5 min read

Parental Burnout Epidemic: Understanding and Treating the Silent Struggle

'Parental Burnout' is when parents feel emotionally exhausted, overwhelmed, and detached from their responsibilities. It is the physical, mental, and emotional fatigue one feels from the constant stress of parenting.
Image of matchsticks, with only one match burnt out completely
Image by Nataliya Vaitkevich on pexels.com

How COVID wasn't the only epidemic during 2020

Ever feel completely exhausted and detached from reality?

Are you struggling to connect with your children recently?

In 2020, COVID-19 changed everything. We found ourselves trapped in lockdown, trying to navigate an uncertain future.

Parents were balancing work from a distance while looking after their children. The list of responsibilities grew:

  • work (with the additional stress of an uncertain future)
  • maintain the household
  • look after children
  • ensure children participate fully in online school
  • keeping everyone safe

Parents juggled more responsibilities with fewer resources than ever.

The result?

Parental Burnout.

What is Parental Burnout?

'Parental Burnout' is when parents feel emotionally exhausted, overwhelmed, and detached from their responsibilities. It is the physical, mental, and emotional fatigue one feels from the constant stress of parenting.

A significant risk factor for parental burnout is parental stress, especially if the stressor is overwhelming. For 5-20% of parents, chronic or intense stress can lead to burnout.

The stress of COVID-19, plus the additional complications that came with it, lead to a significant increase in Parental Burnout.

Why is Parental Burnout Becoming More Prevalent?

Although Parental Burnout has always existed, it is becoming more prevalent and well-known. There are several factors that contribute to the rise in parental burnout:

- Women entering the workforce

Now, before you think this is some anti-women in the workforce agenda, it's not. When women entered the workforce, this meant more responsibilities for them overall.

A study of 500 parents revealed that 53% of parents reported that the mom is the primary caregiver. Less than one-third of the parents agreed that both parents share the responsibility of caring for the children equally. So not only are women typically working the same hours, they are most likely to be the primary caregiver of children and typically do more housework.

By being a working mom, women are 28% more likely to experience burnout than fathers. This is due to the unequal demands of home and work that are placed on working moms. For women of color, they experience even higher rates of burnout compared to white mothers.

- Nuclear Family Units

The Nuclear family (two parents and children in the household) is a recent phenomenon. Before it came into popularity, the family household consisted of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

The nuclear family was the American dream! Parents, children, and a white picket fence. Too bad that dream quickly became a nightmare.

Nuclear families meant that parents were doing everything on their own. No more access to extended family to help supervise and entertain the children.

Goodbye, village.

- Increased Parental Involvement Expectations

Over the past few decades, there has been a shift in the mindset toward raising children. Society now expects parents to be more involved in raising their children than ever before.

  • Do you raise your children in Montessori or Waldorf way?
  • How many extracurricular activities does your child do?
  • Are they in a sport, a music class, and volunteering?
  • Do you help your children with all their homework and school projects?

The pressure to do more has never been more persistent. It is the view that if we aren't doing everything, then our child has fewer chance of succeeding.

In an individual-focused culture, success only comes to those who push further and do more than the rest.

- Lack of Adequate Child Support

Burnout happens often because there is not adequate child support.

Daycares are expensive, too expensive for even some dual-income families. Approximately 42% of surveyed parents on UrbanSitter reported that they do not have any child care. A third of parents rely on a family member to watch their children while they work. Only 27% can hire a babysitter or nanny.

- COVID-19

With COVID-19, there has been a significant rise in parental burnout. The pandemic introduced more stress and anxiety. Some people lost their jobs. Parents had to worry about the health and safety of the family unit.
It also led to lockdowns. Parents were now juggling work-from-home, childcare, home maintenance, and their child's education.

- Financial Insecurity

With the pandemic, job losses, and recession on the horizon, people are feeling the impact of festering stress.

Although we may feel like we are on the other side of COVID-19, financial insecurity remains a stressor for many.

Signs and Symptoms

Parental Burnout may look different for each individual, but some common signs are:

  • Chronic fatigue & feelings of exhaustion
  • Overwhelm
  • Somatic complaints (headaches, stomachaches, etc)
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Loss of motivation & productivity
  • Mood swings (frustration, rage, guilt, irritability)
  • Reduced Empathy
  • Emotionally distant from children or spouse
  • Feelings of guilt and shame
  • Feeling helpless, hopeless, or self-doubt

Parents who are experiencing burnout may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms to give them temporary relief. They may find themselves misusing or using excessively alcohol, drugs, or food.

While these unhealthy coping skills may offer quick but short-lived relief from the problem, it does not address the core issues. This may cause a toxic cycle of dependency on those unhealthy coping skills.  

How to Treat Parental Burnout?

1. Understand what you are feeling

Read up more on parental burnout.

The more you know about a subject, the more you can make informed decisions. Once you realize what is going on, it can immediately ease the sense of confusion and isolation.

2. Talk to your spouse or family

The first step is to talk to someone about your feelings. It can help you decompress the build-up of stressors. They may offer ideas on how to reduce that burden. They may step in and give you a much-needed break.

3. Use a Holistic Approach to Healing

Engaging in self-care is crucial for long-term mental and physical health.
"Put on your own oxygen mask before the mask of others," means that you can't look after others if you neglect yourself.

If you prioritize the needs of others continuously before yourself, you are more likely to experience burnout. It will eventually affect your ability to care for that individual and yourself.

A holistic healing approach focuses on the activities that boost your physical and mental health. It includes things like getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating a healthy diet.

4. Find Support

Whether it is a Facebook parent group, your best friend, or your extended family, find healthy avenues to discuss your feelings.

Finding a childcare provider or babysitter is a great way to recharge those batteries. It gives you a break to prioritize your own self-care.

5. Be Patient and Kind to Yourself

Notice when you have negative thoughts or feelings. Try to combat those thoughts with positive self-talk. Acknowledge your feelings and emotions, but give yourself grace.

Turn the thought, "I'm a bad parent," to "My child is happy and looked after. He is fed, clothed, and loved."

6. Lessen the Burden

Are there any ways you can reduce the pile of responsibilities? Can your spouse or extended family member help take over one of your tasks?

As parents, we sometimes feel overwhelmed by the number of extracurricular activities our children do. We have been fed a lie that all these activities are essential for their future success.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by their fully booked schedule, consider dropping one or two weekly appointments. Your child will probably appreciate free time as well.

7. Build Healthy Coping Skills

Good coping skills and building resilience give you the tools to confidently address issues.

If you notice you are using any unhealthy coping skills, focus on developing healthy ones.

8. Seek Help If Needed

If you feel like you need more support, turning to a therapist or counselor may be beneficial. A therapist can give crucial support and help find the right tools to assist you. There may be times when we can't identify why we feel a certain way, but a therapist can give an empathetic outside perspective.


Parental burnout is not new, but it is on the rise with the extra stressors of COVID-19. While we are no longer in lockdowns, many are still confronting a burden of responsibilities with less help than ever.

The following tips can give parents the tools to deal with parental burnout:

  • Read up on it
  • Communicate with spouse and family
  • Holistic healing with self-care
  • Find support
  • Be kind to yourself
  • Lessen the burden
  • Build healthy coping skills
  • Seek additional help

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