In the past several months, you may have noticed significant changes in your daily life as a result of COVID-19. One of the greatest changes has been for parents, many of whom previously signed their children up to attend daycare centers, preschools, summer camps, and other care providers. Parents have been quarantined with their children for long periods of time and have accordingly taken on the roles of full-time caregivers, entertainers, and teachers. This has coincided with instabilities in employment status, financial wellbeing, social activity, and other disruptions in daily routines that have led to extraordinary stress. The boundaries between all these parts of our lives feel fragile. More than those of us with children may care to admit, interacting with them while trying to navigate meeting all those other responsibilities is at times frustrating and exhausting.
For as many as 1 in 5 parents, this stress may lead to parental burnout. According to a recent article by Annette Griffith, burnout differs from managing typical stress as it is intense, ongoing, and can negatively impact both parents and children. Now, you may be asking yourself: does this apply to me? Here are some indicators that you may be experiencing parental burnout:
Feeling exhausted: Are you tired all the time? No matter how much sleep you get, do you want to go back to bed? Do you find your mind going blank more often, or more trouble concentrating?
Aches, pains, and upsets: Do you experience more unpleasant physical symptoms than normal? Is your quality of sleep not as good as it was before quarantine?
Emotional distancing: When interacting with your child(ren), is it harder to enjoy their company? Do you find yourself ‘going through the motions’ with them? When they are upset, are you slower to respond than usual?
Feeling useless: Do you ever feel like no matter what you do as a parent, it’s not enough? Do you compare yourself to other parents and feel less than? When something goes wrong at home, is your first reaction ‘I should have been able to get it right’ or ‘I can’t do this’?
Feeling trapped: Remember the game ‘Mouse Trap’? If you see yourself as stuck with a problem that has no solution, or like there are no ways to improve how you feel as a parent, you may have this sign of burnout.
Other things you may want to think about in deciding whether burnout is affecting you are how many stressors are on your plate right now, and how powerful those stressors are. If you are dealing with issues like layoffs or furloughs, securing shelter and food, or simply having no time or place to get away from your kids, your risk for burnout may be higher.
Burnout can unintentionally lead to family conflicts, “checked out” parenting, and neglect at a time when children are looking to parents as role models through a time of great unease. If you are experiencing burnout, particularly if you feel guilty or afraid about how you are managing stress as a parent, there are tests and treatments you can receive via telehealth that may help you make a change.
1. Ask your primary care provider or therapist about the Parental Burnout Inventory and Parental Burnout Assessment. These tests can help identify whether you are going through burnout, and how providers can quickly and effectively help you work on specific sources of burnout.
2. Apart from figuring out the causes of parental burnout, doctors and mental healthcare professionals can also provide empathetic and respectful support to you as open-minded listeners to what you’re going through.
The great news is that both of these steps are effective in reducing burnout (according to parents who have been through it!). Yes, you read that right: burnout is not forever (with the right support). Are you breathing a sigh of relief? Me too.
Source: Griffith A. K. (2020). Parental burnout and child maltreatment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Family Violence. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10896-020-00172-2