Recognizing the Red Flags of Parental Burnout: And What to do About Them!

Family Counseling Thornton: Recognizing Parental Burnout

There are so many changes that parents are faced with during the end of the school year as kiddos are geared up, ready to run out of the school yard and charge into summer break! There is a flurry of camp sessions, summer programs, birthday celebrations, and balancing playdate schedules that culminate. And in all this excitement and fun for your kids comes feelings that maybe aren’t so exciting and fun for you. Maybe you’re feeling unexcited, actually, or even irritated that there’s so much to do but no time for yourself. There are several symptoms of parental burnout that moms and dads might recognize such as the physical symptoms, like chronic head and stomach aches, exhaustion, as well as changes in sleeping and eating patterns. In addition to emotional layers such as feelings of sadness or helplessness about your skills as a parent, increased irritability, isolation from loved ones, and even forgetfulness. While a variety of factors contribute to feeling burnt out, there are avenues for support that will allow you to stay connected with your kiddos while not letting your own mental health get lost in the shuffle!

When There’s Nothing Left to Give – There are many platforms in our culture that set the expectations of your children’s needs being a higher priority than your own. While the safety and overall happiness of your child is crucial, many parents find themselves in a tug of war to balance their own needs with those of their jobs and family and then find themselves asking, “What’s left for me?” Many caregivers think of burnout as an expected struggle in being a parent, but still experience feelings of guilt for the physical and emotional symptoms: such as emotional withdrawal from their child. I suggest to all parents, whether in a relationship or single, to carve out time for routine self-care or socializing. It’s okay to feel frustrated that you aren’t getting the time to recharge, while recognizing that more time for your mental health will allow you to be more present with your child.

Physical Symptoms – Just like kiddos will notice physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches when they are coping with anxiety or depression, parents can experience changes in eating and sleeping patterns, chronic headaches, and nausea when coping with parental burnout. One of the most common symptoms is prolonged fatigue – finally being able to get 6-8 hours of sleep and still waking up tired! Coping with the physical symptoms of parental burnout can be achieved through practicing the “power-nap,” even if only for 15-20 minutes a day, as well as light exercise, going for a drive, or just watching an episode of your favorite Hulu or Netflix show.

Conflict with your Child – An often, overlooked symptom of parental burnout, is parents noticing that they might have a “short temper,” with their child and the patience meter is running on empty. Most parents acknowledge that raising kids requires exercise in the patience arena, but when it feels like you’re being pulled in multiple directions and aren’t able to be fully engaged in either place, it’s normal that you might experience more negative feelings that spill over into interactions with your child. Starting out small is vital in building momentum and gradually increasing your self-care – I encourage parents to experiment by practicing five minutes of self-care a day with an activity that you find brings you back into the present moment. Keeping in mind that you don’t have to be extreme, but consistent to see results in your mental health.

Isolation and Detachment – In addition to parents noticing more frequent fights with their children, there is also an element of emotional exhaustion that can look like disengagement and isolation from your kiddo. When there is nothing left to give, the motivation for quality time can start to dwindle, and physical symptoms get in the way – our body can force itself to take a pause whether we like it or not. One of the strategies I recommend to parents who have noticed these symptoms, is to get back in touch with incorporating “fun” activities into the weekly routine for your family. Making sure to incorporate quality time, where the only agenda is to relax and connect with your kiddos through a movie or board game, can make a world of difference in bringing fun and laughter back into the mix. 

Depleted Motivation – As the COVID-19 pandemic has begun to wane and the school year has drawn to a close, parents are noticing that activities and routines that felt second-nature before the pandemic – take more energy and contribute to lower levels of motivation. I advise parents to look for parenting support groups in their community or through social media platforms to build more connections for emotional support and find opportunities for self-care. Despite social media posts and societal expectations that only seem to focus on the rewarding aspects of parenting – parents need to remind themselves to hold space for the full spectrum of emotions that come with the territory. Just like you would remind your child that they’re human and to take care of themselves, remind yourself to practice that same compassion by giving your feelings the space they need to be heard.


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