What is parental burnout and what can be done to prevent it?

Parental burnout is an actual thing [Photo: Getty]
Parental burnout is an actual thing [Photo: Getty]

When you become a parent you know you should expect to feel somewhat exhausted, both physically and mentally.

But sometimes the stress of bringing up small people can go a little bit further leading to something known as parental burnout, which can have some pretty serious consequences on families if it isn’t addressed.

Research published in Clinical Psychological Science, defines parental burnout as “an overwhelming exhaustion related to one’s parental role, an emotional distancing from one’s children, and a sense of parental ineffectiveness.”

And it seems the number of parents suffering is on the rise, with a recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, revealing that something between 2 and 12% of parents are currently battling the burnout.

"Parenting is the only job in the world where you work 24 hours a day without pay, holidays, breaks or sometimes even thanks,” explains Cathy Ranson, editor of ChannelMum.com.

“While it can be amazingly rewarding, it can also push mums and dads to breaking point.”

READ MORE: Having children will make you happier – but only once they've moved out

So what’s causing so many parents to feel so frazzled?

According to Ranson there are many factors at play that could be contributing to parental burnout.

"The current generation is the more lonely and stressed than ever as social media has piled on the pressure to be the 'perfect parent',” she explains.

“Recent research has revealed that six in ten of us no longer have close family nearby to help out, so it's no wonder that cases of parental burnout are rapidly on the rise.”

Ranson says that though trying to be the best parent you can be is mostly a good thing, it is important to know your limits, mentally, physically and emotionally.

Parental burnout can have some pretty serious consequences [Photo: Getty]
Parental burnout can have some pretty serious consequences [Photo: Getty]

So what can parents do to avoid feeling the burn?

Forget the myth of the perfect parent

While it’s easy to believe that everyone is nailing parenthood, there’s actually no such thing as the perfect parent and it is ok to lower the bar. "It’s fine just to be a 'good enough' parent,” advises Ranson. If that means allowing your kids a bit longer on their tech or skipping swimming lessons for one week, so be it. “Your kids will love you just the same,” she adds.

Step away from social media (sometimes)

While social media can provide vital support for parents who are struggling it’s important to remember what you see on Insta doesn’t always tell the whole story.

“You may feel everyone is coping better than you but what they post is likely to be heavily curated and edited to pick only the best moments,” explains Ranson. “Ignore it as it's not real.”

READ MORE: What is gentle parenting and why is it becoming more popular?

Ask for help

Sure we may think we should be able to handle things on our own, but there really is no shame in asking for help when you need it or accepting help when it is offered.

"It can seem daunting, but admitting you are struggling or that you simply need an hour off to have a coffee by yourself is fine,” says Ranson.

Find your parenting tribe

No one quite understands the daily grind of parenting quite like other mums and dads. So reaching out online or in person to those who are in it with you can really help.

“Get a good group of parents around you who can support you – and who you can support back,” advises Ranson. “It takes a village to raise a child so have each other's backs.” You can find support online or locally

Take some me-time

Easier said than done when you’ve got small people hanging off you and you’ve not had time to go to the loo, let alone take some time-out. But it’s vital you put looking after yourself back on the to-do list.

"Remember you can't pour from an empty cup,” says Ranson. “Self-care is important as you need to be in good place to look after your family. So put yourself first sometimes."