Is parental burnout a real thing, or is it just a way of saying parenting is a hard job?
To answer that question let’s start with the subject of burnout in general — and yes, it is quite real.
- When we lack balance in our lives and essentially are asking ourselves to work without time to recuperate.
- When our efforts go unrewarded. So if you go to work, and no matter how hard you work, your projects always fail and you always receive only negative feedback. That would be pretty miserable and would lead to burnout, even if you are well paid.
The symptoms of burnout include:
- loss of appetite or overeating,
- and impaired self-esteem.
And to make matters worse, those symptoms will lead to impaired work performance as well.
Not a Pretty Picture, Is It?
Well, parenting is work, and it can — under normal circumstances — be a thankless job.
After all, when was the last time your child or teen said,
“Hey Mom! Thanks for sitting my butt down in the chair and making me do my homework. I really needed that.”
And it’s not exactly a high-paying job either.
Parental burnout can occur under several circumstances, or a combination of these circumstances:
No Down Time
Most parents have experienced that after a full day of parenting with no personal time, no opportunity to exercise, rest, or socialize they can feel pretty miserable. If that goes on day after day with no end in sight, burnout will result.
A Child with Special Needs
Some children and teens have special needs related to issues such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down’s Syndrome, chronic illness, among other conditions. These situations take a village to support the child or teenager in addition to their parents. Otherwise, burnout will result. Conversely, I’ve seen kids with special needs and their parents thrive with professional and social support.
Lack of Peer Support
As I said, parenting is a job and like any other job, it requires feedback that provides support for the things a parent is doing well, and sage advise for dealing with issues a parent needs help with. Parenting in a social vacuum leads to burnout.
Remember, a Control Battle is a negative relationship pattern that feeds off of the child or teen’s response to the parent, and the parent’s response to the child or teenager. So no matter what the parent tries to do, it is rendered ineffective.
Think about it.
How would it feel if no matter what you did to deal with a problem, it was doomed to fail? It reminds me of the Greek Myth of Sisyphus, who was sentenced in the underworld to roll a giant boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down for eternity.
Here is a rather extreme example of parental burnout I recently saw:
Burnout Leads to Ineffective Parenting
Janet came in with her 10-year-old son Alan, carrying her 8-month-old who was sleeping in her car seat.
Janet explained that the school recommended that she talk with me about Alan who was in trouble on an almost daily basis. Janet explained that she was getting calls that Alan was refusing to do his work or follow directions in class.
As I talked with Janet, I learned that she had been happily working in the marketing department of her software company when she met and soon married an Engineering Director, Ivan, who was very smart, charming and ambitious.
Janet was promised the home of her dreams and would be able to be a stay-at-home mom. In fact, they built a beautiful rural mountain home where they were raising their son and now baby daughter.
There were, however, a couple of problems living their dream.
Shortly after their son Alan was born, Ivan went to a new startup company where he worked 12-hour days and with a commute, he was essentially gone from 6 am to 8 pm every day and was on the computer or the phone at least part of most weekends.
The company was well-funded with the promise of a big payout when it sold or went public. But that was supposed to have happened four years ago, and then again two years ago, and now they were talking about next year.
Alan was a very active child from the time he was born and Janet has always been a pretty high-strung person. She had a tendency to get easily upset and had been in a state of constant overwhelm ever since Alan was born.
Alan felt constantly shamed and criticized by his mother’s reactions to him and became generally defiant in his behavior with her, and now in school as well.
Alan’s father was critical of Alan as well, but Alan respected and feared him so he cooperated more when he was around. Sometimes they would even do something special together. Ivan would then criticize Janet for not being able to manage him better.
I offered Janet some new approaches with Alan, but it was immediately clear that she was in no shape to think about what I was offering let alone implement a change in her parenting approach.
The fact that she was…
- had no support,
- and was high strung temperamentally…
…left her in a chronic state of burnout that dramatically lowered her ability to parent effectively.
She was depressed and feeling hopeless.
Yes, Parental Burnout Is a Real Thing…
Realizing that Janet was in a state of serious burnout, I referred her to a therapist who could help her with her depression and begin to sort out and deal with the many issues in her life.
I called the school and helped them make a plan to work with Alan in a way where they wouldn’t need to call Janet to deal with behaviors that took place in the classroom. That was simply too much for her to deal with and it added to her burnout.
Besides, classroom behaviors are best handled in the classroom anyway.
Janet’s case was extreme:
- She was in an unfulfilling marriage
- Was socially isolated
- Was stressed caring for her 8-month-old
- Was in a Control Battle with her 10-year-old
- And was pressured by the school to get her son to behave
All this worked to create her case of serious burnout with symptoms that further reduced her ability to function.
Burnout doesn’t have to be this serious to be real.
Just a couple of the above issues could begin to bring on burnout and simply being in a Control Battle with your child or teenager can be enough to start a parent on a downward spiral.
So don’t be a hero!
Trust your feelings!
If you find yourself beginning to feel burned out, identify the contributing issues and take action to get your mental health back on track.
You’re worth it!
And you won’t be able to meet anyone else’s needs if yours aren’t met first.
Have you had your own experiences with parental burnout? If so, please share them with our community in the comments below.