You got through the harried holidays and rang in the new year, but somehow, as you look into the future, you feel a slight sense of dread.
All you see is a calendar full of demands.
There are still five months left of the school year, which means early morning madness and homework late into the night. A big project is ramping up at work that’ll make it that much harder to get the kids where they need to be in the evenings. And weekends stacked with sports, family obligations and errands leave little time for fun.
You feel listless, anxious, maybe even a little depressed.
Could you be suffering from parental burnout?
Turns out, it is a thing.
According to research published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, moms and dads can burn out on parenting much like professionals can burn out on the job.
For the study, university researchers in Belgium surveyed more than 2,000 parents to find out not just whether parental burnout exists, but if men or women are more susceptible.
They also wanted to know how it paralleled professional burnout.
Parents are probably not surprised by what they found.
It seems both moms and dads suffer parental burnout equally – and there are many similarities between stressed parents and overworked employees. Like many professionals, parents feel pressured by increasing demands and higher expectations.
The result is not only feeling fatigued, but less productive and competent and more withdrawn.
Around 12 percent of parents in the survey reported suffering from a “high level” of burnout more than once a week. Are you among them? Take our 15-question quiz to find out.
Are You Suffering from Parenting Burnout?
1. You know you’re going to see a lot of other parents when you pick up your kids from school, so you take a few moments to:
A. Fix your hair, apply some lip gloss and grab that cute scarf you recently picked up at the mall.
B. Don your recent Stitch Fix jacket. Who has time to shop?
C. Pull a baseball cap on low and keep your head down.
D. Realize with panic: Pick up my kid? What time is it?
2. You’ve been trying to establish a consistent bedtime with your toddler so you and your spouse can have some time to connect. You:
A. Diffuse some lavender oil and pat your toddler’s back until she gently dozes off, then sneak out to catch up on some Stranger Things.
B. Sing a lullaby, say a prayer, turn on the nightlight and let your toddler babble while you have a scoop of ice cream and talk.
C. Try to get him to stay in bed to no avail – then cave and let him sleep between you in your queen-size, yet again.
D. Reluctantly concede that bedtime has long come and gone and snap at your spouse for not helping you.
3. When it comes to school lunches, your philosophy is to:
A. Strive for zero-waste sacks complete with cloth napkins, reusable snack wrappers and sustainable drink boxes.
B. Print the hot lunch calendar so they can highlight their favorite meals and give you some breaks from packing.
C. Consult Pinterest for healthy lunchbox hacks and decide to have snacks prepackaged a week in advance, then blame yourself because you resorted to throwing Uncrustables into a brown paper bag all week.
D. Make your kids pack their own lunches while you drink wine.
4. There was an overnight blizzard but, much to your son’s dismay, the 5 a.m. snow day call never came. You:
A. Wake up early to snow blow and salt the driveway, scrape the ice off the windows and start the car so it’s nice and toasty.
B. Have him stay home anyway so you can go sledding – then hang out, play video games and drink hot cocoa together.
C. Manage to find his snow pants, boots, hat and one waterproof glove and send him off to the bus stop with his hands in his pockets.
D. Carve a narrow path through the snow and wait in the car until the windshield defroster melts a hole large enough for you to see through so you can manage to get him to school.
5. You love Valentine’s Day and realize it falls on a weekday this year, so you:
A. Log on to SignUpGenius to volunteer for your first-grader’s Valentine’s Day party so you can spend the day with her.
B. Help her pick out valentine and make her personalized card mailbox, then bake and decorate heart-shaped sugar cookie cutouts to send in for a special class treat.
C. Tuck a piece of candy and Peppa Pig valentine in her lunchbox with X’s and O’s.
D. Make a reservation for dinner with your spouse at Black Rock and hit your babysitter up on speed dial.
6. You have a personal day off work. Your plan is to get the kids to school and:
A. Park yourself at the computer to catch up on emails, bills and the family calendar.
B. Meet for lunch with a friend you don’t get to see very often.
C. Gear up and go for a long walk because you can’t remember the last time you had a moment to clear your head.
D. Crawl back into bed because you’re simply done.
7. Your child’s 13th birthday is coming up so you:
A. Bake a fondant cake, make a ton of snowboard-themed party favors and drop serious cash on lift tickets for him and eight friends at Mt. Brighton.
B. Take the family out to a hibachi-style restaurant and have the wait staff sing “Happy Birthday” with a gong and lighted dessert.
C. Book a party at Escape Plans in Detroit and enjoy a mini “escape” of your own while they’re “Trapped in a Room With a Zombie.”
