If you’re a parent, let’s face it: you’d probably laugh at the idea that any kind of research is necessary to prove that “parental burnout” is a real phenomenon. Yet, for the first time, the scientific community — and hence, society at large — is starting to truly quantify and talk about the extent to which parents can become exhausted, withdrawn, and overwhelmed by the rigors of parenting.
A Belgian research institute and university studied over 2,000 parents to get an idea of some of the challenges they face, as well as to try and identify and measure the physical and psychological effects of parenting in the 21st century. What they found was striking: about 13% of parents were classified as having “high burnout” — a fairly serious set of conditions including becoming emotionally withdrawn, extremely fatigued, and less productive in all areas of their lives. These symptoms mirror those of another troubling societal malady: professional burnout vis a vis individuals who overwork themselves at their jobs. There is already substantial research on the deleterious effects that professional burnout can cause on the body and mind, which levels concern at what the stresses of modern parenting are doing.
Soccer games. School plays. Birthday parties. Graduations. Extra-curricular activities. School transportation 5 days a week. Checking homework. Preparing meals. It’s a never-ending avalanche of responsibility! And especially here in Los Angeles, the pressure is on to be a parent who cooks only organic food, gets their child only the trendiest clothes, or throws only the coolest birthday parties. That social pressure is made substantially worse, researchers fear, by the rise of social media. How can your homemade, DIY birthday party compete with the lavish fetes being thrown all over Facebook and Instagram? That’s a lot to live up to.
But the reality is, the parents going to extravagant ends to throw those fancy events most likely way overextended themselves in order to do it. Social media creates an unreal, incomplete picture of what families are really going through: but we only get to see a small, curated sample of the highlights. This can lead to endless comparing, stress, and feelings of inadequacy. When you couple that with the cumulative effect of parental burnout, the results can be disastrous. It creates a mental breeding ground for anxiety and depression, among other problematic disorders.
There is no easy cure-all for the afflictions of parental burnout, but there is some important perspective you can take. Remember that it’s OK to take some time for yourself each day — you are not a robot, you are not perfect, and you are doing the best you can. Try not to compare yourself to the unreal images you see on social media, and remember that you’re doing one of the hardest jobs out there. Keep that in mind, and you’ll do just fine!