When you start to burn out at a job, it's time to slow down or find a different one. But when the job you're burning out at is parenting, quitting isn’t an option. It can be difficult to balance work, social, and family aspects of your life, and spreading yourself too thin won't affect just you, but your kids, too.
Why do parents burn out?
Parenting is the only job that requires your attention all day, every day, year round, so it’s natural to be concerned about burning out. Life can be stressful and if you have multiple children, a job, school, other relatives you need to care for, and/or pets, all of these things can compound and add to your levels of stress and burnout.
Raising children isn’t immediately gratifying. It can take a long time to teach children new skills and behaviors, so parenting involves lots of patience. If you have many other things going on in your life, your patience can be spread thin. Oddly enough, being a good parent and setting a high standard of parenting can add even more stress to your life and lead to burnout more quickly.
Some parents have a higher risk of burning out than others. Parents of infants are more likely to feel burned out because meeting the physical needs of a young child as well as the lack of sleep are exhausting. On the other end of the spectrum, parents of teenagers risk burnout because the demands of keeping up with their child's schedule and their mood swings can be overwhelming. Other types of parents are at risk, too:
- single parents or parents who feel they don't have enough support from their partner
- parents who put their child's needs above all else, including adult relationships, hobbies, or a job
- parents of children with special needs
- parents with chronic physical or mental health problems
- parents in poverty, unstable relationships, or with other significant circumstantial stresses
Parental burnout usually doesn’t come out of the blue, but slowly builds up. There are some signs to look out for, such as:
- constant irritability that doesn't seem to have a specific cause
- resentfulness and frustration toward your children and their needs, no matter how basic
- feeling inadequate in your job as a parent or as though nothing you do is good enough
- withdrawal or emotional detachment from your children
Ways to avoid parental burnout
Despite the demands of parenthood, parental burnout isn't inevitable. Being informed about how children develop will help you understand what your children are capable of and what their behaviors will be like at certain ages. Knowing what to expect can help give you some control in your own life and in raising your children. Other ways to help avoid parental burnout include:
- Taking care of your own needs: Parents often put their needs last, but a well-rested, well-nourished parent with interests and friendships of their own is not only a good role model, but a happier parent.
- Managing stress: Parenting is stressful and so are other aspects of life, such as work, school, friends, and other family members. Find ways to relax, whether it be meditation, exercise, or having someone to talk to about your worries.
- Cultivate a support network: Asking for help isn't weakness, it's a sign that you know your limits. Never underestimate the power of friendship or the importance of babysitters.
- Be realistic: You can't expect to do everything, and sometimes you may have to say no when your child asks to add another activity to an already full schedule, or for another request.
- Avoid comparing yourself to other parents: Someone you know may look like they've got it all figured out, but you have to figure out what works for you and your family. If you constantly compare yourself to other parents, you'll never feel that you're doing a good enough job.
Most of all, focus on the things that have gone right, not those which have gone wrong. You can't reverse your mistakes, but you can learn from them and build on your successes.
Being a parent is stressful, and all other aspects of life can add to the stress, including work, school, other family members, and friends. Having all of these things is healthy and leads to a well-rounded, fulfilling life, but balance is key to not burning out. Burning out can negatively affect your children and those around you as well, as it can make you irritable, resentful, and even withdrawn. It’s important to know your limits, be patient, and know when to say no.