You might have heard this one before. Parenting is such a rewarding and fulfilling job that a smile from your beloved child is all it takes to make up for the meltdowns, twilight hour wakeup calls and all that poop.
Sounds beautiful indeed, but you and I know deep down (maybe not even that far down) that really isn’t the case. In fact, glossing over the stress-inducing parts of parenting with overly positive mantras can do more harm than good for our mental health.
When the daily stress of parenting leads to intense exhaustion that causes you to feel detached from their children and unsure of your parenting abilities, you’re most probably suffering from parental burnout, says Professor Moïra Mikolajczak from the University of Louvain in Belgium, in a 2019 study published in the Clinical Psychological Science.
Let’s talk about burnout
When the daily stress of parenting leads to intense exhaustion that causes you to feel detached from their children and unsure of your parenting abilities, you’re most probably suffering from parental burnout.
1. Burnout is not just for mums
Dr Mikolajczak’s research has found that parental burnout is not only for mothers, but can afflict dads as well, with a ratio of 2:1.
A 2016 study of 2,600 parents in Australia showed that 18% of fathers reported experiencing symptoms of depression, and 19% had experienced symptoms of anxiety since becoming a parent.
3% of those experiencing symptoms of depression had serious levels of current psychological distress.
2. Some parents are at high risk of burnout
Some parents are at a higher risk of suffering from parental burnout, says the founder of The Burnout Project, Dr Amy Imms.
Her research indicates that these kinds of parents are at particular risk:
- Single parents
- Parents with special needs children
- Parents with past or current mental illness
- Parents with perfectionist tendencies
- Parents who are socially isolated with little practical or emotional support
3. Parental burnout does not look like job burnout
Parental and job burnout have shown to have similar complaints such as sleep disorders and addictive behaviours, but parental burnout has the unique effect of neglectful and violent behaviours towards children, according to Dr Mikolajczak.
Self-care is part of childcare
Photos taken in collaboration with Kerry Cheah, featuring one of our ParentWise families
Parental burnout can have serious consequences for both parent and child. Besides parental neglect, harm or thoughts about escape, such high levels of parenting stress may also lead to more scolding or punishing and consequently elevated anxiety and emotional distress in children.
The COVID-19 crisis saw the unexpected confinement of parents with their children, contributing to higher stress levels for parents in 2020. While the weeks of quarantine were considered a real blessing for some parents who felt less hurried, others had a particularly challenging time, especially those working from home.
We can’t give our children what we don’t have. If we’re disconnected from ourselves, we can’t offer love and build attachment with our children. When we’re stressed or facing challenges, we can’t always respond patiently and compassionately.
The truth is, our children can’t do anything about how we manage ourselves, so it’s up to us to recognise our own state of mind and be aware when parental burnout is reaching critical levels. It is not a sign of weakness or failure to seek help.
This article was first published on ParentWise. Developed by Temasek Foundation in partnership with SEED Institute (subsidiary of NTUC First Campus), ParentWise is a programme that offers curated evidence-based learning programmes and resources that parents and caregivers need to support their children. For more parenting tips and resources, please visit ParentWise at https://parentwise.sg/.