse. Let them know how you feel without being accusatory. It may be challenging, but using “I” statements to express your feelings is an excellent way to discuss frustrations in a relationship. 

Perhaps you could start the conversation like this: “Lately, I’ve noticed some distance between you and our son. I want to ensure that you’re getting the time with him he needs. Is there something I can do to help us get on the same page?”

→Seek to understand.

Our parenting style is often a result of how we were parented, good or bad. Your spouse parents the way they do for a reason. Discuss these questions to dive deeper:

  • What were the parenting styles in each of our homes?
  • Which patterns do we want to change about how our parents raised us?
  • What healthy habits do we want to maintain?

This conversation is as much about your parenting as their parenting. You may gain insight into why your spouse parents the way they do. You may learn something about yourself. This may open up some emotional wounds. If so, don’t be afraid to seek help from a coach or counselor.

→Find common ground.

Look for good parenting resources that you can discuss together. Identify the common parenting values in your family. Do you both value responsibility, hard work, or helping others? Establish goals for your parenting. What do you want your parenting to result in? Write down the positive parenting contributions from your spouse. Build on these positives.

→Avoid good cop, bad cop.

There will be disagreements over how you both parent, but those are conversations for the two of you. As you and your spouse become better parents together, try to avoid fighting in front of your kids. Present a united front. Remember, you’re a team. Your child needs to see that the two of you care for each other and them.

Just because you think your spouse is a bad parent doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. You can come together and move forward as a family. It’s gonna take work, some compromise, and lots of conversations. The process is worth it for your kids, your marriage, and future generations of your family.

Sources:

Baumrind. (1966). Effects of Authoritative Parental Control on Child Behavior. https://doi.org/10.2307/1126611.

Kuppens, S., & Ceulemans, E. (2019). Parenting Styles: A Closer Look at a Well-Known Concept. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-018-1242-x.

Other blogs:

My Spouse and I Disagree About Parenting – First Things First

How To Make Sure Your Child Knows You Love Them – First Things First

How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent – First Things First

**Please note that this article is NOT about an abusive or neglectful parent. The physical and emotional safety of a child is not a difference in parenting styles. Anyone who knows of child abuse happening should call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).**

Image from Pexels.com

10 Tips for Surviving Summer Break

You can thrive this summer when you all know what to expect.

The end of the school year is right around the corner. This time of year is filled with field trips, field days, school programs, and parties. Then, it all comes to a close, and another school year is behind us. Bring on the summer!

It’s time for camps, vacations, and activities. Kids love summer. On the other hand, parents may not always be the biggest fan. Schedules change, and routines shift. Summertime often involves a lot of calendar juggling and planning.

Summertime doesn’t have to stress you out, though.

Here are some tips for summer survival:

Put a calendar in your kitchen or living room that everyone can see and keep up with.

If your summer looks like ours, there are lots of camps and activities to keep track of. The best way to make sure you’re all on the same page is to post a highly visible calendar. Get creative with colors for each family member. Just remember to make it simple enough that it doesn’t get overwhelming.

Schedule a weekly family meeting.

Summer schedules can change from week to week. A great practice is to schedule a weekly family meeting to discuss what’s coming up. Sunday evening could be an ideal time. Include the whole family and get input from the kids.

Adjust your school year routines, but don’t throw them out.

Kids need structure. Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean you should throw all the routines out the window. If you’re like us, you still have a work schedule for the summer. Bedtimes may look different, and morning routines may shift, but structure brings security for your kids. We push bedtime back during the summer, and the kids usually wake up a little later. Just remember that you’ll have to adjust back to school year routines in a couple of months.

Schedule downtime for you as a family.

It’s tempting to stuff the calendar with camps and activities to keep the kids preoccupied. Make sure to schedule downtime and game nights for the family. Leave some time for the kids to be kids and entertain themselves.

Give your kids space.

