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Do You Have Parental Burnout?

Do You Have Parental Burnout?

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Updated on May 14, 2008

It's not an uncommon equation; overwork plus under-appreciation equals job burnout.  Usually, when you're experiencing job burnout it's time to reevaluate whether the job you're doing is right for you. However, when the job you're burning out on is parenting, that's not an option.  Parental Burnout is actually pretty common. Many parents are chronically tired, stressed-out and irritable. After all, working all day, keeping a house organized and keeping your kids happy and healthy is a lot of work.

In fact, according to Robin F. Goodman, PhD., a clinical psychologist and Director of the A Caring Hand, Billy Esposito Foundation Bereavement Center, parental burnout is often related to trying to be a good parent.  "It often can start from a good place, such as wanting the best for children, but can head into feeling pressured to meet an impossible standard and/or pressuring children to meet impossible standards,"  Goodman explains.

Most of the signs of parental burnout are the same as they are with any other job burnout. After all, says Goodman, "burnout is related to one’s relationship to their job," and parenting is indeed a job.  Daniel Buccino, a director of the Baltimore Psychotherapy Institute and an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, is of the opinion that it's probably the hardest job you'll ever have. "It's a little-talked about secret," he says, " so being prepared for that from going into it makes a difference."

How can you know whether you're experiencing parental burnout?  Here's a list of signs to look for:

  • Irritability and testiness. According to the experts, this may spill over into your career environment. "If a parent's feeling stress at home, they may be more testy at work," explains Buccino. "It's hard to manage the work-home balance. Sometimes they'll feel as if they're not doing well at either."

  • Resentfulness, a lack of joy, guilt, anger and feelings of frustration and inadequacy.  Goodman states that these types of feelings can frequently be related to feeling as though you have no control in or aren't being rewarded by your job. "Certainly," she reminds, "Children provide their own types of rewards-- like kisses and doing well in school--but  they are not always immediate."

  •  Withdrawal,  detachment or a lack or "presence" with your children.  It's usually an extreme case in which a parent  feels so overwhelmed that she gives up parenting entirely, but it's not unusual for stressed-out parents to "let go" a little bit and be less involved in their children's everyday lives.


Though parental burnout is common, it doesn't have to be the norm for you. Buccino metaphorically speaks of the speech on airplanes in which parents are instructed to put oxygen masks on themselves before their children.  The oxygen mask in his scenario? Babysitters. Goodman agrees, stating the need for vacation or mental health days. "Take a break," she says."No one can do a job 24/7 and, as your own boss, make sure to approve time off."

Here are a few other simple things you can do to address parental burnout and avoid getting to the point of complete exhaustion.

  • Pace yourself. According to Buccino, parenting should be a marathon, not a sprint. There's time enough for everything, it doesn't have to be  done all at once.

  • Have a support network. It's okay to call on family and friends for help or even just to talk.

  • Be realistic. Make sure what you expect from yourself as a parent and from your children is reasonable and manageable.

  • Avoid comparison. Goodman informs us that it's unlikely that your neighbor really is "Martha Stewart and Super Nanny rolled all into one," so you shouldn't aspire to be like somebody you're not.


Parental burnout may be common, but it's not inevitable. Taking care of yourself and your relationship with your partner is a big part of being a healthy parent. Find a babysitter and, as Goodman says, "Find what nourishes you and indulge in small or big ways."

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