Parental burnout: how to support parents
Parental burnout as a term first emerged in the 1980s, but has only gained popularity in the 21st century. The analogy with occupational burnout is not coincidental here and translates into a better understanding of the problems parents face. Something that not so long ago was often an individual drama of parents, hidden behind the home door, is now becoming a public topic. And a wider awareness of the problem can result in a better solution.
What is parental burnout?
Parental burnout is a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion from having children. The term gained popularity with research by Isabelle Roskam and Moira Mikolajczak (2020), who detail 4 dimensions of parental burnout: emotional exhaustion, contrast in parental self, loss of accomplishment in parental role and emotional distance from children.
Let us look at these dimensions in turn.
Emotional exhaustion of parents
Lack of patience and strength to care for the child on a daily basis, a sense of constant fatigue and the burden that parenthood has become, often a sense of loss (for the old life, free time, career), limited ability to build a positive relationship with the child.
Feeling of being fed up / loss of accomplishment in parental role
– i.e. fatigue involving lack of enjoyment, understood as a general set of positive emotions associated with parenting: building joyful moments together, satisfaction, planning for the future. This enjoyment may be not felt or not perceived by the parent.
Contrast in parental self
‘I am no longer the parent I used to be. I was supposed to be different. I used to be full of energy and commitment, I used to plan, I used to further my education, I used to be more patient, now I give my child less time and attention. I feel bad about it, I’ve given up.”
Emotional distance from children
Reducing the parent-child relationship to the basics, meeting minimal needs and required commitment, losing the sense of connection, being machinic, cold, sometimes callous or treating the child as a burden.
What does parental burnout originate from and who does it affect?
Parental burnout affects people for whom the hardships of parenting prove to be beyond individual capabilities (resources). Each parent has different resources: psychological, competence, cultural, physical, financial, housing, relational – both with a partner/partner and with a family that can support in different ways in raising a child. All these elements can translate into the timing and scale of parental burnout.
At the same time, exhaustion affects mothers more often than fathers. This is related, among other things, to social pressures, especially the idealised images that dominate social media.
As Prof. M. Mokolajczak comments: There is a lot of pressure on parents, but being a perfect parent is, after all, impossible. Such attempts can lead precisely to exhaustion. Our research shows that something that gives parents a chance to recharge their batteries is also good for children. […] If you try too hard to do the right thing, you will eventually start doing the wrong thing. Excessive pressure on parents can lead to exhaustion, which can have a devastating effect on both the parent and the children.” [source]
Burnout is more common in people raised in individualistic cultures than in collective ones, and in members of nuclear versus multi-generational families.
It is more often faced by perfectionists (‘maladaptive perfectionism‘), neurotics and introverts, and generally people with weaker emotional competence (emotional intelligence). Burnout can be associated with both a loss of career vision and simply a poor financial situation.
Child health problems, especially disability, are a particular factor.
In which countries does parental burnout occur most frequently?
Roskam and Mikolajczak’s study was conducted in 2018-2019 covering 42 countries. Mainly online surveys were completed by more than 17,000 parents (including more than 12,000 mothers). The exact results can be found here: source.
The 10 countries with the highest average levels of parental burnout are:
Countries with the lowest levels of parental burnout include:
The map below shows the percentage of parents with the highest levels of burnout – burned out to the point of making it almost impossible to fulfil the role of parent. Above the 7 per cent level are Poland, the USA, Belgium and Switzerland.
What does parental burnout lead to?
Parental burnout can manifest as, among other things:
- symptoms of depression
- chronic stress and tension
- conflictiveness, aggression, violence – in everyday life, in the relationship with the partner and also towards the child
- chaotic life
- sleep problems
- low self-esteem and level of satisfaction: with life and the relationship
- withdrawal, including thoughts of abandoning the family or even suicide
How to check the level of parental burnout?
The aforementioned authors of research on parental burnout – I. Roskam, M. Mikolajczak and M-E. Brianda – operated in their analyses with the Parental Burnout Assessment questionnaire, which can also be used in the individual assessment of each parent. Read more here: The Parental Burnout Assessment (PBA).
How to deal with parental burnout?
As we mentioned, parental burnout is primarily related to a parent’s individual resources. Many of these resources can be built up: more family support and involvement, empowerment (parenting knowledge, psychological support, education) and proper self-esteem (including reducing toxic models).
Parental burnout and Kava Kava
Kava does not build a parent’s personal resources, but it can be an important support in alleviating the symptoms of parental burnout. How?
- Kava reduces stress: it has a calming effect on the nervous system (reacts with GABA) and reduces muscle tension. It helps regain calmness and patience.
- Kava is more energy and satisfaction on a daily basis (as an MAO inhibitor it allows dopamine and serotonin levels to rise) More here.
- Kava is better sleep [more].
- Kava means better mood, detachment and good spirits!
- Finally, Kava is a great alternative to alcohol, which to burned-out parents can seem like a form of respite.
Photo: Hollie Santos / Unsplash.com