Some kids need time to recharge (some parents, too). Set aside time for individual play or rest. 

Be flexible.

Schedules are great, but also be flexible and spontaneous. Life happens, and plans change. That’s ok. 

Make a chore list.

Kids are home more over the summer and have more free time. Make a list of all the chores around the house and assign everyone tasks. Get creative and post the list on the fridge or near the family calendar. You can even schedule out when chores need to be done. No matter your child’s age, there are age-appropriate chores for them.

Clarify expectations regarding technology.

Set ground rules in your house for screen use during the summer. We put timers on our kids’ tablets and gaming systems. There is a daily cutoff for technology. Also, consider requiring chores to be done before they can use the tech.

Schedule a date night with your significant other.

While working on that calendar, schedule a date night for you and your love. Intentionally make time for the two of you.

Ditch the pressure.

Don’t put pressure on yourself to make this the best summer ever. Your kids don’t need lots of activities and trips. They need you! It amazes me what my kids classify as the best days. It’s often just time spent together.

Make this summer a summer they’ll never forget – not because of trips or adventures, but because you enjoyed it as a family. Summers get more hectic as your kids get older. Take advantage of time with them when they’re young and make the most of it with these summer survival tips. Have a great summer!

Sources:

Arlinghaus KR, Johnston CA. The Importance of Creating Habits and Routine. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 2019;13(2):142-144. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1559827618818044

Malatras, J et al. First things first: Family activities and routines, time management and attention. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. 2016; 47: 23-29. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2016.09.006.

The term “default parent” has become more popular in the last few years. Essentially, the default parent is responsible for most of their children’s emotional, physical, and logistical needs. If you and your spouse are parents, one of you is probably the default parent. And if you have to ask who it is, it probably isn’t you. The default parent carries most of the parenting load, which can be exhausting if you are overloaded with responsibilities.

Parenting may never truly be 50/50. 

One of you may carry more responsibilities due to circumstances or a preference. What’s important is that the two of you agree on who will do what regarding parenting. Remember, first and foremost, you two are a team. Parenting takes a lot of time and energy, and it takes both of you working together.

So, fellow default parent, let’s have a quick chat. You’re probably exhausted and stressed out (to be honest, most parents are to some extent). You may feel unheard or neglected. You may be on the verge of burnout. And you may even be resentful toward your spouse. All of this can hurt your relationship. I don’t want your relationship to suffer.

It’s time to talk to your spouse about being the default parent. Here are a few tips to get you started:

Be aware.

Awareness is the first step toward change. You recognize you’re carrying most parenting responsibilities, but it doesn’t have to be overbearing. Let the following statement sink in: “Just because I can do something doesn’t mean I have to.”

Remember that communication is key.

Good communication truly is the foundation of many solutions in a relationship. If we don’t talk to each other, how can we expect our relationship to grow and thrive? Schedule a time with your spouse to sit down and discuss what parenting looks like in your marriage.

As you have this conversation, you’ll want to keep a few do’s and don’ts in mind:

DON’T talk about this when you’re frustrated.

DO set aside a time with no distractions.

DON’T accuse or put all the blame on them.

DO express how you feel using “I” statements.

DON’T interrupt when your spouse responds.

DO listen to understand.

DON’T jump to conclusions about how you became the default parent.

DO seek to understand your spouse’s viewpoint.

Most importantly, be respectful with your spouse. Remember, marriage is a partnership, and you’re on the same team.

Write it down.

Make a list of everything you do to keep the house and family operating. Ask your spouse to write down everything they do, too. Don’t write it for them. You may think you know what they do and don’t do, but assuming isn’t helpful. After you’ve written it down, have a conversation about how best to address the imbalance.

Acknowledge what you both do in parenting and why it’s important.

As parents, it’s valuable to acknowledge what you both bring to the table. Stress the importance of what you both do. Even if you think your spouse doesn’t do enough when it comes to parenting, show appreciation for what they do for the family.

