Parenting Stress and Burnout

Dec 18

Dr. Tiffany Spanier

Parenting Stress and Burnout

by Dr. Tiffany Spanier

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We have all heard the “when I was your age” stories from our parents and grandparents:

  • I used to walk uphill to school, through the snow, both ways
  • The only toys we had were string, cans, and cardboard 
  • When we wanted to have fun, we actually went outside

But another “when I was your age” story that I consistently hear is:

  • When I was your age, parenting seemed so much easier

In recent decades, parenting has become increasingly demanding and increasingly difficult. There has been increased pressure on parents to bring up healthy, secure, and successful children who will become well-rounded and engaged citizens.

Within these pressures include:

  • Expectations for continuous positive parenting
  • Parents feeling like they have to complete a list of duties instead of using love and common sense as a guide 
  • Parents are being held responsible for the high expectations for their children in terms of attention, education, possessions, and opportunities
  • More families have two working parents. This leaves less time to try to reach these parenting goals and meet their own emotional, physical, and spiritual needs in a healthy way
  • Concerns of lower respect and/or appreciation from children
  • Potentially having children with high needs, including medical illnesses, learning disabilities, developmental and psychological challenges

Why does it matter?

Parenting can be stressful. Without enough help, parents risk their emotional and physical well being, which negatively impacts everyone.

How do we recognize parental stress and burnout?

Every parent knows what it feels like to be stressed, frustrated, and even overwhelmed. That is a part of normal parenting. But when every day feels like a hard or impossible day, or if you have noticed you are emotionally disconnected with your child, you may have drifted into the territory of burnout.

What do we do about it?

We all have the potential for parental and caregiver burnout. Here are some suggestions to help parents build resources to stay healthy, balanced, and connected to their kids.

Awareness 

Know your limits and be honest about your personal situation. Make sure goals are realistic.

Ask for help

Challenge the idea that you need to shoulder all the responsibility for your child. Accept that you may need help. Be ready to turn to others for assistance. Reaching out to others can fortify your support network.

  • Consider asking for help even in small ways. See if friends and family are available to help with babysitting or even running an errand. If you don’t ask for help when you really need it, you risk becoming more emotionally and physically exhausted.  
  • Parents with children that have high needs, including developmental and psychological challenges, may need additional support. Local organizations or places of worship may provide support groups (either in person or online) for caregivers or family members of children with higher needs. You can also find private respite programs in your area through the ARCH National Respite Network.

Basic self-care can help strengthen physical and emotional resiliency

We are often focused with caring for our children, but we also need to intentionally take time to care for ourselves. We may feel that our schedule does not allow for this, so we start by doing the best we can. The list below does not have to be another To Do list. It is a list of suggestions to help provide some ideas and guidance.

Strengthen physical resiliency by:

  • Getting enough sleep every night
  • Staying hydrated
  • Eating healthy foods
  • Getting regular exercise

Strengthen emotional resiliency by:

  • Connecting with your child: reflect on your child’s strengths and positive qualities. Find a moment to connect with a smile, kind word, or gentle touch/hug. 

  • Connecting with others: find someone you trust -- such as a friend, co-worker, or neighbor -- to talk to about your feelings and frustrations. Or simply set up time to do something fun with someone you enjoy. Supportive relationships can help sustain and nourish us. 

  • Fill your tank with inspiration and joy: expose yourself to more positive and inspirational stories (this includes stories from the media). Find ways to share positive stories with friends and family. Just recalling and remembering previous moments of happiness and joy can be beneficial.

  • Cultivate an attitude of gratitude: if you are always looking at the negative, it can feel like nothing is going well. Consider taking a moment to recognize a few things that you are grateful for. It doesn’t have to be something grand – we can start by celebrating the small stuff.

  • Embrace spirituality, connect with nature, and/or practice mindfulness: any one of these options can help you feel more centered and grounded. They help you connect to that bigger-than-self idea that can help us feel safer and more secure. They can also help you nurture skills that help you find the beauty within your day. 

  • Practice simple acts of kindness for yourself: this can include doing something enjoyable such as reading, napping, listening to music, or sitting quietly with a warm cup of tea or coffee. Also check into your self-talk. Notice that you may be using negative language and beating yourself up. Can you change your language to be more supportive? Doing less harm to yourself counts as an act of kindness.

  • Accept your feelings: having negative feelings such as frustration or anger is normal. It does not mean you are a bad person or a bad parent. And if you are feeling overwhelmed, burned out, or depressed, talk to a professional. Most therapists, social workers, and clergy members are trained to counsel individuals dealing with a wide range of physical and emotional issues.

Parenting may be the hardest job we will ever love. And giving our children our time, encouragement, attention, and unconditional love takes great effort. It’s important to take a moment to remember we are not superhuman, and in order to take care of our children, we need to take care of ourselves. By supporting one another and celebrating even our small successes, we can help each other to find a way to keep up the good work. 

Dr. Tiffany Spanier is a pediatrician in the Allegro Pediatrics Bellevue location.