While it's easy to see just how difficult parenting another human being can be, it's not always easy to identify and acknowledge when the exhaustion has intensified to the point that, as a parent, you need help. Thankfully, there are some signs of parental burnout that all caregivers can be made aware of, so that, if you feel the floor crumbling beneath you, you can reach out to family, friends, or a professional for support.
Last month, the Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, reported that parents who lack the necessary resources to handle stress related to parenthood can develop an emotional disorder they identify as parental burnout. Some symptoms include emotionally distancing oneself from one’s child, feelings of worthlessness or ineffectiveness, and severe exhaustion. The same report found that these symptoms can lead to lasting consequences for both children and parents.
But what exactly is parental burnout, and who's at risk of developing it? Romper spoke to Bryce Reddy, a licensed mental health counselor, and Tessa Stuckey, a licensed professional counselor, to learn more about parental burnout, how parents can tell they're experiencing it, and when they should consider reaching out for help:
1. You’ve Passed Your Breaking Point
Stress and fatigue, while perhaps easier to identify than other symptoms, are only part of parental burnout. “Parental burnout is when you're mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted and overwhelmed," Stuckey explains. "We all may feel stressed or tired at times, but not necessarily pushed to our breaking point.”
So, how do you know if you’ve reached your breaking point? "If you're wondering whether you need help, it's probably time to ask for help," Reddy says. "There is no 'bad enough' or 'not bad enough.' If you feel it is impacting your life negatively, that's enough.”
2. You Feel Overwhelmed & Exhausted For Weeks
The prevailing social narrative that, as moms, we need to be able to "do it all," and then be happy about our ability to "do it all," is dangerous to our wellbeing, Reddy says, and "especially in this time in which many of us are parenting without ‘the village’ of previous generations.” If you’re feeling constantly exhausted and the feelings are overwhelming and don’t seem to be going away, consider seeking help.
3. You’ve Considered Seeking Professional Help
“It's best to seek help before reaching a burnout or breaking point,” Stuckey explains, and says that when you're not in crisis mode and thinking more clearly, it's much easier to find a provider in your network or reach out to a specific organization that can assist you.
"Parenthood is challenging and once a parent is self-aware that they could be headed for a burnout, it's important to accept that and be able to ask for help.”
4. You Experience Violent Urges
Violent urges can be a symptom of postpartum mood disorders, but they can also be a sign that you’re experiencing burnout. In order to make sure your children are safe, be honest with yourself about your thoughts and urges, especially if they become violent.
“Our kids are highly affected by our behavior and mental state, therefore, once you realize you've hit a burnout and it is affecting your kids, it's definitely time to seek professional help,” Stuckey says.
5. You & Your Partner Or Co-Parent Can't Stop Fighting
Parental burnout doesn't just have a potential to impact a parent's children. Burnout can impact couples caring for children, too, and as things in the home become more unmanageable, they can become more irritable or feel detached from one another, according to a report by the Journal Sentinel.
If you find yourself constantly arguing with your co-parent, take a moment to consider that one or both of you may be dealing with parental burnout. “Taking care of yourself and your marriage/relationship gives you the strength to get through this burnout and take care of your family,” Stuckey explains.
6. You Feel Disconnected From Your Child(ren)
Researchers with the Psychological Sciences Research Institute in Belgium report that one warning sign of parental burnout is that your relationship to your children shifts from rewarding to burdensome.
If you start to resent your children's presence, check-in with your co-parent and consider seeking help, especially if you can’t find a way to shift life duties to your co-parent. “Tag team! Allow one parent to take a breather while you take on parenting duties and then switch places so you can relax and regroup,” Stuckey suggests.
7. You’re Starting To Neglect Your Child's Physical, Educational, & Emotional Needs
The Association for Psychological Science reported that parental burnout leads to increased parental neglect, which leads to increased burnout, and thus creates a cycle. If you notice that you’re starting to regularly neglect your child’s various needs, due to exhaustion, there's a cause for concern.
“Awareness for the parenting tasks that fill our cup and those that drain us can be an important first step in prevention,” Reddy explains. So, be honest with yourself about what you’re doing and what you can do.
8. You’re Starting To Neglect Your Own Needs
Once you get to a point where you are unable to take care of your own needs, it’s definitely time to seek help. “Parental burnouts last longer than a stressful day or week," Stuckey says. "It can feel impossible to get out of and as if you're stuck in a depressive state.”
9. You’re Worried That You Might Not Be OK
“I'm a big fan of preventative care,” Stuckey says. “Just like when a big storm is coming [and] it's best to be prepared, the same goes for our emotions. Inevitably emotional storms will hit, such as parental burnout, and we can manage them much better if we have taken care of ourselves and our emotions. I call this emotional hygiene. Emotional hygiene is the act of prioritizing emotional self-awareness to nurture ones mental health.”
If you’re worried you could be heading towards burnout, seek support. Hopefully you can receive helpful guidance before the storm hits.
10. Parenting Feels More Challenging Than Normal & For An Extended Period Of Time
Sometimes you lose your balance or life gets particularly hectic and you feel stressed as a result. If you can’t seem to get back on track, though, and the exhaustion continues to build with no end in sight, it's time to seek help to prevent burnout.
Parenting a child with anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, or an Autism Spectrum Disorder increases your potential for burnout, according to Psychology Today. If that applies to you, be mindful of your capacity to take care of yourself and your child(ren).
11. You're Contemplating Self-Harm And/Or Suicide
While normalizing the idea that parenting is hard, and sometimes overwhelmingly exhausting, can be helpful because it helps to not feel alone, it can also minimize the severity or "dark place" someone might be in.
"Everyone is different and experiences hardships differently," Stuckey says. "You have to remember that so you can self-reflect and stay self aware with what you need individually to be the best parent you can be.
If you find yourself contemplating suicide, or you have thoughts about harming yourself, seek help immediately. The idea to commit suicide is not an unusual thought for exhausted mothers, according to researchers with the Institute of Health and Society, so it's important to find help before you reach this point. And if you're already having these thoughts, seek help immediately.
If you or someone you know is considering self-harm or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.