Reset (or set) expectations for who will do what.

Maybe you became the default parent because of circumstances. Maybe you stayed home with your newborn, then took on all the responsibilities and never stopped. Perhaps you have a more flexible schedule and can absorb more responsibilities. Maybe being the default parent was a conscious choice that you and your spouse discussed. Regardless of how you got here, it’s time to reset expectations. 

Own the responsibilities you take on, and only those.

Trust that your spouse will take care of what they have agreed to be responsible for. They don’t need to be micromanaged or reminded constantly. Instead, encourage them and let them know you appreciate what they own. If it’s their responsibility, it’s their responsibility. I know people get frustrated when they ask me to do something and I respond by saying, “Let me check with my wife.” But she keeps the family calendar. I’m conscious of not committing us to something without checking with her first. 

This shouldn’t be a one-and-done conversation, either. Circumstances will change, and every stage of parenting brings on new challenges and responsibilities. Revisit this conversation often to check in with and check on each other. You’re a team, and your marriage is healthier when you move in the same direction.

Sources:

Modern Marriage – Till Chores do Us Part – Today’s Parent

Roskam et al. (2022). Gender Equality and Maternal Burnout: A 40-Country Study. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 53(2), 157-178.

Welcome to the most incredible adventure of your life… parenting. I’d love to offer you a roadmap to being a successful parent, but I’m still looking for that one. I can provide you with what I’ve learned from almost 10 years of mistakes and countless conversations with fellow parents.

So, buckle up and get ready for the wildest ride on earth – PARENTHOOD. 

Here are 14 tips for first-time parents.

1. Parenting is hard.

Especially at the beginning. No way to get around that truth. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. There are loads of worry, anxiety, stress, and sleeplessness. Some things will get easier as your child grows, especially sleep. Every stage is a beautiful mess in its own way.

2. Everything is about to change (if it hasn’t already).

It’s all about to get rocked, from your social life to your work life. That can be scary. But I think you’ll enjoy it and won’t be able to imagine life any other way. 

3. The days are long, but the years are short.

As a parent of a 9 and 6-year-old, time flies. Try to enjoy every stage of childhood. Live in the moment.

4. Don’t stress yourself.

Things won’t always go the way you want. Your house will never be as clean as you want it to be. You won’t always get the perfect picture. Your child may not meet all your expectations. You might miss out on some events or milestones.

5. Take care of yourself.

You can’t give what you don’t have. Taking care of yourself has to be a priority. It’s not easy. But do your best to spend a little time focusing on yourself. Take a walk, grab a coffee with friends, get in a quick workout, do a puzzle – whatever fills your soul.

6. There are a lot of opinions out there, but you know your child better than anyone else.

You spend more time with your child than anyone. You may sense that they aren’t feeling well or something isn’t right. Trust your instincts. Social media and the internet are full of people who think they know best, but they really don’t.

7. Hold your baby a lot.

Don’t worry; you can’t spoil a newborn baby by holding them too much. (And research supports that it’s okay). They need your touch and attention. You’re providing a foundation for them to grow and feel safe emotionally, physically, and mentally.

8. Your baby will get sick.

That’s normal, and not because of anything you did wrong. It’s so hard to watch your baby get sick. It can be anything from minor infections to food allergies to significant illness. Be there for them and reach out to doctors as often as you feel is necessary. Don’t feel like you’re calling your pediatrician too much. They are there to help you. You are your child’s greatest advocate.

9. You’ll make mistakes.

There is no handbook for parenting, and every child is different. You’re gonna make mistakes. It’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up. 

10. When you do make a mistake, own it and apologize.

Your baby isn’t going to remember this, so this is for you. Create the habit now of apologizing when you mess up. As your child grows, they will learn this from you.

11. You are your child’s first teacher.

Learning doesn’t start in daycare or school; it begins with you. You are their first teacher. You have the privilege and responsibility of introducing your child to the world. Start early and use every opportunity to teach them as they grow. 

