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Parental burnout can negatively affect every family member

A study shows that both children and parents suffer when daily stresses become too much

Photo (c) PeopleImages - Getty Images
While most consumers associate burnout with their jobs, a new study is shedding light on how it can also affect parents and their children.

Researchers from the Association for Psychological Science found that when parents experience burnout, the effects can impact their own mental well-being and be burdensome to their kids. 

“In the current cultural context, there is a lot of pressure on parents,” said researcher Moira Mikolajczak. “But being a perfect parent is impossible and attempting to be one can lead to exhaustion. Our research suggests that whatever allows parents to recharge their batteries, to avoid exhaustion, is good for children.” 

Preventing burnout

The researchers completed two complementary studies to better understand how parental burnout can affect both parents and kids, both of which tracked parental attitudes over time. The first study required parents to complete three rounds of surveys, which were spaced six months apart.

Each survey was extensive, covering various questions about overall emotional exhaustion and spreading out from there to cover how likely that exhaustion is to lead to physical or verbal violence. They also delved into parents’ feelings about escaping their families and their attitudes about how neglectful they are of their children in any capacity. 

The researchers’ second study was similar in scope and used online surveys to question parents about different facets of feeling burned out. Both studies yielded nearly identical results: both parents and children suffer -- though in different ways -- when parents feel burned out by their responsibilities. 

The surveys revealed that when parents are burned out, their children’s needs -- either physical or emotional -- are often neglected, and parents feel more tempted to run away from their families in an effort to escape the constant pressures. 

“We were a bit surprised by the irony of the results,” said Mikolajczak. “If you want to do the right thing too much, you can end up doing the wrong thing. Too much pressure on parents can lead them to exhaustion which can have damaging consequences for the parent and for the children.” 


The researchers want to encourage parents to seek out moments of peace when possible to regroup and prevent burnout before it becomes unbearable. 

“Parents need to know that self-care is good for the child and that when they feel severely exhausted, they should seek help,” said Mikolajczak. “Health and child services professionals need to be informed about parental burnout so they can accurately diagnose it and provide parents with the most appropriate care.” 

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