parental burnout

Simple yet effective ways for parents to care for themselves in order to prevent parental burnout.


Raising kids can be one of the most life-changing and rewarding periods of your life, but it can also be exhausting and overwhelming.

Parents typically make their kids their top priority, sometimes even putting them above their own needs. But parents need to make time for themselves so they can continue to be at their best.

If they don’t, they run the risk of having a parental burnout.

What is parental burnout?

You probably have heard of burnout in the context of work. But a burnout can happen in any situation where there is chronic stress stemming from the feeling that the demands put on you are greater than your capacity to address them.

For parental burnout, this includes feelings of being overwehlmed by the parenting role and being ineffective as a parent.

Signs of parental burnout

Common signs include:

  • Irritable, easily angered, short-fused
  • Feeling overwelmed and like you can’t keep up
  • Worries about your ability as a parent
  • Worries about your child(ren)’s wellbeing
  • Emotionally distancing yourself from your kids and others
  • Feeling hopeless and helpless
  • Increased frequency and time spent ill
  • Fatigue and changes in sleep patterns
  • Lack of enthusiasm towards things you use to enjoy
  • Resentment towards children or other parents that appear to ”have it together”

Parental burnout is most common in parents of children who have health issues, developmental concerns or have more difficult temperaments, but really it can happen to anyone.

Impact of parental burnout on the family

Research shows that parental burnout is associated with marital conflict and a higher likelihood of neglect and violence towards children. In other words, parental burnout makes you a worse partner and a worse parent.

The Oxygen Mask

When you fly on an airplane, the flight attendant instructs parents to put their own oxygen mask first before assisting their child. Why? Because if the parent tries to take care of the child first they run the risk of passing out before they can finish, endangering their child’s and their own life.

In other words, parents need to take care of themselves first so that they can be at their best to take care of their children.

Preventing and managing parental burnout through self-care

Often when we hear about self-care, it is associated with baths and candles. Although these can certainly be part of it, self-care is about turning inwards and getting in touch with our basic needs, noticing whether these are met on a daily or perhaps weekly basis. Don’t forget that certain activities can fufill more than one need!

Physical needs

This usually includes sleep, eating and exercise. Ask yourself these questions:

Are you sleeping well? Are you eating too little or too much? Are you eating foods that give you energy rather than depending on caffeine? Are you drinking enough water? Are you avoiding relying on alcohol or drugs to relax? Are you getting regular exercise?

If you answer ‘no’ to one or more, this might be an area to work on.

Social needs

This includes a need for connection with family and friends, community involvement, and intimacy with a partner. Ask yourself these questions:

Do you connect with friends and family regularly? Do you feel you can confide in people? Do you feel you can rely on them when you need help? Are you involved in your community or part of a religious group? Do you and your partner take time to kiss, hug, cuddle and be physically intimate?

If you answer ‘no’ to one or more, this might be an area to work on.

Intellectual needs

This includes the need to learn, be challenged, and be entertained. Ask yourself these questions:

Do you have a hobby or a special interest? How do you engage in this? Is there something you would like to learn?

If you answer ‘no’ to one or more, this might be an area to work on.

How can I practice self-care?

So take some time today for a self-check. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How am I feeling?
  • Have I been neglected some aspect of my wellbeing?
  • Do I have needs that are not being fufilled?

Then, make a concrete plan for a small step to remedy this. This can be the hardest part; finding extra time in your busy family schedule, but it is possible and necessary.

Here are a few examples to help get you started:

  • Need to boost your social connection? Call a friend while driving or busing to work.
  • Need to exercise more? Go jogging on a bike path while the kids are biking
  • Want to learn something new? Listen to a podcast while doing a household chore
  • Need more alone time? Get a babysitter once every few weeks.

Experiencing a burnout right now? Get help: Parent Consultations and adult psychotherapy

Dr. Leon is a child and adolescent psychologist who is knowledgeable in parental burnout. If part of your burnout is related to feelings of ineffectiveness in your parenting, parent consultations can help you with concrete tools to address this issue.

You might also want to consider getting psychotherapy to address underlying issues such as anxiety, depression, coping mechanisms, and long standing relational patterns.

Frequently Asked Questions

Am I a bad parent because I feel overwhelmed?

No. Our society glorifies perfect parents who appear to have it all; the successful and polite kids, the high paying job, the clean house, the dutiful marriage, the great friendships and a toned body. But unless you have the financial means to hire tons of help, this is almost unattainable. No wonder many parents feel overwelmed. Stop the comparison, look at your family situation and set expectations for yourself that are realistic and healthy.

How can parental self-care benefit my child?

Self-care is a gift to our children. Showing kids that paying attention to how we feel (mental health) and take action is the best modeling we can do to ensure our children’s happiness and resilience. Self-care can also help prevent parental burnout which is associated with negative outcomes for families and children.

How can I find the time to practice self-care?

Think of times in your schedule where you can let go, delegate or eliminate. To start, it can be as simple as turning off your phone earlier to get better quality sleep instead of scrolling endlessly. Then, it can be hiring a sitter 2 hours per week so you can get a workout done or take that art class guilt-free.

How can I practice self-care when I am financially restricted?

Money troubles and tight finances are a big source of stress for many families. There are great ressources online to help struggling families to set budgets, spend less and save more. Self-care is not about spending more on yourself, it is about finding out what you need to cope with life’s challenges and finding creative ways to address that need.

Preventing parental burnout involves prioritizing self-care, setting boundaries, and seeking support from family, friends, or professionals when needed. Addressing parental burnout requires acknowledging its signs, such as chronic fatigue or irritability, and taking proactive steps like delegating tasks, scheduling regular breaks, and seeking professional help if symptoms persist. Cultivating a supportive network, practicing stress-management techniques, and fostering open communication within the family can aid in preventing and addressing parental burnout effectively.

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Leon offers online psychology services through the Leon Psychology Clinic.