Parent burnout is a state of mind. It happens when parents come to feel so emotionally exhausted that they cannot nurture, discipline or fuss with their children. It’s a point in life when the pleasure of parenting no longer exists. Instead, the parent feels trapped in circumstances from which they wish they could escape.
There are five major symptoms of parent burnout:
- When a parent has to force herself to put the needs of her children first.
- When a parent loses her desire to be with her children.
- When a parent wishes she could run away and escape the endless demands of parenting.
- When a parent wakes up each morning dreading the daily responsibilities that come with being a parent.
- When a parent resents the children’s presence, and feels guilty for it.
Why do parents become burned out? There are four reasons.
- Parents have too much to do.
Life in the 21st century is intense, frantic and loaded with stress. Consequently, many parents have too much to do. Overworked and overscheduled, they try to parent “on the run.” In my opinion, nothing takes the joy out of parenting more than not having the time to be a parent.
Way back in the 1950s, stores were closed at night and on Sundays. These were times parents could spend time their families. The pace of life was so much more relaxed compared with today.
To eliminate this cause of burnout, parents need to take a serious look at their schedules. Do the children really have to be enrolled in all those outside activities? Do parents have to take on all those responsibilities outside the family?
Simply put, is there any way you can simplify your life?
- Parents are raising their children permissively.
Children who are raised permissively do not listen, do not cooperate and are overly demanding. It’s no fun being a parent when you have to nag, scream, scold and ask your children 10 times to cooperate. If this sounds familiar, you need an effective discipline program so your children are more cooperative and more pleasant to be around.
- Parents have no time to be an adult.
Parents are not designed to be around children 24/7. But that’s exactly what’s happening to so many parents. In order to give and nurture, they need to take the time to give to themselves. Otherwise, they’ll soon find themselves drained of patience. Adult friends and adult fun is necessary to avoid burnout.
- Parents don’t agree on how to raise their children.
Parents who are married or living in a partnership have to agree on how they’re going to raise their children. They need to be a parenting team. When parents are not on the same page, every confrontation with the children provokes a conflict between the parents. This means parents end up fighting day in and day out over the same problems. It doesn’t take long before their relationship between begins to suffer. Either through counseling, a parenting course or self-growth reading, parents need to agree on how they’re going to cooperate in raising their children.
I have counseled many parents over the years and am confident that you can avoid burnout by maintaining a manageable schedule, using effective discipline with your kids, making time for adult fun and parenting as a team.
Remember, almost all parents have days when they want to be away from their children. But parent burnout is a whole different matter. It’s telling you that you need to take a serious look at the way you’re running your life so you can make the changes that will once again enable you to enjoy being a parent.
The warning signs
Pay attention to the following symptoms, particularly if they become overwhelming and consistent.
- Anger, irritability, and hostility
- A sense of powerlessness or helplessness
- Fatigue, despite adequate rest
- Compromised immune system--a higher occurrence of ailments, including colds.
- Increase in the use of drugs and alcohol
- Feelings of boredom
- Loss of interest in your social life
- Diminished sex drive
Resolving Parent Burnout
I’ve reached screaming point,” Julie said. “I have three small children that are driving me crazy. I get so frustrated and angry that I’m scared I might hurt one of them. I need help.”
“I’m tired most of the time,” said Ron, the father of twins. “When Karen had to go back to work to help with family finances, I had to accept more of the work around the home. By the time we both get home from a busy day at work, take care of the children and household chores, we’re both so weary we collapse into bed. We wake up tired the next morning, and it’s the same thing all over again. We have no time for each other, and our marriage is suffering.
Julie, Ron and Karen were all experiencing parent burnout, which is not uncommon in today’s pressure-cooker society.
Exhaustion, frustration, and anger are typical symptoms. Others include a feeling of working harder for the family but enjoying it less—of feeling overworked and underappreciated—resulting in apathy, resentment, and increased arguments between yourself and your spouse, or becoming physically ill. “In the more advanced cases of burnout,” writes Debra Bruce, “the weary, confused adult simply quits caring—leaving the child basically to rear himself.”