12. Do what works for you, your child, and your family.

Every child and every family is different. Figure out what works best for your situation.

13. Surround yourself with people who will help you.

You’ve heard it said, “It takes a village to raise a child.” It’s true! But it’s not just for the child, you need a village, too. Surround yourself with friends, family, and parents in the same stage. 

14. If you’re married, keep your marriage first.

Make sure and keep your relationship first and your parenting second. The best thing for your child is for your relationship with your spouse to be healthy and strong. 

Parenting is a journey. Take it one step at a time, and don’t get ahead of yourself. And have fun! You’ve got this. I’m rooting for you.

Other blogs:

Seven Things Every Child Needs to Thrive

10 Questions Couples Should Ask Each Other Before Having a Baby

How To Make Sure Your Child Knows You Love Them – First Things First

Sources:

Can You Spoil a Baby by Holding Them Too Much?

Bilgin, A., & Wolke, D. (2020). Parental use of “cry it out” in infants: no adverse effects on attachment and behavioural development at 18 months. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 61(11), 1184–1193.

Ribar, D. C. (2015). Why marriage matters for child wellbeing. The Future of Children, 25(2), 11–27.

Should Your Adult Child Move Back Home?

You can foster independence and responsibility while you set boundaries.

Do you have an adult child living at home part-time or full-time? Are you considering this kind of arrangement? You might be struggling as you think about how to nurture and honor their adulthood while still being the adult parent in your home. I’ve got essential principles and practical help as you set boundaries with adult children. Let’s begin by examining the adult in the somewhat strange term adult child

Everyone begins life being cared for by others. And if we live long enough, we each end our lives being cared for by other people. Somewhere in between is the chapter of life we call adulthood

Adulthood: When you bear the responsibility of taking care of yourself.

If you’re a parent, you’ve brought a child into this world who began life utterly dependent on you. But as any toddler will show you, the desire to be independent is built in. It’s human nature for the toddler to protest and say, No, I’ll do it myself. That’s a healthy predisposition. Remember: The ultimate goal of parenting is to transition a dependent person into an independent person. 

Parents raise future adults who do life themselves. 

The toddler can’t actually do it themselves, and we don’t expect them to. But when is it reasonable to expect your adult child to be responsible for themselves and no longer dependent on you?

The transition can be tricky. It typically occurs between the late teens and early 20s. How do you know when your child is an adult? Every individual is different. You know where your young adult is from a developmental standpoint. But there are some significant signposts.

At age:

18Legally accountable. Vote. Enlist in the military. Marry without parental consent.

21 – Can buy tobacco, alcohol, and in many states, cannabis.

25Rent a car. 

26Latest age they can be on most parents’ health insurance.

What do you see when you look at those numbers? From 18 to 26, there’s a window of time where adult freedoms and responsibilities kick in. Hopefully, we prepared our kids for the “training wheels” to come off during their teenage years. At 18, the training wheels are definitely beginning to come off. By the early to mid-20s, the transition is complete.

Your toddler is now an adult peddling through life on their own.

Remember: Adulthood  = Independence + Responsibility.

★ If we don’t give our adult children responsibilities, they can’t be independent and reach adulthood. This only extends their childhood and delays their maturity.

There are legitimate circumstances that may cause your adult child to be at home: College, unemployment, experiencing childbirth, illness, even a broken marriage or partnership. Our goal as parents is to promote independence through education, employment, financial stability, and ultimately, living on their own. Moving back home (in most cases) should be a temporary arrangement marked with tangible goals leading to their moving out.

MINDSET SHIFT:

Think of an adult child living at home as more like a housemate and less like a teenager. Your name is on the mortgage or lease. Sure, there should be healthy conversations. But you get the final word.

★ Something(s) To Think About. As parents, we have an impulse to do anything we can for our kids. Know your limits. Understand the healthy freedoms & responsibilities your adult child needs to grow into an independent adult. 

