- "Parental burnout" refers to the intense exhaustion parents may experience that results in feelings of detachment and uncertainty.
- To prevent parental burnout, self-care must be prioritized in order to re-energize and be present for one's children.
- Tips for preventing parental burnout include making time for adult relationships and taking "time-outs" away from the kids.
Being a parent is no easy feat. Gone are the days of Netflix-n-Chill — they've been replaced by Disney on repeat and perpetual tasks that never end. From the daily monotonous routine of feeding, cleaning, and chauffeuring your children to the more concerning obligations of how best to nurture, teach, and discipline them, the list of responsibilities goes on and on.
It all seems thankless, especially when you’re being screamed and shouted at. As a parent, not only is your job to ensure the welfare of your children, but you also have many other responsibilities, such as work and managing your home. With a myriad of tasks that keeps building, it’s no wonder that parental burnout is a reality that many of us face, even if it’s not often talked about.
What is parental burnout?
According to research in the Clinical Psychological Science (2019), parental burnout is intense exhaustion in parents resulting in feelings of detachment from their children and uncertainty about their ability to parent. It comes with a host of severe, negative consequences affecting both parent and child, including thoughts about escape, parental neglect and harm, and physical and emotional abuse. When your mental resources are stretched to their limits every single day with kids dawdling in the mornings, hollering in car rides, having meltdowns over homework, complaining during dinners, and tantrums about teeth brushing and getting to bed, then burnout is not far away.
To prevent parental burnout, self-care must be prioritized. "But how? When?" you ask. With only 24 hours in a day and 168 hours in a week, sacrifices must be made to prioritize self-care. Does the kitchen stove really need to be cleaned at this very moment? So what if your child wears the same ketchup-spilled clothes two days in a row?
Think of self-care as the airplane emergency procedure of having to put your oxygen mask on first before putting it on your child. If you faint from a lack of oxygen, then you won’t be any good for anyone else, including your children. Parental burnout is no different. You have to give yourself the physical, emotional, and mental space to breathe and re-energize, so that you can be healthy and beneficial for your children.
Someone once told me that when you become a parent, your life is no longer yours. Well, here are seven tips to take back some of your life and maintain a little bit of sanity.
I know… who has time? Especially, when you are already yawning and turning into a pumpkin when the clock strikes 8 p.m. However, going out with your partner alone rekindles your connection with one another.
When both of your attention is diverted to your parental responsibilities during the busy school week, it is important to find time to reconnect. At the end of the day, you are each other’s life support and partner in crime when it comes to your children. Maintaining that emotional connection is your oxygen mask.
Girls'/Boys' Day Out
Same as above. Research has repeatedly shown that having a healthy support system mitigates stressors, is a buffer to illnesses, and improves your overall quality of life. When life seems chaotic with children, you need a strong support system to rely on.
It’s not a permission slip to go binge drinking or go drinking at all. It’s giving yourself permission to have quality time with friends and family, without your children, where you can recharge and feel like a human being again. Go to a spa, football game, concert, picnic, or whatever that helps you feel a little lighter. Try to do this every two to three months. It is one of those sacrifices worth keeping.
While it is crucial to have time with your partner, family, and friends, it is just as important to have time alone. Having 20-30 minutes a day to reflect and be your own person without needing to respond to demanding requests can free up some mental space. Think of it as replenishing your oxygen mask for when you do have to re-immerse yourself with parental responsibilities.
Use this alone time to soak in a warm bath, read the latest novel, plant roses in the garden, play the piano, build a birdhouse, or paint a sunrise over the Mediterranean Sea. Whatever you chose to do, make sure it serves to calm your nerves.
Music is one of those things that can transport you to a different space and time, and alter your mood and perspective. The benefits of listening to music are plentiful. It can improve sleep, enhance learning and memory, decrease depression, boost productivity, and increase pleasure.
When you listen to music that you enjoy, your brain releases dopamine, a neurochemical that triggers feelings of excitement and happiness. Research also indicates that listening to soothing music can reduce stress and anxiety by lowering heart rate and blood pressure. Classical music produces alpha waves for calm focus, while meditative music soothes a busy mind.
In fact, the first thing I do upon waking is turning on the music for the whole family. Depending on the mood and situation, our playlist can rotate from classical and jazz to R&B and rock. So when the whining and screaming starts off, you bet the DJ will be queuing up the works of Chopin, Beethoven, or Mozart.
No, you’re not punishing yourself. Time-outs were never meant to be a “punishment,” and those who are using it as such have it wrong.
We all take time-outs every now and again. Any time you need a break from something intense, whether it be work, a heated argument, or trying to stay sane from screaming children, you are taking a “time-out."
The purpose of a time-out is to have some breathing room to find a moment of calm and collect yourself. When the scene at your home looks more like a circus act, inform your children that you need some calm time, make sure nothing dangerous is available to them, and step into another room to breathe deeply.
Having this separate space, even for just a few minutes, can make a world of difference. You are also setting an example for your children that it is okay to take time-outs when things become heated in order to find calm.
Teach Them to Clean Up
Yes, this is also an act of “self-care." When you give children structure and boundaries, you are giving them life skills. Your biggest task as a parent is not just to love your children. That is a given. Your most critical duty is to equip your children with skills to survive and thrive in the real adult world. Teaching them to clean up after themselves is just one small part of that process.
Start by demonstrating how it’s done, whether it be putting toys away, bringing plates to the sink, brushing and bathing, or hanging clothes back in the closet. As they learn the routine, step back and give them the space to do it themselves. Young children love to be helpful, so let them. If you start young, they will have the skills for their own self-care by the time they are teenagers — at which point you’ll have a different set of challenges.
Pictures and Videos
Remember when you first learned that you were pregnant? Or remember that first time when you saw what looked like little arms and legs moving about in your ultrasound? That unexplainable feeling of awe can help to remind us of how grateful we are for our children. With today’s technology, it’s not too difficult to recapture this enigmatic feeling of wonder. When all else fails to bring you calm and sanity, turn to those fond memories of your children. Pull up videos and pictures of their laughter, silliness, and excitement.
I often scroll back to earlier years when they were less verbal and capable to remind myself of how precious they truly are, how much we’ve endured together, and how thankful I am to have them in my life. These memories give me the emotional space to be more compassionate for their whining disappointments, remind me to give them hugs and kisses whenever I can, and restore what I might have forgotten — that they are all worth it. More importantly, it is a reminder that I must prioritize self-care and preserve my oxygen mask so that I can be the best me for my children.