When parents experience prolonged burnout, the children also suffer. Some will become irritable, restless, touchy, and argumentative. Others will internalize their frustration, thereby setting themselves up for later problems.
Single parents are particularly susceptible to burnout, but so are married parents. Small children need constant attention. They are a twenty-four-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week responsibility. Years ago, in the days of the more extended family, there was more help from other family members, but in our day of the nuclear family, there is often little or no help from outside family members.
"Exhaustion, frustration, and anger are typical symptoms."
If you are a parent, here are some suggestions to help you resolve, or better still, prevent, burnout.
- Ration your time. Learn to set priorities and say no to the less important demands on your time. Do only those household and other tasks that are essential, and forget the rest.
- Take time for yourself. Some parents feel guilty when they relax and take time to meet their own needs. Arrange for a day off every week anyhow, or at least a half-day, just to do what you want. Be sure to include time for a hobby or play.
- Meet your own physical needs. A well-balanced diet is essential for averting and overcoming the effects of burnout as is regular aerobic type exercise. Proper rest is also imperative. Even Jesus, the Master Healer, said to his disciples, “Come apart and rest awhile.” Or as somebody else put it, “Come apart and rest awhile before you come apart.”
- Set realistic goals. Without clearly defined goals it is easy to run every which way at once, and thereby dissipate your limited energy and run yourself ragged. Avoid the temptation to seek to fulfill your unfulfilled dreams through your children. Encourage them to do and be their best, but don’t put unrealistic demands on them. Let them know they are loved and appreciated even if they can’t hit a ball or don’t get the highest grades in their classes. Treat yourself the same way.
Furthermore, realize your limitations and don’t over commit yourself to causes outside the home. Clearly defined goals can guide you in knowing what responsibilities to accept and what to say no to.
- Use babysitters. If you are married, it is imperative that you set regular time aside to spend with your spouse. Use a babysitter so you can go out on a date with your wife or husband at least once a week. Do something you both enjoy where you get away from pressures, relax and have a good time together. If you are single, be sure to take care of your social needs, too.
- Verbalize your feelings. Emotions are a part of life. When under pressure, it is normal to feel hurt, angry, guilty and so on. One of the worst things we can do is to deny or bottle up these feelings. It’s not the pressures we are under that lead to burnout nearly as much as how we react to these pressures and how we handle our emotional responses. If we don’t find a way to express our pent-up feelings in healthy ways, we can be certain we will act them out in unhealthy ways. Find a trusted friend besides your spouse or partner, with whom you can share all your feelings without being judged or told you shouldn’t feel that way. Write your feelings out as well. If necessary, talk to your minister or see a counselor. Repressing your feelings is one of the most destructive things you can do.
- Join a support group with people who are facing similar pressures, and where you can share without fear of criticism or being given unwanted advice. Without meaningful relationships and a sense of belonging to other adults, one can get into emotional deep water very quickly.
- Seek outside help. If you don’t have other family members to help with your load, don’t be adverse to paying for outside help, especially if both husband and wife are working. If you’re like me, you probably hate to pay somebody else for doing what you can do for yourself. However, I’ve had to give up the false notion that I can do everything myself. I’m neither a super dad or a superman, so there are some tasks I now pay others to do.
- Resolve personal issues. Parents who haven’t resolved their codependency, perfectionism, false guilt, and other personal issues, drive themselves into burnout. The codependent is driven by his or her need to fix and meet everybody else’s problems and needs. Nothing is ever good enough for the perfectionist, so he drives himself and those around him into despair. Unresolved personal issues are probably the greatest cause of burnout. Professional counseling may be needed to resolve them.
- Share the work load. In homes where both husband and wife work, it is important that both share the work load equally in the home and in the nurturing of the children. Don’t settle for anything less.
- Take time to meet spiritual needs. Read the Bible and other inspirational material, and take time to meditate and pray EVERY DAY. Write out your feelings and share them with God. Ask him to give you the wisdom you need to meet the demands of the day. And find a church where you can experience meaningful worship and recharge your spiritual batteries every week.
Taking care of your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs will give you the strength to carry on and the inspiration needed to help you avoid or resolve parent burnout.
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