I experienced parental burnout last year thanks to a temporary overseas move to support family, homeschooling one child, looking after a toddler, freelancing and additional family responsibilities. By the time we returned home to Sydney, I was exhausted. I’d stopped having the time and energy for my children, couldn’t focus on anything and often swung between lethargy and fits of anger. Eventually, sleep and rest, a good diet, exercise and completely switching off from work and social media over three months helped me recover.
Parenting during Covid-19
Experts say parental burnout is as real as a career burnout. Research published in the Clinical Psychological Science journal last year found that this type of burnout results from the stress of daily parenting which then builds up over the long term.
In the current circumstances, parental burnout is possible because parents are unlikely to get a break. They’re staying home all the time, looking after young children, working, homeschooling and worrying about different issues including social distancing from older relatives.
In the current circumstances, parental burnout is possible because parents are unlikely to get a break.
Relationship specialist and author of Becoming Us, Elly Taylor says, “Most parents, especially with young or high needs children are likely to experience burnout at some point over the next few weeks and months. Before now, both mums and dads were vulnerable to parental burnout, but dads generally felt less "entitled" to talk about it. Now both parents are being forced to have to cope with the same pressures, in the same home, at the same time.”
Signs to watch for
How does a parent know if they’re heading for burnout? “Parental burnout can affect you physically, emotionally and mentally,” says Taylor. Some clear signs are; feeling tired, lacking energy and motivation and a lower immune system functioning, difficulty in concentrating, increasing negativity, feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope, shutting down emotionally and withdrawing from others including partners and children.
“If you’re in a relationship, burnout can make you less compassionate and increase feelings of frustration and resentment towards a partner. If not tackled in time, burnout can lead to an increased risk for mental health and relationship problems,” explains Taylor.
Strategies to prevent burnout
The key to preventing parental burnout is putting strategies in place ahead of time or managing it if you’re experiencing it.
One strategy could be coordinating family schedules around parents’ energy levels and tag team in order to look after the children. “Make it safe to ask for help from each other and be flexible if one of you has a work deadline or a particularly bad night's sleep. Most importantly, ask for help if you’re struggling and plan to have some time out daily,” she says.
Some other things to do if you’re feeling stressed are:
Get enough sleep and relax doing easy activities that feed your soul e.g. cooking, gardening or reading and practise mindfulness. Don’t forget that good nutrition plays a big part in keeping you healthy.
Couple care means not taking things personally! Talk it out if you’re experiencing challenges and support each other to use self care strategies.
“If one or both parents are struggling with managing things, kids will feel it too,” says Taylor. Spend quality time together doing things you all enjoy like an online yoga class, watching a comedy together, sharing the care of a family pet, or starting a potted herb garden with the children.
What not to do if you’re feeling burned out
“If you’re experiencing parental burnout, there are certain things you shouldn’t do,” says Taylor.
“Don't isolate yourself just because you're having to stay away from people and don’t blame your partner for how things are going. We're all likely to struggle with the current situation to some degree. Don't make any big decisions like ending a relationship in the midst of a crisis. When we're in a crisis, it's a defensive mechanism to find and hyperfocus on something we do have control over, relationships are common collateral damage under difficult circumstances,” says Taylor.
“Don't isolate yourself just because you're having to stay away from people and don’t blame your partner for how things are going."
Instead Taylor recommends staying in touch with friends, extended family and community using technology. “Ask for help and support when you need it. Be prepared to offer it to others who may also be struggling.”
“Parents of young children have always been more at risk for anxiety, depression and burnout, but often don't reach out for support. Mental health issues and intimate partner violence can increase during the crisis and parents should seek help early. Many relationship counsellors are switching to virtual sessions, so it's easier to find someone to support you,” says Taylor.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. Find your village and use it to support you during this crisis and in the future.
Rashida Tayabali is a freelance writer.
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