Mother with young child

Usually when you experience the signs of job burnout, it's time to slow down or find a different job. But when the job you're burning out at is parenting, you don't have the option to quit. Spreading yourself too thin won't just affect you, but your kids, too.

Why do parents burn out?
By the nature of it, parenting can set you up to burn out. It's the only job which requires your attention 24/7 all year round. Clinical psychologist Robin F. Goodman, PhD, says it's often trying so hard to be a good parent that can set a parent up for burnout. Setting a high standard for the kind of parent you want to be and not being able to meet that standard adds pressure.

"Burnout can also be related to feeling a lack of control in the job, being under appreciated, or not being rewarded," says Dr. Goodman. Other jobs offer rewards and incentives to employees to let them know that they're doing a good job, but parenting is expected to be its own reward. The lack of immediacy of that reward can make it tough.

Risk Factors
Some parents are more at risk than others. Parents of infants are more likely to feel burned out because meeting the physical needs of a young child and lack of sleep are mentally exhausting. On the other end of the spectrum, parents of teenagers risk parental 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 as though they don't have the support of 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

Warning Signs
Parental burnout doesn't always come on suddenly and out of the blue. There are some signs to look out for. You might be burning out if you're feeling:

  • Irritability that doesn't seem to have a specific cause and is pretty much constant
  • Resentfulness and frustration toward your children and their needs, no matter how basic they are
  • 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 Parent Burnout
Despite the demands of parenthood, parental burnout isn't inevitable. Dr. Goodman advises that being an informed parent can help you feel more in control of the job. That means knowing what abilities and behaviours to expect from your child at each age and seeking out information about how to do common parenting tasks like toilet training. Some other ways to help avoid parental burnout seem simple, but might be tough for you to do. Included are:

  • 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 a not only a good role model, but a happier parent
  • Managing stress. Parenting is stressful and your day job probably is, too. Find ways to relax, whether it be meditation, exercise or having someone to talk to about your worries
  • Cultivate a support network. Never underestimate the power of friendship or the importance of babysitters. Asking for help isn't a weakness, it's a sign that you know your limits
  • Be a more realistic parent. You can't expect to be able to do everything and sometimes you may have to say "no" when your child asks to add yet another activity to an already full schedule
  • 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're constantly comparing yourself to other parents, you'll never feel like 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 build on your successes.