Ask yourself: 

  • Will there be an agreed-upon end date? 
  • What signposts can you put in place to mark educational & occupational goals? 
  • Will you be dealing with a young person who has drug or alcohol issues? Significant mental health issues? 
  • Will your child be bringing a baby with them? 
  • Despite your good intentions, realistically, can you handle this? 

Avoid problems before they happen. Address and agree to boundaries before an adult child moves back home (if possible). Put them in writing. Sign them like a rental agreement or contract

What are sensible, reasonable requirements or conditions you would have for a housemate to reside with you? 

1. They’re reasonably easy to live with. They respect you, your property, and your boundaries.

Start here. You and your adult child living at home will occasionally experience friction. That’s reasonable. They’re adult family

(If it helps, think of your adult child as a stranger who is renting a room at your place. There would undoubtedly be limits.) 

Sadly, there are numerous cases of adult children intimidating, manipulating, or even verbally and physically abusing their parents. You wouldn’t put up with that behavior from a renter. You can’t tolerate such behavior from your adult child. Basic respect is a minimum requirement. Understand what abuse is in all of its forms.* 

2. They’re a contributor, not just a consumer – a giver, not just a taker.

This arrangement shouldn’t just be a net financial gain for your adult child. It should instill discipline and be instructive. Catch this: The person doing the work is learning and growing. The person sacrificing is the person developing character and life skills. This person must be your adult child. 

What resources do they have? Income? What amount can they reasonably contribute? Tough Love Alert: If your adult child is enrolled in school, they can probably work part-time. If your adult child isn’t in school and is unemployed, their job is to find a job. 

What about time & energy? Your adult child can help with household cleaning, laundry, yardwork, and meal prep & clean up. Organize these responsibilities with systems and schedules. Focus on clear communication. If you’re providing childcare while your son or daughter is at work or school, factor that into the division of labor. (I know, I know, but this is your grandchild, right? Call up a local daycare or preschool. Understand the value of the service you are providing.)

3. Hopefully, this is a harmonious, temporary situation.

Don’t be surprised if adjustments take some time, it’s difficult, or it isn’t working out. It’s ok to feel bad if your adult child is in a tough spot in their life. It’s understandable to want to help. Maybe you can. Perhaps you shouldn’t. What’s certain is that you can’t be motivated by guilt or a well-intentioned, “I can fix this.” Let that stuff go. Be the parent your adult child needs today. To let them play video games 24/7, “borrow” money constantly, or take advantage of you is to stunt the growth of their adult independent living skills. You love them too much to do that

4. If you allow your adult child to move in with you, the situation should be right for you both.

Communicate and set boundaries upfront. Agree on how you’ll know the arrangement is working and can continue to an agreed-upon end date. As difficult or uncomfortable as it may be, communicate the signs and consequences that will bring an end to this arrangement. 

Remember: Your adult child is becoming the person they will be for the rest of their life.

*Domestic Violence Hotline

Do you feel unsafe? For a free, confidential, and clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here, or contact the Domestic Violence Hotline, 24/7, at 1−800−799−7233.

Sources:

Adult Children: The Guide to Parenting Your Grown Kids

Rules, Boundaries, and Older Children: How to Cope with an Adult Child Living at Home

Rules for Adult Children | Boundaries for Adult Kids Living at Home

Adult Children: Relating to Them in the Best Way – Dr. John Townsend

Setting Boundaries with Adult Children — Lilley Consulting

Emerging Adulthood

Resources:

7 Ways To Deal With Adult Children Who Make Poor Decisions

Keys to Multigenerational Communication – First Things First

The Art of Communication – First Things First

Journal Prompts For Teens

Expressing thoughts in journal form can be fun!

Another opportunity for teens to do some journaling! Bottom Line: Journaling is good for you. Here’s some scientific research related to journaling. Prepare to have your mind blown!

