We all wear many hats during our time here on earth. There is the function hat, the friend hat, the partner hat…
And for some of us, there’s the parent hat. Arguably one of the best, if not THE best, roles you can play in life.
But it doesn’t come without challenges. Even if you enter parenthood with your eyes wide open, a full bank account, and the biggest heart, it can still be quite overwhelming.
Plus, it’s not easy to be overwhelmed as a parent. There is always the risk of being judged as a ‘bad parent’.
No matter how hard they try to hide or cover up their struggles, you can still tell when a parent is overwhelmed. Here are 9 signs of parent burnout, even if you don’t want to admit it:
1) They look tired, act tired and feel tired
I consider myself blessed to be both a parent and a teacher. When I look back on my life, I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to raise children, both my own and those of others.
And yet I cannot say that I was always cheerful, cheerful and happy. Anyone who tells you that parenting is a walk in the park is lying. (That, or they have a nanny who does the actual work…)
Because the truth is that raising children is quite a task. It’s super rewarding, but it’s also physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting.
Not to mention that you have to do it on top of everything else you encounter in your life.
So yes, parental burnout is real. And there’s no shame in admitting it. We all take turns being tired here!
2) They have a short fuse
Another real talking point – as great as they are, kids can test the patience of a saint.
Think about the ways in which children can be annoying to deal with:
- Temper tantrums
- Constant questions
- Pushing boundaries and boundaries
- Leaving crowds and chaos behind
- School-related stress
I could go on, because parenthood brings different specific challenges for each of us. And sometimes it can be really frustrating.
Before we forget: parents are people too. They may have the longest fuse in the world, but when it’s one out-of-control situation after another, that fuse can easily become short and explosive.
Take the pandemic, for example. Research shows that the pandemic has had a huge impact on parental burnout, with some moving from ‘normal’ levels of burnout to clinical levels.
And that’s just the percentage of parents who were willing to participate in the study. Can you imagine how many more there would be if those who didn’t want to admit they were overwhelmed were included?
3) They tend to engage in escapist behavior
How do these parents deal with this because they are overwhelmed but can’t say it out loud?
Simple – with escapist movements. These can take different forms, ranging from harmless to more worrying habits:
- Binge watching TV or movies
- Excessive phone use or gaming
- Stress eating
- Retail therapy
- Addictive behavior such as drinking, smoking or gambling
- Working overtime
- Withdrawal from family life
Anything to get away from all that parenting stress. But while it’s understandable, escapist behavior leaves real problems unnoticed.
And unfortunately, getting to the root of the problem first requires something they find difficult: admitting they feel overwhelmed.
4) They engage in suicidal thoughts
Speaking of escapism, it can even go as far as suicidal ideation.
Year interesting study found that parental burnout increases thoughts of suicide and escape.
Why? Because it’s all just too much. They feel trapped and suffocated by all the demands placed on them.
And because of the stigma associated with parental burnout, they can’t even admit it. It is much easier to resort to fantasies about escaping their current situation.
5) They are emotionally distant from their children
I think this is just another way to escape: detachment. Don’t get me wrong: in most cases, detachment is not intentional at all.
I see it as a form of self-preservation. Because they are dealing with their own stress, anxiety and fatigue.
And that takes so much emotional energy that there is very little left for their children.
Does that make any sense?
Imagine you’re stressed about something at work. You run downstairs, you’re tired and all you want to do is crawl into bed and not wake up for a whole day.
Now imagine that someone comes to you at that moment to rant about his or her problems and wants you to do something about them. How much energy can you give them if you don’t have any yourself? Probably not much, right?
I’ve been there, and yes, it’s hard to admit: when you’re so tired that you have nothing left to give, it’s hard to care about anything.
The old saying is true: you can’t refill others if your own cup runs dry. This is exactly the case with parental burnout and emotional detachment.
6) They sleep poorly
There’s nothing an overwhelmed parent wants to do more than sleep. All damn day.
The bad news is: they can’t. You don’t have to be a parent to just know it how much stress and anxiety can disrupt your sleep patterns.
This study confirms how parenting-related stress leads to insomnia/hypersomnia.
Unfortunately, it worsens all other symptoms of burnout, including the following:
7) They have brain fog
When I was teaching, I had a student whose mother was a bit difficult to talk to. She was often distracted and nervous, and she easily forgot things we had already talked about.
You had the feeling she wasn’t quite there.
As a parent, I was like that myself once. So I wasn’t quick to judge her as a bad mother, especially since I knew she had three other children to think about.
I knew instinctively that she was having a hard time dealing with it, even if she wouldn’t say it out loud.
It’s easy to miss these signs and label someone as disorganized or inattentive. But in both my parenting and teaching experiences, I have learned that these behaviors often mask deeper problems.
That’s why I always say that we shouldn’t be too quick to judge others; we never really know what they’re going through.
8) They approach parenthood in survival mode
What do I mean when I say ‘survival mode’?
Well, actually, don’t let the kids die. Period of time.
Look, when you’re at your best, parenthood is a joyful phase of your life. You enjoy the time you have with your children, you enjoy planning activities and making sure they get all the opportunities available to them.
If you’ve noticed, the key word there is “joy.” In survival mode, none of that is the case.
Parents who are overwhelmed but don’t admit it tend to shift to a mindset of meeting only the basic needs: food, clothing, shelter. Or even if they do offer the extras, you’ll notice that one thing is missing: joy.
Or at least: involvement.
Parents in survival mode find it difficult to plan long-term strategies. How can they do that, when the immediate present – what is on their plate now – is overwhelming enough?
So their focus is on checking off the absolutely necessary boxes (like not letting the kids die!) and getting through the day.
Because everything else is just too much.
Unfortunately, this condition also shows them this next sign…
9) They have no sense of achievement when it comes to parenting
Clearly, for overwhelmed parents, the joy/pain scale of parenthood is skewed. Unbalanced towards the negative.
This often makes them feel that they are ineffective as parents, even though they are doing well in every respect.
The feeling of being overwhelmed keeps them from feeling capable. In any case, they see that feeling of overwhelm as a sign that they cannot succeed as parents.
And if they admit it, that’s even more proof that they are “terrible parents.”
This mindset creates a vicious cycle in which feelings of inadequacy are exacerbated by the stresses and challenges of parenthood.
I remember a good friend of mine who had a child with special needs. As you can imagine, caring for a child with special needs presents an even greater number of challenges.
My friend was overwhelmed, but she didn’t want to admit it (most parents think admitting it means saying you don’t love your kids as much as you should).
But I knew she was because she constantly compared herself to the other moms in her support group. She held herself to unrealistically high standards that were impossible to meet every time.
The funny thing is that I could see how well she was able to meet all the demands her situation placed on her. She just needed to step back, breathe and recharge.
If you’re a parent and some of these signals resonate with you, here’s my friendly reminder: Feeling overwhelmed is not the same as being a bad parent.
Parenting is an incredibly complex and demanding role, and it’s normal to feel overwhelmed at times. Like I said, we all experience it, not just once, but many times.
Admitting that you are struggling is not a sign of failure or weakness. It’s actually what brave and honest parents do. Asking for help is wise.
And in that respect I would also like to say: we are not supposed to raise our children alone. As the old saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
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