D. Have his best friend sleep over, order pizza and hope they’ll stay in the basement playing video games all night.
8. It’s time for your high school junior to start applying for college. You:
A. Make several appointments with his counselor and stay up late helping him write essays so he gets into the best university possible.
B. Start collecting Bed Bath & Beyond and Target coupons so you can deck out his dorm room – and turn his bedroom into the guest room you’ve dreamed of.
C. Immediately get hives imagining the quiet of an empty nest, but get even more stressed thinking of those rejection notices that might roll in because you are a failure of a parent.
D. Make him fill out lots of applications because you can’t wait to get him into a school – any school – so he’ll move out of the house.
9. The book that’s on your nightstand right now is:
A. Becoming the Parent You Want to Be by Laura Davis
B. When Parenting Isn’t Perfect by Jim Daly
C. How to Make them Mind Without Losing Yours by Dr. Kevin Leman
D. Go the F— to Sleep by Adam Mansbach
10. Your fifth-grader is getting lots of homework, and you see she’s losing her grip. You decide to:
A. Personally communicate with her teachers and make a weekly whiteboard homework schedule to help her keep track.
B. Set up a quiet study area and check in with her each night.
C. Nag to make sure she’s got it under control because you simply can’t handle one more thing to worry about.
D. What’s there to do? She’ll figure it out.
11. You’ve been asked to be on an important business call at the same time you’ll be driving your kids to practice. There’s only one solution:
A. Prepare a PowerPoint, suggest WebEx and remind your children they are to play silent in the back of the car during the meeting as usual.
B. Lie and say you can’t take the call because you have a prior appointment that sounds really important.
C. Take the call in the car and give mad hand signals as you swerve around the road.
D. Put the call on the calendar then completely forget about it.
12. It’s the weekend and you really need a break, but there’s a big event the kids want to go to. You:
A. Immediately say “yes” because it will make for great social media photos so everyone can see how much fun your family has.
B. Overcome FOMO and suggest favorite board games at home.
C. Scramble to scrape up the cash, get everyone dressed and manage to find a parking spot but don’t enjoy a minute because you’re schlepping everyone’s coats and bags all day.
D. Ignore your kids’ request and park them in front of their devices so you can have a moment’s peace.
13. Dinner in your house means:
A. You don your ruffled apron and roll out pasta sheets by hand for your signature vegetarian lasagna.
B. Stopping at the grocery store for a rotisserie chicken and Bob Evans mashed potatoes and add a simple tossed salad at home.
C. Baking up some frozen chicken nuggets and tater tots with a baby on your hip. Applesauce counts on the food pyramid, right?
D. Cereal with powdered milk.
14. Like all modern kids, your son and daughter need an organized extracurricular activity. You sign them up for:
A. Travel hockey and a competitive dance team and listen to Audible or TED Talks, or study French through your Babbel app, as you shuttle back and forth.
B. Let them alternate seasonal sports so only one has an activity at a time and you can make it to most of their games.
C. Freak out that scouting was way more of a commitment than they ever let on and scramble to catch up with work on your smartphone between helping them earn badges.
D. Tell your kids to play outside until the streetlights come on, like you used to do.
15. Your mother-in-law gives you unsolicited parenting advice for the umpteenth time. You:
A. Quote from How to Raise Happy Kids and remind her gently that times have changed.
B. Give it a try and find, hey, that actually worked.
C. Immediately feel guilty and worry you’ll never live up to her standards and are dashing her hopes for the grandchildren.
D. Snap back with something you later regret, and avoid her until things cool off.
So, are you suffering parental burnout? Tally up your answers to find out.
You are officially a superhero parent. You’re pulled together and Pinterest-worthy. Other families envy you. But beware of setting the bar too high – having unrealistic expectations is a major cause of parental burnout. Step back and see whether you can keep it up over the long haul.
It’s clear you’ve been an ultra-high achiever in the past but are letting go of your inner perfectionist a little, and that’s a good thing. You’re learning to say “no” and that will help you reduce stress — one of the main causes of parental burnout. Keep up the “good enough” work.
You are showing clear signs of impending burnout, and you’d better beware. You may be finding it hard to sleep and feeling like you’re losing control. You also might be arguing with your spouse, starting to doubt your ability as a parent and wondering why you ever thought having kids was a good idea in the first place. See the eight tips in the sidebar on Page 35 to turn the tide.
As you surely already know, you are officially charbroiled. In fact, you’ve given up and withdrawn. You need help and you need it fast – because research has shown parental burnout is highly correlated with depression, addiction and other health problems. Consider seeking counsel and set some goals to get back on stable ground before you alienate not only yourself but your spouse and kids as well.
Art by Jay Holladay