Family, Family Life

When parents feel burnt out and exhausted

When parents feel burnt out and exhausted

“I just can’t go on.” – “I don’t know what to do anymore.” If parents speak these inner sentences over a longer period of time, they may be affected by burnout. Psychologist Rahel Pfiffner from Elternnotruf explains what helps affected parents.

Burnout is a disorder that usually relates to the world of work. It is considered by the World Health Organization to be “stress at work that cannot be successfully managed.” Three dimensions characterize burnout: a feeling of exhaustion, an increasing mental distance or negative attitude toward one’s job, and a reduced ability to perform at work. But does burnout really only affect the world of work?

“There are also parents who feel burned out and exhausted,”The corona pandemic has made this situation even worse. Some parents would have felt left alone, some would have suffered financial losses. “If exhaustion and excessive demands have become a permanent condition, one could probably speak of burnout for parents too.”

Recognize burnout in parents

Such burned-out parents feel exhausted, emotionally distant from their children, and negative about parenting.  “They hardly enjoy being with their children anymore. Your resilience has dropped.” parents suffer. “They have a bad conscience because they explode with their children even in small conflicts . And they don’t know what to do.” Looking for another job, taking more breaks – what would be feasible in everyday work cannot be transferred to everyday parental life. Children cannot be changed. And especially small children need a lot of attention.


Too high expectations

There are many reasons for such a burnout. “Many parents have very high demands on themselves and their children,” the expert cites as a reason that she encounters time and again in her professional experience. These expectations are often brought to families. The normative pressure is incredibly high. If a child has a high urge to move, it quickly means: “Your child just can’t sit still”. “Parents then ask themselves what they did wrong. They are charged a lot as if children would be a reflection of the behavior of the parents.” The social pressure is very culture-specific. The responsibility lies almost exclusively on the shoulders of the parents. There is more pressure. Parents are usually also employed. Time quickly becomes a wasted resource.

Help is not a sign of weakness

“I don’t know what to do.” – “I can not anymore.” “I have such negative feelings towards my child, that can’t be.” When Rahel Pfiffner hears such sentences from parents, she first advises accepting the situation as it is. Because parents are allowed to be burned out and exhausted. But of course they don’t want to continue to be crushed by the demands of everyday life.

“What can I do for myself?” is one of the first questions parents can ask themselves to catch their breath. After that it becomes more concrete: Who can support me? Who can relieve me? “Parents often think asking for help is a sign of weakness,” reports Rahel Pfiffner. She then asks: “Have you ever supported someone yourself? How did that make you feel?” Parents quickly understand that many people like to help because they feel good about it. “If parents manage to overcome shame and ask for help, a big step has already been taken.” Exchange is also important. Involving your partner makes sense if only because both parents are usually up for it. Together they can get advice from a specialist office on how to overcome the crisis.

Other important questions

  • Where can oases be installed where we can refuel?
  • What help is really useful?
  • Which (time-consuming) tasks of the day can I confidently leave out?
  • What is actually going well? Positive images inspire. Thinking a little less saves energy.

Always take your needs seriously

Children easily feel unloved when parents cannot meet their important needs. It is all the more important to talk to your own child and admit that you are exhausted. “I’m sorry I just yelled at you,” they could say, according to Rahel Pfiffner. “I’m so tired and so irritable. It’s not up to you.” In this way, children can better classify the behavior of their mother or father.

It is best not to let the inner fire go out in the first place. But how do parents do that? It is important to prioritize your own needs right from the start, explains the psychologist. Of course, parents should take good care of the child and look after it. But they shouldn’t forget themselves. She gives an example: “A baby sleeps little at night. Parents then immediately ask themselves what they did wrong. But they should realize that there are different babies. And they should assume that their own baby is a child who is often awake at night at this stage in their lives.”

But because sleep is also important for parents, the question is “What can we do to get enough sleep ourselves ?” necessary. Perhaps parents can take turns or catch up on sleep at a different time of the day. Rahel Pfiffner: “When living together, it’s always about negotiating spaces for different needs.”


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