Parental Burnout: How to Recognize It and What to Do About It

Parental burnout puts parents at risk for serious issues such as depression, addiction, and chronic health problems. . (Photo: CREATISTA/Shutterstock)

It must be the season for scientific studies that conclude what every parent already knows. First, it was the study that found that when moms put their kids to bed earlier, they have improved mental health. And now there's the study that says parental burnout is a very real thing affecting both moms and dads today. Really?I had no idea! (cue sarcasm font.)

In today's "busy, busy, busy" world, so many parents feel like they have to do more than simply raise their children. They also have to make sure that their kids have every opportunity to succeed in life, and that means countless hours shuttling them between school, sports practices, music lessons, doctor appointments, sports games and Scout meetings. It means taking time off work to chaperone field trips and swapping shifts with a co-worker so that you can make it to the mid-week meet. And it means skimping on sleep so you can prep healthy lunches and dinners, co-sleep with an anxiety-riddled toddler, and catch up on the never-ending avalanche of household chores.

Oh, and while they're dealing with all of that, parents today are bombarded with social media images featuring perfect parents who seemingly get it all done with ease.

Is it any wonder then that parents experience burnout?

For most parents, parenthood comes with its ups and downs. But parental burnout is different. Like the burnout that some may experience in the workplace, it's defined by feelings of exhaustion, inefficiency and emotional detachment. It goes beyond just a simple bad day and is more like weeks or months of bad days that leave parents feeling chronically sleep-deprived, unable to complete daily tasks, and disconnected from those they love.

In other words, when you collapse onto your sofa with a glass of wine and the TV remote in an effort to have five minutes of me-time at the end of a long day, you are probably just experiencing a normal day in the life of a parent. But if you're too tired to pick up that wine or remote because you're exhausted and "touched-out," you may be feeling parental burnout.

According to Penelope Pewter, author of "The Busy Mom's Guide to Quick and Easy Relaxation and Stress Relief," being forgetful, snapping at loved ones, and waking up in the mornings still exhausted are all signs that you may be experiencing parental burnout.

Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist and author of "The Self-Aware Parent," has this advice for parents who are feeling burned out. "Prioritize who needs you the most. Sometimes your children will need you most while other times your husband or work will come front and center. Be flexible and try to go with the flow. Also, enlist help and calendar in some 'me' time when you can relax, regroup, and recharge."

The big takeaway here is to know that if you are feeling parental burnout, you're definitely not alone. Scientists may have just confirmed its existence, but it's something that parents have known about — and experienced — for a very long time.