Nowadays, being a parent is not easy… Well, it has surely never been. However, coping with anxiety, comparing yourself to the other parents with a resulting feeling of inadequacy together with a series of other unpleasant sensations is now a thing. We call that, precisely, parental burnout: a phenomenon that is an object of studies in many countries but yet mysterious. It is possible to describe it, to recognize the symptoms but still hard to find and, subsequently, to prevent the causes. Parental burnout syndrome can be recognized by three characteristics, which are:
1. Feeling overwhelmed, both physically and emotionally
2. Feeling distant from your child/children. This distance is emotional and it’s put in practice by our brains in order to get a distraction from the source of stress (the kids, in this case). This has nothing to do with neglecting: the parent is perfectly able to complete tasks at a “physical” level: feeding, washing, dressing, bringing the child to school and after school activities
3. A general sense of being an incapable parent
The burnout syndrome was studied in the past as “working burnout” as it affected the working sphere. Then, researchers noticed a similar pattern that affects the parenting role. The first country to observe this was the United States in the ‘80s. Only in very recent times, during the second decade of the 2000s, the concept became widespread in Europe even though it is still partially unknown in some countries. Ignorance regarding this subject is not a fault attributable to factors or to someone, but is certainly due to a sense of shame felt by the parents affected who are afraid to admit they are just not feeling good. What we know so far is that this syndrome relates to both mothers and fathers and it might remind one of postpartum depression but the latter begins before 18 months of age, while the burnout starts after that period. In Europe, this phenomenon is being studied in countries like the Netherlands and Belgium. The inventories usually consider variables representing the concepts of emotional exhaustion, emotional distancing and personal accomplishment. However, having a broad vision about parental burnout is still difficult due to the aforementioned sense of shame which leads to some people lying about it.
Is it possible to prevent parental burnout? The fact that there is a hidden feeling of inadequacy affecting most aspects of our lives, would suggest that only in some cases can it be successfully defeated. Not only do we feel incapable of being parents: we feel like incapable new mothers (see also: postpartum depression), we feel incapable of working successfully to reach a dreamy, wealthy lifestyle and so we spend our time on our social media, adding an alluring touch to our posts. On reflection, parents could naturally adopt some predictable expedients to reduce their negative feelings.
Don’t feel guilty about your feelings. Adolescence is usually a hard moment and many of us probably told our parents, at least once, “I hate you!” You might be annoyed by some of your kids attitudes as you were annoyed by your parents when you were young. It’s reciprocal, so it’s not a big deal. 2. Don’t compare your parenting style to what you see on social media.
The web is full of articles that sound like “I am a normal mother and I feel inferior to the Instagram mothers”. At this point, everyone knows that online life is much different from the offline one, also known as reality. A boring moment spent with your family can look like the funniest moment ever: you just need to shoot the picture from the right angle, add a nice filter and a thoughtful caption. Don’t fall into this trap: every family has problems, fights, horrible days. Just don’t take what you see on your socials as the real life of other parents, because it’s not. 3. If you have to compare yourself with someone else, do it with real life models. If you see some good dynamics in a family, you can take it as an inspiration. Don’t be envious, just think about what you can do to improve your own dynamics. Anyway, always be careful: spending much time with parents and their kids that seem perfect
and happy doesn’t mean that it is the truth: you can never know how a family is really doing if you’re not part of that family. 4. Don’t listen to people when they are just talking. Every mom will
tell you that her children are the best at studying, at doing sports, at tidying their rooms. That is a natural behaviour because, after all, parents love their children very much, no matter how many mistakes they make. And, like anybody, they too make mistakes! Nobody is perfect and if someone is trying to convince you that their family is perfect, well… they’re lying. 5. Trust the experts, just when needed. There are different theories about parenting and raising children and they probably contradict each other. On one hand, for example, videogames are not recommended before a certain age and, at least, not for too many hours a week. On the other hand, we live in the digital era so our progeny needs to learn how technology works: it’s a skill that could be useful for their future careers. Your child could become a video game programmer or for example a software engineer. Ask the right people for suggestions and you will be able to understand when something is a healthy interest and when it becomes an obstacle to other activities. We could say the same about nutrition: the advertisements teach us that a hearty breakfast is the only way to begin the day in a positive way. There is a myth claiming that people not having breakfast are prone to becoming overweight. At the same time, studies report that having milk in the morning is not necessary but can, in actual fact, lead to the development of cancer. Sugary snacks can bring about cellulitis and diabetes. Juice might cause stomach acidity. Just find your own balance, don’t feel stressed because you’re not following “the rules”.
In conclusion, life has changed a lot during the last decades. In the past it was normal for some women to be housewives, mothers and nothing else. Today, both men and women have varying and crazy schedules; work can be stressful and sometimes we need to destress with a night out with friends or just with your partner. When you’re a parent this can be more difficult and you might feel guilty for leaving your children with someone else. Why? Asking for any kind of help is the first step to solving a problem and there’s absolutely nothing weird about calling a babysitter! Unfortunately, even if parental burnout relates to both fathers and mothers, in society the idea that a woman’s life is full only when she becomes a mother is still present. If you are a woman in a career with no children, you’re an egoist and you just care about your job. If you have children, you’re constantly afraid of not being enough: this is completely unfair, isn’t it?