Why you're experiencing parental burnout

I've was in a constant state of burnout for the first two years of Noah's life. Having two small kids at once was more than I could handle. Leah was extremely jealous and tantruming every 3-5 minutes (not an exaggeration). The constant screaming was just... horrific. We're still not out of the weeds. I had to interrupt writing this very blog because Noah, now three, was screaming for 45 minutes, asking me to do ridiculous stuff, like get his underwear that he took off and threw on the floor. The constant power struggles are exhausting. The screaming feels like brain assault. Welcome to parental burnout.

I’m definitely not alone, almost every parent I’ve known has been recently burnt out or is currently burnt out or is showing clear stress signs of being on the very brink of burnout. So what is going on? A 2019 study in Psychology Today described burnout as “An exhaustion syndrome, characterized by feeling overwhelmed, physical and emotional exhaustion, emotional distancing from one's children, and a sense of being an ineffective parent”. Multiple studies and articles explain that parental burnout is so prevalent because we’ve made some kind of implicit deal. Parenting is described to us as this beautiful, special thing that is put on a pedestal for human experience ideals. In reality it’s hard work trying to stop tiny people from injuring themselves, injuring others, being rude or unkind, oh and also giving them everything they need to grow up to be smart, successful adults. Add to that all the expectations put on us by society; go to work, but be available to your child constantly; make sure you have plenty of alone time with your partner; ensure your child is learning instruments and languages and sports. Keep up, keep up, keep up. That is the experience that creates parental burnout. 

A New York Times article suggested parental burnout in working moms can even be seen as a tax for being allowed to be in the workplace, ‘yes you can work, but you can’t let a single thing slip, and you can’t complain about it’. The article quotes an alarming statistic “Women with jobs spend just as much time parenting as stay-at-home mothers did in the 1970s. The metaphor of the second shift isn’t a metaphor at all — they are doing two full-time jobs. And in order to make time for both of those jobs, they are sleeping less, and spending far, far less time on themselves or their own leisure.”

Parental burnout doesn’t disappear for stay at home moms of course. This CBC article describes the realization of a stay at home mom, it’s not the big things that tip you into the mouth of parental burnout, it’s meltdowns while you’re on the toilet or dropping something - the little things. The writer adds that Covid-19 has made this extra difficult. Parenting in isolation is making parental burnout even more prevalent than ever before. 

This whole phenomenon is a reality of our times. I’d say the majority of parents will experience parental burnout at some stage. The only option is to be kind to ourselves and each other and remember that if you don’t make it to basketball practice or can’t make meals from scratch every day or need to have a cry every now and then - do it. No judgement here. Here’s a few suggestions to alleviate burnout from each of the articles above.

  • Realize that expectation is a conceived thing as is a requirement to fulfill those expectations - perfect parenting doesn’t exist. 
  • You can’t give what you don’t have - when the tank is empty that’s it, you have no more to give to anyone, not even your kids. Try to not let the tank get empty by topping it up regularly and doing something just for you. Self care childcare
  • Declutter - your kids aren’t more loved because you have their terrible art up everywhere. I love that one.
  • Get a therapist and go regularly.
  • In whatever way you can, maintain a network - yes even in a pandemic. You need to lean on other people to help share the burden whether practically or by just hearing you.