Parenting is an adventure, filled with excitement, love, and joy. At the same time, it can be completely exhausting. Increasingly, parents report feeling tired, frustrated, and depressed. Researchers have begun to focus on parental burnout, examining its nature and association with anger.
Parental burnout has three dimensions: exhaustion, distancing, and ineffectiveness. Burned–out parents feel tired and want to run away from their children. They will say things like, “I just can’t do it anymore.” Exhaustion arises from stress related to the multiple responsibilities that parents must routinely juggle. Additionally, in the modern era of intensive parenting, mothers and fathers are bombarded with information about “good parenting”, including the successes of other parents they see on social media. Moms, in particular, compare themselves to other women and may feel inadequate.
Distancing is tied to the desire to run away. Parents feel as if they could just buy an airplane ticket and fly somewhere. Sometimes, burned-out parents even begin to contemplate suicide.
Ineffectiveness is related to one’s feeling of failure as a parent. Often, parents—especially mothers—strive for the ideal mothering style they’ve read or heard about. Mothers may feel as if they are not doing enough for their children or feel guilty for not spending more time with them. Moms may feel guilty for yelling or spanking; interestingly, burned-out parents typically do not support harsh discipline practices. Still, they may act aggressively as they lack the resources to regulate their emotions. Moreover, you may find anxiety, embarrassment, guilt, and shame underlying the anger. This is known as an anger iceberg.
How is parental burnout related to anger? My recent study showed that parental burnout predicts anger. Basically, the more exhausted you are as a parent, the more ineffective you feel and want to run away. In turn, you are more likely to feel angry at your kids and express your anger by yelling at them, calling them names, and maybe even resorting to physical punishment. Parental anger is tied to the belief of essentialism—thinking that you, as a mother, are the only appropriate caregiver.
Parental burnout is also connected to the desire to be an ideal parent. Based on these connections, we know what we need to do. In this post, we’ll look at exhaustion and the desire to run away, which are interrelated. When we’re tired, we often feel like running away; similarly, we feel exhausted and stressed when we’re running low on energy. So, the question is: What gives you energy?
Getting energy is similar to getting a prescription from a doctor. When you get sick and your doctor writes a drug prescription, you most likely take it without question. The same should apply to your energy prescription. I am prescribing you a regular energy refill. You need to add an “energy hour” to your daily schedule. Think of it as a meeting with yourself and you cannot skip this meeting! Some people like to sleep, some prefer taking a walk, and others enjoy shopping or going to the spa.
Think about your energy the same way you think about charging your cell phone. You don’t want to drain it down to 0%; instead, you should recharge it throughout the day. Do the same for yourself by monitoring how you’re feeling and realizing when your energy level drops to 50%. Be proactive and come up with ways to recharge your “batteries” throughout the day to maintain your energy, preventing it from dropping too low. When you have the right resources (meaning you do not feel exhausted), you significantly decrease the probability of burnout and increase the likelihood of being able to regulate your anger when your child throws a tantrum.
Mikolajczak, M., Brianda, M. E., Avalosse, H., & Roskam, I. (2018). Consequences of parental burnout: Its specific effect on child neglect and violence. Child Abuse & Neglect, 80, 134-145.
Vigouroux, S., Scola, C., Raes, M.-E., & Roskam, I. (2017). The big five personality traits and parental burnout: Protective and risk factors. Personality and Individual differences, 119(https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2017.07023), 216-219.
Hubert, S., & Aujoulat, I. (2018). Parental burnout: When exhausted mothers open up. Frontiers in Psychology, 9. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01021