Dr. Yen also noted other red flags that are specific to parental burnout, like feeling angry or resentful about having to care for your children, and starting to isolate from them physically or emotionally. Parents with burnout may also feel trapped or fantasize about leaving, she added.
Though the new report may be useful to clinicians, the researchers wrote it directly for working parents. It includes a new burnout scale they hope parents will use to gauge how they are doing, which includes 10 statements such as: “I wake up exhausted at the thought of another day with my children” or “I feel like I am in survival mode as a parent.” Parents can agree or disagree with each on a scale from “not at all” to “very much so.” They are then given a final score that can help indicate whether they have what the researchers would consider to be mild, moderate or severe burnout.
What to do about parental burnout
No matter where working parents fall on that spectrum, it may be helpful for them to first acknowledge that many of the challenges they’re facing are beyond their control. It is impossible to be a dedicated employee and a dedicated caregiver simultaneously without adequate support. Self-compassion is important, Dr. Melnyk said.
But parents facing mild burnout may be able to make immediate changes that will prevent more severe exhaustion. Find small ways to ask for help, the researchers say. If you are able, ask a family member or neighbor to pitch in with child care, even if it’s just to give you a short break. If you’re responsible for getting your children to and from school, activities and play dates, find others to car pool with so you aren’t running yourself ragged.
The report found that 68 percent of working moms say they’re burned out compared with 42 percent of working dads, so it may be especially important for women to take breaks and ask for help — though that may not be simple or easy.
Stressed-out parents may also find it helpful to tap into a sense of quiet and calm by practicing mindfulness. Research shows that mindfulness can help reduce parental stress, which may in turn help improve children’s psychological outcomes. It can be as simple as intentionally feeling the bottom of your foot on the floor and taking a deep breath, Ms. Kripke said.
But breathing alone won’t solve this. Parents with more serious burnout should reach out to a primary care practitioner or mental health provider immediately. They can screen for issues like anxiety and depression. (If you are unsure how to find a mental health provider, it may be helpful to start by searching free online directories, like Alma, ZocDoc, Monarch or Headway.)