When Does Parenting Get Less Exhausting?
“Okay, but when does parenting get less exhausting?”
It’s a question you’ve probably caught yourself thinking at least once since welcoming your little one into the world — and one you’ll likely ask yourself several more times throughout their life.
While there isn’t a simple and fast answer to the question (sorry, parents!), there are a number of things you can do to help alleviate and prevent parental fatigue and burnout.
At ParentEducate.com, we’re dedicated to making parenthood easier for families like yours through our extensive library of research-based parenting courses. That’s why we’re sharing our top tips for navigating the stressors that come with parenting — and hopefully making “now” the answer to “when does parenting get less exhausting?”
What is parental burnout?
Parental burnout is a non-clinical term that describes the exhaustion caregivers experience as a result of increased pressure for caring for their children. While not all cases of parental fatigue are the same, they can be generally classified into three levels of severity including:
- Mild: Mild burnout often occurs when a parent is dealing with an atypical situation such as a temporary leave of absence by their partner or a short-term illness.
- Moderate: Moderate levels of burnout often occur when a parent is experiencing prolonged stressors (such as finances or lack of childcare) and sleep deprivation.
- Severe: Severe burnout is categorized by long-term exhaustion. Individuals undergoing this level of stress often display multiple symptoms and might also experience an inability to properly function in several areas of their life.
What causes parental burnout?
While parents have been asking themselves “when does parenting get less exhausting” throughout the centuries, scientists have only recently started looking into the causes of burnout and the impact it can have on families. In fact, the first research study on parental burnout took place in the 1980s and focused on parents whose children were fighting major medical battles.
Since then, researchers have studied more than 17,000 parents in 42 countries and found that, while parental burnout can come from a variety of causes, most cases result from high levels of stress mixed with a lack of resources to deal with that stress.
What are the symptoms of parental fatigue?
In 2018, Belgian researcher Isabelle Roskam created the Parental Burnout Assessment after surveying nearly 900 parents experiencing extreme stress. As a result of her research, she was able to pinpoint a number of common burnout symptoms, including:
- Overwhelming exhaustion (both physically and mentally).
- Loss of motivation.
- Emotional detachment from your child and those around you.
- Feelings of resentment.
- Physical pain, including chronic headaches, neck pain and/or muscle aches.
- Changes in appetite.
- Loss of interest.
- Feelings of hopelessness and self-doubt.
- Increased communication breakdowns.
- Loss of productivity.
- Confusion, forgetfulness and brain fog.
- Obsessive-compulsive tendencies.
While the symptoms themselves can vary from parent to parent, the distinguishing factor of parental burnout is the severity of the symptoms and their ability to affect daily function.
Who experiences burnout?
As we mentioned, everyone will likely find themselves asking “when does parenting get less exhausting,” at some point — but there is research to show that some parents are more prone to burnout than others.
For example, families living in more individualistic societies (typically those in the Western world) often see higher rates of fatigue. That’s largely because these societies also tend to value perfectionism and competition, two traits that can lead to increased stress and a hesitancy to ask for help.
Additionally, parents who are already experiencing other stressors at home (such as providing on a single income, caring for children with special needs, etc.) may be more prone to experiencing fatigue than others.
Older parents might find themselves asking “when does parenting get less exhausting” more often than younger parents. The same goes for parents with multiple children — or who are caring for multiple people at one time.
Finally, those who are experiencing systematic oppression have been shown to also have higher rates of burnout.
How can you manage parental burnout?
While stress is inevitable as a parent, there are a number of things you can do to manage any burnout symptoms you’re currently experiencing and reduce your risk for severe fatigue in the future. Some common management techniques include:
- Talking it out: Admitting you’re experiencing parental fatigue can be difficult, but it’s one of the most important steps you can take to alleviate your stress. Find someone in your life (or a group of people) to whom you can speak honestly with about what you’re experiencing. This will help eliminate any feelings of shame you may have, and will help you work through some of the things you’re going through. If you feel like your fatigue symptoms are severe and/or preventing you from functioning, we recommend also seeking out a mental health provider for professional support.
- Paying attention to your sleep routine. Sleep is one of the most important contributing factors of your overall mental help and ensuring you’re getting enough rest is crucial to dealing with parental burnout. While getting proper sleep can be difficult as a parent (especially if you have a newborn at home), prioritize it whenever you can. Even something as simple as a 20-minute nap has been shown to help alleviate stress and improve focus.
- Making small changes. Unlike work-related burnout, you can’t just take a vacation from parenting. Instead, we recommend making small changes in your day-to-day routine to help alleviate stress. For some parents, that can mean waking up a little earlier so you can enjoy a cup of coffee in the quiet. For others, it can mean scheduling carpools and playdates with other families to help spread responsibility.
- Practicing self-care. One of the easiest ways to help alleviate parental fatigue is to get into a habit of practicing at least five minutes of self-care each day. Whether you’re using that time to journal about the day or meditate, the simple act of taking time for yourself will help you feel renewed.
- Finding meaning. If you’re experiencing parental burnout, chances are you’re also having trouble finding meaning in what you’re doing. To help with that, plan an intentional activity for you and your child (like going for a picnic in the park). Try to be as present as possible during the time and focus on how the activity you planned is making your child feel. Once the adventure is over, debrief with your little one and ask them how they felt/what positive things they’re taking away from your time together. Hearing about how your choices positively impacted your little one can help you rediscover the meaning behind parenting and lessen your feelings of fatigue.
- Tapping into your support network. It can be easy to feel like you’re alone as a parent — especially if you’re raising a child without the support of a partner. That’s why it’s so crucial to create a support network around you and tap into it often. If you don’t have family members around to serve as a starting point for your network, try looking into parenting groups in the area where you can meet like-minded friends. It can also be helpful to start finding reliable childcare providers or sitters whom you can trust and reach out to when you’re in need of extra help.
- Being patient (and forgiving). Despite what you may see on social media, there’s no such thing as a perfect parent. Everyone makes mistakes along the way. If you start to feel frustrated with yourself, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you’re not alone. There are millions of other parents across the world experiencing the exact same things you are. If you handle a situation incorrectly or say something you wish you hadn’t, take time to forgive yourself and move on from the incident.
- Growing your parenting skills. Increasing your self-confidence as a parent can be a great way to help stave off parental fatigue. That’s because you’ll be more assured in your skills and confident in the way you’re handling difficult situations. With that in mind, we recommend setting aside a block of time each week to read up on the latest parenting techniques and grow your skills (our online courses are a perfect place to start).
Want to learn more about how ParentEducate.com can help make “now” the answer to “when does parenting get less exhausting?” Visit ParentEducate.com to sign-up for a free seven-day trial and get unlimited access to over 100 research-based online courses!