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How Can Parents Cope With Burnout?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A new report from The Ohio State University found 66% of working parents meet the criteria for burnout. The researchers say the situation has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. The rates are even higher for women, if the parent or child already deals with anxiety or a parent's concern that their child has an undiagnosed mental health condition.

"You want to try to be such a great parent; you want to do well at your job; you want to be a good partner; you want to have a clean house," said Kate Gawlik, mother of four, co-author of the report and associate professor of clinical nursing at The Ohio State University College of Nursing. "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."

According to the researchers, burnout is associated with depression, anxiety and increased alcohol consumption in working parents. Parents are also more likely to get irritable and easily angered with children.

So, how can parents cope with burnout? Good Question.

"I think the first thing I would say is just open your mouth and admit that you're struggling," said Dr. Shonda Craft, a mother of two, a marriage and family therapist, and dean of the School of Health and Human Services at St. Cloud State. "Talking to someone and letting them know -- your partner, spouse, kids, co-workers, boss, wherever you feel like you're not getting that support -- you need and letting people know that maybe you need to pause for a moment.

Craft says everyday people might be able to tell if regular parental stresses cross the line into burnout when parents feel like they want to escape their family or have a true sense of "I can't do this."

The authors of the report offer a checklist for parents asking them to rate how often they are irritated, exhausted, stressed, overwhelmed and more when it comes to parenting their children.

"Then, the second piece is really starting to think about and then the second piece is really starting to think about -- what is it that I really need right now," said Craft. "What is not going well right? Is it something that's in my control to fix or is it some sort of outside force that I'm not going to be able to deal with."

She recommends focusing on something you can do well, rather than taking a scattershot approach to trying to do it all. For example, if a parent really loves family meal time, make sure that happens in an environment where family meal time is soothing and healing for everyone.

She also recommends delegating tasks and chores to a partner or children. The study's authors recommend increasing resources like flex hours at work, asking family for childcare help or finding people to carpool, and decreasing stressors like cutting back on school activities or getting seven to eight hours of sleep.

"It's really important to not feel guilty about taking care of yourself, whether it's 10 minutes or 30 minutes or a weekend away, that is your time to rejuvenate and heal yourself," Craft said. "As parents, we really need to be able to enjoy the moments that we have with our children because they're so fleeting and if we're so busy beating up on ourselves for the things that we don't we're getting right, then we're taking away those moments of joy."

She also points out the line between burnout and depression or anxiety is blurry and recommends talking with a mental health professional if you get to the point of not appreciating your kids, feeling really down on yourself or feeling hopeless.


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