US Facing 'Epidemic' of Parental Burnout

 For a parent, it can feel as if there is a lot of pressure to be "perfect," but according to new research, this expectation not only leads to parental burnout. It can also negatively affect the mental health of the child.

In the U.S., roughly 1 in 3 parents say that parenting is stressful "most of the time," according to data from a 2023 survey by the Pew Research Center. And, in the age of social media, it's easy to constantly compare yourself to others.

"I have four children, and I really feel like there is this culture of achievement where parents are constantly competing with each other through their kids and putting pressure on their kids because they feel this need and desire to be perfect," Kate Gawlik, an associate clinical professor at Ohio State University's College of Nursing, told Newsweek.

Stressed parents
A stock photo shows a stressed-out mother with her children. Research shows that 57 percent of parents experience parental burnout. FAMVELD/GETTY

"I think social media has just really tipped the scales," she said. "We have high expectations for ourselves as parents; we have high expectations for what our kids should be doing. Then, on the flip side, you're comparing yourself to other people, and other families, and there's a lot of judgment that goes on. And whether it's intended or not, it's still there."

In a study led by Gawlik and her colleagues at Ohio State's College of Nursing, data was collected from more than 700 parents nationwide to investigate the health impacts of this "culture of achievement." Their results clearly show a strong association between high expectations and parental burnout.

"When parents are burned out, they have more depression, anxiety and stress, but their children also do behaviorally and emotionally worse," said Bernadette Melnyk, vice president for health promotion and chief wellness officer at Ohio State, in a statement. "So it's super important to face your true story if you're burning out as a parent and do something about it for better self-care."

In total, 57 percent of the parents surveyed reported parental burnout, which was also closely related to harsher parenting and more mental health problems among their children.

"The absolute last thing that I want to do with this study is to shame parents because being a parent is really hard," Gawlik said. "The point is to show that we don't have to put on this façade and pretend that everything is so perfect all the time."

So what can you do as a parent if you are feeling parental burnout?

"With parental burnout, it's really about looking at your stressors and then looking at your resources," Gawlik said. "So, for example, if you're a parent and you feel like you're always in the car dropping off and picking up kids, then a resource potentially could be starting a carpool so you only have to do the drive once a week.

"It looks a little bit different for every parent, but it's important to think: What is the priority for your family? My priority is that my kids are outside and they get to play," she said.

Melnyk said taking care of yourself as a parent can also set a good example for your children.

"Parents do a great job caring for their children and everybody else, but they often don't prioritize their own self-care," she said. "As parents, we can't keep pouring from an empty cup. If children see their parents taking good self-care, the chances are they're going to grow up with that value as well. It has a ripple effect to the children and to the entire family."

Taking care of ourselves in this way may help reduce what Melnyk describes as a "public health epidemic" of parental burnout.

Gawlik quoted one of the study's participants, who said: "I would much rather have a happy kid than a perfect kid."

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