March 25, 2019

The Good News About Parental Burnout

“Having kids sometimes feels like running a race you can’t win against a clock you didn’t set. Parenting today is often characterized by feeling overwhelmed and dissatisfied, two feelings that are exacerbated by headlines like “How Having Children Robs Parents of Happiness” and books with titles like All Joy and No Fun. Yes, you love your children, but you’re not alone if you sometimes hate being their parent.

But for some parents, that feeling is more than a passing mood. Instead, it’s a part of full-on parental burnout, a state that shares many of the same traits as professional burnout: high levels of exhaustion, feelings of inadequacy, and emotional detachment. Unlike a job that’s causing burnout, though, parenting isn’t something that can be quit.

Also unlike job-related burnout, parental burnout has relatively little to do with external situational pressures on parents and much more to do with the characteristics of parents themselves. And perhaps surprisingly, that’s good news.

In the study first identifying the concept of parental burnout, published last year, “we expected burnout to be mainly explained by socio-demographic factors,” like a parent’s economic resources, the number of kids, and the presence or lack of a partner, says psychology researcher Moïra Mikolajczak, a professor at the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium and one of the study’s co-authors.”

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