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Parents Everywhere Are Tired: The truth about parenting fatigue

Parenting fatigue is an all too common experience that can cause negative health symptoms and a drop in relationship satisfaction.

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Parenting fatigue, also known as parental burnout is a mental health issue many parents
experience. To define it simply; parenting fatigue is when the responsibilities of parenting add
up and create excess stress that causes mental and physical health symptoms. This in turn
makes it hard to continue the role of parenting. It can be a downward cycle where the more
burnout you experience the more stress parenting causes which increases your fatigue.
Parenting fatigue can happen to all parents and they do not have to be experiencing children
who are having difficulties themselves. In John Gottman’s research, he found that two thirds of
parents will experience a drop in their relationship quality within three years of bringing their
baby home. This drop in relationship satisfaction can be due to the many types of parental
burnout.

Causes of parenting fatigue

There are many causes of parenting fatigue and many unique situations with your children, your
life factors, and other external factors. Some common causes are the stress and emotional
strain parenting can cause. A big one is the actual fatigue becoming a parenting causes. When
you bring a baby home your sleep patterns get disrupted and that continues throughout your
young child’s life. When your kids get older and they have extra curricular activities that keep
you out of the house later and eating dinner later it can cause general fatigue from long days
and being out of the house for so long. Many parents who work full time and are also trying to
balance their own activities like exercise or other hobbies and interests creates pressure to be
home and present with their kids as much as possible. The guilt of doing things for yourself and
possibly only seeing your child a few hours a day on weeknights can wear on you. I’ve worked
with many parents who have breakdowns over the fact they can’t “do it all”. I have to be honest
with them and share that no parent is able to work full time, keep their house clean, be there
with their kids all the time, make time for themselves, and to nurture their relationship. It’s not
physically possible to do this. This can be especially hard for single parents or those who are
not co-parenting with a partner in the home, you absolutely cannot do it all alone.

Consequences of fatigue

All of these stressors that cause parental fatigue then leads to many mental and physical health
issues. It’s well known that chronic stress affects our memory, you may become more forgetful
and experience brain fog, especially when your sleep has been affected. This can also lead to
symptoms of depression and anxiety; feeling like a failure leads to a low mood and worrying
about not doing the best job can create an anxious cycle. Many parents can start experiencing
isolation from friends and family when they worry about feeling judged or are too overwhelmed
to reach out. Parents often feel shame when they can’t fulfill all expectations or make a mistake.
They can experience guilt when they aren’t spending time with their kids. These symptoms can
also cause issues in your relationship and can lead to more disagreements, less time together,
and less desire and time for intimacy. It can also cause issues in your relationship with your
children; the stress can lead to less patience with them which can create a barrier in closeness.

The importance of self care

The good thing is some of this burnout can be prevented with good self care. You have to take
time for yourself to rest, get a break, and do the activities that recharge you to be there as a
parent. The metaphor of putting on your own oxygen mask on an airplane first is very fitting for
parents. You have to put on your own mask before helping your child with theirs. You need to
take breaks from parenting to be a good one. You will be much better at handling the
responsibility if you allow yourself to put you first. Hire a babysitter and take the offer from
friends and family to watch the kids when possible. Counseling can also be a great tool in
processing the emotions of parenting fatigue and a therapist can help you find the balance for
self care. It’s also important to voice your feelings to your partner, remember you’ve signed up
for this together and need to lean on each other when possible. Parenting fatigue can cause
extra conflict that can expand outside of parenting topics. Couples counseling can help you
navigate the extra stress together. It’s equally important to make time for your relationship
where you get to step out of the parenting role into the romance role. It helps to make time for
dates and quality time alone each day.

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Kari Rusnak manages her telehealth private practice and is currently licensed in Mississippi, Colorado, and Utah. Kari is a Board Certified Telemental Health Provider and trained in EMDR. She is a Certified Gottman Therapist and her practice focuses on LGBTQ+, those in open/poly relationships, chronic pain, and sexual health. Visit her website at www.karirusnakcounseling.com.

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