Dealing with ‘working parental burnout’? You’re not alone

A new study reveals an increasing number of parents are stretched well beyond their limits, calling the phenomenon "working parental burnout."

Working parents, you have my thoughts and prayers—and I need yours. Many of us are stretched to our limit and a new report from Ohio State University sums up what many of us feel by calling our collective fatigue “working parental burnout.” 

We know stress is part of the job as a parent. We are responsible for beating hearts. That’s a lot, to say the least. Their eating, sleeping, sneezing…you name it, we’ve got our mind on it at any given moment. But the kind of burnout OSU is researching is heavier than the day-to-day parenting responsibilities. Working parental burnout happens when chronic stress and exhaustion overwhelm a parent’s “ability to cope and function.” 

Kate Gawlik, co-author of the report and mother of four children ages 10 and under, put it this way: “It’s just this overwhelming sense of having to be on 24/7 in so many different roles and just having to be invested in those roles so intensely.” Overwhelming! Invested! Intensely! All of these emotions while a two-year pandemic drags on have us on edge, and the findings are telling. 

Here are the key findings: 

• Sixty-six percent (66%) of parents reported being burned out. 

• Being female, the number of children living in the home, anxiety in the parent, having child(ren) with the diagnosis of either anxiety or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and parental concern that their child(ren) may have an undiagnosed mental health disorder were strongly associated with parental burnout. 

• Burnout was strongly associated with depression, anxiety and increased alcohol consumption in parents, as well as the likelihood for parents to engage in punitive parenting practices. 

• Parental burnout is associated with children’s internalizing, externalizing and attention behaviors. 

Burnout often results from a mismatch between perceived stressors and available resources. It puts us into a tailspin when we start feeling physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. And then, there’s a feeling of detachment from the kids. 

It’s one thing to hear research findings, but hearing real parents talk about burnout hits different. These are anonymous quotes taken from the study:

“I am expected to be a superhuman that can be a full-time employee, parent, elementary school teacher, pre-school teacher, cook, cleaner, playmate and emotional support system. But I can’t do it any longer.” 

“I feel like I am running out of gas, but I don’t see a gas station in sight to let me relax and fill up my tank again.” 

“I work 168 hours a week with no time off and no additional pay.” 

“I don’t enjoy being with my kids anymore. I need a break.” 

So what can you do to climb out of the heaviness? The study suggests taking “recovery breaks” a couple of times a day to enhance your well-being or engage in something that brings you joy. And be kind to yourself—remember what that feels like? Don’t set your expectations too high and no more feeling guilty for saying no to something. Your plate is full. Finally, what may be the most freeing advice: forgive yourself. We are all imperfect people trying to raise little humans and show up for everything and everyone else. Give yourself some grace. Start there.

Learn more about parental burnout—and how to combat it—in this week’s episode of The Reset with Coach Tish, at the top of this story.

Letisha Bereola

Letisha Bereola is a life coach who helps ambitious women overcome burnout and reach their career goals so they feel great at work and happy at home. She’s a former Emmy-nominated TV news anchor, Podcast host of AUDACITY and speaker. Learn more:

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