The simple act of journaling:

If you could get all that in a vitamin, you’d take it – no questions asked. 

Ideally, you should journal 2-3 times a week, but there are no rules. It doesn’t matter if you use paper, a computer, a journaling notebook or even a note on your phone.

There are different types of journaling and approaches. But let’s get right to those burning questions on your mind:

What do I write about? Exactly. You can write about that. 

What if I want to figure out everything I write before I write it? Interesting. Write about that.

What if I don’t have a journal? Grab a napkin and write about whether or not it matters.

Journaling is a lot like so many things in life: You get out of it what you put into it.

These journal prompts for teens may be just what you need to get started.

  1. Describe an important item from your childhood. Why was it important? Where is it now?
  1. You get to talk to a dead person. Who would you choose, and why? What do you want to talk about?
  1. Describe your happiest childhood memory in detail.
  1. Explain something that happened to you that’s so strange, nobody believes you.
  1. In an abandoned cabin, you find a shiny box with a single red “DANGER” button. Do you push it? Why or why not?
  1. What’s something you want to learn how to do? Why?
  1. Where would you like to visit right now? What would you do there?
  1. What’s your favorite memory involving food?
  1. What accomplishment makes you feel the most pride? Why?
  1. The best advice you’ve ever received is…
  1. What’s something you could teach someone to do? How did you learn it?
  1. What are you most grateful for today?
  1. Name one thing you know is true.
  1. What’s a positive character trait or quality that you’re known for? What developed this trait in you?
  1. What character trait or quality can you grow in? How could you achieve that growth?
  1. You’re now in charge of the entire world. What would you change, and why?
  1. You can be any fictional character from a book or movie. Who do you want to be? Why?
  1. You can wake up tomorrow having gained one ability or talent. What do you choose? Are you willing to work at it? Why/Why not?
  1. Who are five people you admire, and why?
  1. What’s your favorite holiday, and why?

Finish these sentences:

  1. Life is mostly just…
  1. I used to think… but now I realize…
  1. I wonder if…
  1. I totally believe…
  1. It gets on my nerves when people…
  1. I hope I never forget…
  1. One thing I want to accomplish this month is…
  1. Success in life basically depends on…
  1. Cake or pie? Explain why the correct answer is definitely ______.
  1. When I’m happy…

Time for some fun!

  1. You find an envelope at the park with your name on it and $5,000. What do you do?
  1. Aliens abduct you and ask you to describe the human race.
  1. You can have one candy for free for life. What do you pick? Why?
  1. You wake up and the world is experiencing a zombie apocalypse. Realistically, how long do you survive and why? (Assume slow zombies, not fast, rage ones.)
  1. You run into someone who in all ways is your exact twin. How do you both make the most of this situation?
  1. If you could live in any part of the world, where would you choose? Why does it appeal to you?
  1. You can enter any video game as an NPC. (Non-Playable Character.) What game would be the most fun to wander around in? Why?
  1. You are now the world’s foremost collector of ______. What do you collect and why?
  1. If you could change one traffic law, what would it be? Why?
  1. You have the most vivid, realistic dream of eating a giant marshmallow. You wake up and your pillow is gone. What’s your first thought?

Other blogs:

Conversation Starters for Kids and Parents – First Things First

100 Conversation Starters To Increase Your Family’s Connectedness

7 Ways to Deepen Your Connection With Your Teen – First Things First

10 Signs You Have Parental Burnout

Any parent is susceptible if there’s an imbalance between the stress and their resources.

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).

**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

How to Stop the Cycle of Parental Burnout

These 5 tips may be just what you need.

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.

Today’s action:

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!

Today’s action:

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.

Today’s action:

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.

Today’s action:

Schedule an hour this week to take a break. Right now, ask your support system to help you make this happen.

Set boundaries. 

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.

Today’s action:

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.

Other blogs:

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

Sources:

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