Psychologist: Parents suffer exhaustion from parenting stress – – News portal

For several years, family researchers have been learning about what is called parental burnout. “This is important in the context of violence against children” – said Dr. Konrad Piotrovsky, psychologist, head of the Research Center for Personality Development at SWPS University in Pozna during the conference “Violence between children and violence against children. How do we recognize? How do I help?” Organized by SWPS University.

In his scholarly work, Dr. Konrad Piotrovsky deals with the topic of perfectionism, identity development, and difficulties in the role of parents. Psychologists who have been dealing with this topic for several years assert that the hallmark of burnout syndrome is its chronic nature, because parenting is a role that is performed almost every day, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

“Parenting is stressful for people. (…) If the level of parental stress is high and prolonged, then at some point in the parents we can notice symptoms of parental exhaustion ”- explained Dr. Piotrovsky. He listed four main symptoms of parental fatigue: parental fatigue, loss of pleasure in the parent’s role, disassociation from the child, and deterioration of parental self-esteem.

Many researchers consider parental role exhaustion to be the main symptom of burnout. “Burned parents say that parenting is too stressful for them, that they no longer have the strength to perform this role, and they say that all the possible energy that they could generate from themselves has already arose and they have no more” – said the expert. This is followed by a loss of pleasure in the role of parents.

A self-defense mechanism that stressful parents develop is to “push themselves away from the child.” “Unfortunately, this is not an effective method, but we note that parents who are experiencing emotional exhaustion try to distance themselves emotionally and limit their activities mainly to the satisfaction of basic biological needs and basic care, but try to reduce emotional involvement, communication with children, playing and talking “with them, taking care of their affairs”, The expert said.

Parents themselves see this progressive process and the researchers then note the fourth symptom, ie, a “lowering of parental self-esteem.” Parents begin to notice that it was different, that it was better, but over time, they are getting worse and worse in the role.

How does parental exhaustion happen?

Among the risk factors that influence the occurrence of parental depletion are characteristics of the parent themselves, such as perfectionism. “Perfect parents expect too much from themselves, and too much from their children. Deviations from these expectations and standards are difficult and stressful for them,” the expert said.

Aside from striving for perfection, other traits, such as neuroticism (emotional instability and responding to many situations with negative feelings) or difficulty dealing with stress, are key to parental fatigue.

The risk of burnout is increased, for example, by the number of children you have, a child with a chronic illness, or the short age of the children.

How common is parental burnout?

A study by the UCLouvain Institute for Psychological Research (IPSY) in Belgium found that the proportion of exhausted fathers in 42 countries ranged between 2% and 12%. in the population. The questionnaires, which were primarily online, were completed by 17,409 more parents (12,364) than by 5045 parents.

According to the literature on parental fatigue, Poland has 8%. Stressed parents, one of the highest in the world. “We are in the company of countries like the Belgians or the Americans, who are also considered high-risk countries in the scientific literature,” said Dr. Piotrovsky.

Low levels of extreme fatigue are observed in collectivist cultures. “We have fewer exhausted parents among Japanese or Vietnamese parents, and more among European or North American parents, that is, from cultures traditionally considered more individualistic, and which are associated with less social support,” the psychologist said.

What are the effects of parental burnout?

In severely exhausted parents, problems such as physical symptoms, alcoholism, suicidal thoughts or thoughts of running away are accompanied, eg “It would be nice to pack everything up and run.” “Extremely tired parents also suffer from insomnia and other sleep disturbances” – said the expert

Parental exhaustion also has consequences for both spouses. “In those couples where one parent is severely exhausted, we notice heightened conflicts and reduced interactions devoted to the child’s well-being,” the psychologist said. “Of course, this will increase the risk of such a pair breaking up,” he added.

In the research, Dr. Piotrovsky also noted that exhausted parents begin to regret that they decided to have children at all. “This phenomenon was noted, but we still know little about it” – he pointed out.

“Among the fathers with the strongest burnout, about 35 percent. Regret that they decided to have children at all. We still have a lot to discover, because 65 percent. Burnout parents don’t regret having children. Or at least that’s what they say.”

Research findings indicate that parents as young as 40 regret having children more than older parents. “This indicates that this attitude towards parents may change over time,” Dr. Piotrovsky noted.

A stressed parent also changes their behavior towards the child. “Gradual fatigue in a parent is associated with an increased risk of neglect or child abuse,” the expert said.

A parent who distances themselves also experiences external cues from a child or partner noticing, and this provokes, for example, an increase in guilt or shame. “When these cycles are intensified with each other, we also notice an increase in violence and an increase in conflicts with a partner” – said the psychiatrist.

What can we do?

What can we do to prevent the escalation of violence so that it does not lead to an escalation of conflicts? “We must act at a point where parental exhaustion is still relatively low or not present at all, or we must do something to prevent it from happening, so that the parent does not start distancing themselves, or if it does, to reduce it somehow” – he added.

Research on parental exhaustion lasted for a short time, mainly 5 years. “We need more time to be able to say that we understand burnout, that we know this syndrome, that we can deal with it, and that we identify risk factors,” noted Dr. Piotrovsky.

In his view, the patriarchal pressure that leads to burnout may be largely due to structural changes affecting entire societies. “We work longer, we have less time to rest, to rejuvenate” – the expert explained. “In Western and developed countries, where we constantly strive for a higher level of GDP, a lower unemployment rate, so as to be able to consume as much as possible, we reach a situation where the role of the natural parent of all species has become a risk factor,” he commented. This is a very serious phenomenon that has consequences, for example in violence. Research on parental burnout clearly shows that some fathers lack the psychological resources to handle this task.

In his opinion, first of all, it might be beneficial to “develop competence to deal with stress”. Second, “any work on making your standards real for you as a parent and child would also be good direction.”

However – he emphasized – with any problem that overwhelms us emotionally, it is a good idea to go to a specialist. “You don’t have to be a strict parenting specialist to respond to the needs of someone who is exhausted. Depression, insomnia, addiction to alcohol, drugs, etc. ensue. And therapists and psychiatrists deal with it every day, knowing very well what to do, And they simply need to be trusted, “- he added.

PAP – Science in Poland, Anna Mikołajczyk-Kłębek
amk / ekr /

Publication date: 06/18/2022
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