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5 tips to prevent parental burnout


January 11, 2023 Mental Health


Par Janique Raymond-Migneault

Youth Services Coordinator

Parental burnout is defined as a severe distress condition that is specific to parenthood. It is different from professional burnout, which affects the workplace. Parental burnout is caused by a parent's exposure to chronic stress that affects their parental role.

Stress at the heart of parental burnout

As a parent, feeling a certain level of stress is normal. In fact, every life transition or situation can be a source of stress. Thus, a parent may experience acute stress related to a particular event. A child throwing a tantrum or getting hurt are examples of acute stress.

Chronic stress may follow. For example, accompanying a child through an intense or unstable adolescence, having a child with an illness, etc. 

Parental burnout can be triggered when the level of stress far exceeds the resources available to the parent to cope with the stress.

Thus, the equation is simple. If a parent experiences more stress than they have strategies to manage, they become more vulnerable to experiencing parental burnout.  

How to recognize parental burnout

Burnout usually manifests itself in three ways: 

1.    Physical and emotional exhaustion 

Initially, the parent may feel physically exhausted. They may feel a constant sense of lack of rest and gradually experience emotional exhaustion. In addition, they may feel overwhelmed, overloaded, and even irritated. 

2.    Affective disengagement

Emotional disengagement occurs when the parent feels that they have no energy left to respond to the child. It becomes a strategy to conserve energy. For example, the parent may feel that they can perform tasks in a more robotic manner or may not react to their child’s confidences.

3.    Loss of a sense of parental efficacy

The more physically and emotionally tired the parent is, the more likely they are to become disengaged. This disinvestment may conflict with the parent's values, which increases the parent's stress level... And thus, increases exhaustion. The parent may experience more shame, guilt, and distress. At this stage, the parent's confidence in their skills will be affected.

Consequences of parental burnout

The intensity of parental burnout symptoms can vary and lead to various consequences, some of which are serious. Sleep problems, loss of enjoyment, increased anxiety, increased depressive symptoms, suicidal thoughts... the list is long. 

By remaining caught in this circle of exhaustion, the consequences can gradually affect all spheres of life, not just the parental sphere. It is at this point that the parent will be at greater risk of experiencing a major depression. 

The consequences also affect the child, who may become more vulnerable to a lack of parental supervision, parental aversion, or even parental abuse. It is therefore important to detect the first signs of burnout and to find ways to prevent it.  

5 ways to prevent parental burnout

1.    Preserve your energy 

Contrary to popular belief, a parent is not a superhero. They need rest to recharge their batteries. Whether it's a break to take a nap, watch an episode of your favorite show, or do an activity you love, doing something other than parenting will help you feel more rested and ready to face the challenges of parenthood.

2.    Have realistic expectations

Easier said than done, you might say! However, maintaining realistic expectations will reduce the pressure to perform in your role as a parent. Less pressure means less burnout, and that may also reduce the sense of exhaustion. 

3.    Encourage healthy and positive messages

Although blogs are meant to be tools that promote community support, they may encourage parents to compare themselves and thus affect their stress level. It is important to surround yourself with messages that are healthy, caring, and that move away from social comparison. If, while browsing a blog, you realize that your stress level is increasing, then it may be time to listen to yourself and unsubscribe.

4.    Boost your positivism

When you read: see the glass as half full rather than half empty, what does that spark in you? Yes, parenting is a challenge that requires adaptation and resilience. On the other hand, remember that being a parent also brings benefits, and provides pleasant and enjoyable moments. Sometimes it takes effort to foster the positive and focus on it.

5.    Ask for help

The examples above are just a few tips to help prevent parental burnout. Finally, it is sometimes necessary to give yourself the right to get help. Many professionals are available and can help resolve parental burnout. Don't hesitate to reach out to the resources in your area. The Info-Social services (811, option 2) can also be a good starting point for getting help.

References (in French)

Medi-Sphere 694, Le burnout parental 
Neurone, Le burnout parental : parents en détresse 
American psychological association, The impact of parental burnout