Parental burnout: what is it and how to overcome it?

Burnout is a syndrome that appears in response to prolonged stress while parenting. In this article we explain all the details and how to deal with it in the best possible way.

Written and verified by the psychologist Montse Armero on October 31, 2021.

Last update: October 31, 2021

The burnout parental is a psychological state of chronic discomfort that arises when the adult does not have sufficient resources to deal with the stress generated by parenthood. In general, it is characterized by extreme psychological exhaustion, loss of parental fulfillment, and emotional distancing from children.

The concept of burnout parental is relatively new. It emerged in the 1980s when it was observed that it affected parents of children with a chronic or severe disease. However, for more or less a decade, parents have increasingly manifested this syndrome.

In today’s social context there is a lot of pressure on parents. The call positive parenting It demands that they take care of their children with a level of involvement never seen before. Thus, in some way, parents are required to provide their children with a good education, financial security, emotional stability, good self-esteem, healthy eating and a long etcetera impossible to fulfill.

The existence of social networks in which we can see fathers and mothers who seem to live in an idyllic fantasy world, has only further impaired the feeling of dissatisfaction that they have many parents with their real lives.

Characteristics of parental burnout

Most parents know what parental stress is. Children are known to provide a great level of satisfaction and personal fulfillment, but they can also create very stressful moments.

In most cases, parents learn to deal with these specific moments of stress. However, around 5% of parents end up developing the syndrome of burnout parental.

This syndrome is characterized by a series of situations, experiences and emotions such as the following:

  • Loss of personal fulfillment as a parent.
  • Extreme exhaustion
  • Parental wear.
  • Emotional distancing from children.
  • Escape ideas.
  • Recurring negative thoughts of the type “I can not take it anymore”, “I can’t stand my children”.
  • Experience of parenthood as an obligation or misfortune.


Risk factors for parental burnout

Although the burnout parental is manifested in both men and women, they are twice as likely to suffer from it. Other people most at risk are those with low emotional resources, mental disorders, highly perfectionist traits, single parents with young children, parents with little social support or poor financial resources.

If we focus on children, parents who have children with some kind of special need are at much higher risk of suffering. burnout parental. These can be from some type of disease or disability, an autism spectrum disorder or some conduct disorder, for example.

This situation leads to a distance between parents and children, with less communication and worse bonding.

Consequences of living a stressful parenthood

The consequences of suffering burnout parental will depend largely on the time experienced, personal characteristics and other factors, such as whether or not help is requested. Some of the most notable are the following:

  • Feeling of guilt and shame.
  • Increased irritability.
  • Sleep disorders.
  • Elevated cortisol levels.
  • Anxiety, sadness, or depression.
  • Frequent headaches or digestive upset.
  • Concentration difficulty.
  • Couple conflicts.
  • Deterioration of the parent-child relationship.
  • Increased consumption of alcohol or psychoactive substances.
  • Appearance of psychological and physical violence.
  • Suicidal ideation in extreme cases.

How to prevent parental burnout

One of the best ways to avoid burnout parental is to follow a series of behaviors that are available to most. Let’s see some of them.

Lower expectations

The self-demand that parents submit to with burnout is high. They think that they have to be perfect parents, giving their children everything they did not have and adding each new strategy that is shown to benefit them, such as mindfulness for children, chess, playing an instrument, public speaking classes or team sports.

The reality is that life is complex. Although giving the best to your children is desirable, it is not always possible to provide it; at least not across the board. Therefore, parents must learn to adjust expectations to their available resources.

Not giving up

When one suffers burnout You always have the option of quitting that job. On the other hand, you are a father for life and throwing in the towel is not an option. Do not forget that most of the time the situation can improve, although in the most stressful moments we do not know how.

The important thing is that children do not perceive that their parents have given up, as this will only make the situation worse. A child who thinks that his parents do not care and feels abandoned, it is very possible that sooner or later he will end up having dysfunctional behaviors.

Find your own space

If the person who suffers burnout parental exercises parenthood alone, it is very important that you look for moments in which you can dedicate time to yourself. Far from being a selfish act, setting aside personal time helps regain energy. Taking good care of yourself is key to being able to take good care of others.

In the event that paternity is joint, it is advisable for the couple to find spaces so that both parents can have some time alone. But not to take care of housework or work, but quality time to disconnect from the family nucleus and return home refreshed.

Quality time for oneself is essential if we want to return to parenthood with renewed energy.

Talk to someone you trust

When a person suffers burnout parental you might think you are a bad parent, a bad person and that the same thing happens to no one. However, the reality is not like that.

We just have to think, for example, how many millions of parents suffered a similar experience at times. Thus, sharing our concerns with someone who may be living or has gone through something similar can greatly alleviate suffering.

Request help in our environment

Something that can work when a parent is exhausted is turn to outside help. This can come from friends who stay with the children one afternoon, a family member who spends the weekend with them or directly hiring someone.

Asking others for help takes us away from feeling lonely. Therefore, it is a strategy to take into account.

Ask for professional help

When a parent notices that they have been experiencing parenthood in a stressful way for a while and nothing they have tried works, it is a good time to consider professional help. There are psychologists specializing in stress management who can provide us with numerous tools and strategies to face parenthood in a much healthier way.



Final thoughts on parental burnout

Today’s society is increasingly complex and many parents experience parenthood from a stressful level. Everyone should know where their limit is and how much stress you are able to handle without your physical and mental health suffering.

There are people who find the right strategies and ride out the hardest part of parenting well. There are people who do not. We are all different and we have particular circumstances.

Therefore, if this is your case and paternity has long passed you, you shouldn’t wait for the situation to change on its ownbecause it almost never does. If you have tried some parenting techniques or methods and your stress level is over you, it may be time to ask for help.

A professional, such as a clinical psychologist or a general health psychologist, will probably be the one who can best help you manage your current emotional state. If you do not know any, you can ask at the official college of psychologists in your region or country and they will advise you there.

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