Yes, Being A Parent Really Is Harder Than Ever: Study

Parental burnout is a serious problem.

Save this nugget for the next time a grandparent gets on your case about why you’re always so stressed/tired/concerned about screen time and bullying and avoiding gender stereotypes and juggling work and avoiding processed foods at dinnertime and OMG we need to lie down just thinking about it.

Being a parent today really is harder than it was a generation ago, according to a 2018 study making the rounds now that validates our entire existence.

WE KNEW IT.

A BPI Network survey of 2,000 parents in the United States and Canada found that 88 per cent said parenting today is harder than when they were growing up. OK, yes, the survey doesn’t actually compare the difficulties of parenting in different generations in a scientific way.

BUT STILL, the top causes of this stress include a lot of factors parents didn’t have to think about as much a generation ago, such as both parents working, social media distractions, activity overload, and worrying about bullying and safety in schools.

More importantly, 63 per cent of the parents surveyed said they’ve experienced parental burnout, with 40 per cent of those said it has significantly affected their lives.

“From reduced productivity, to high levels of anxiety, depression and insomnia, parental burnout impacts parents’ ability to perform at a high level,” the report notes.

"OMFG I forgot about my 2 p.m. meeting AND kindergarten registration."
"OMFG I forgot about my 2 p.m. meeting AND kindergarten registration."

January is often a time we discuss mental health more openly (between “Blue Monday,” Bell Let’s Talk Day, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and the fact that Canadians report being the least happy this month than any other time of the year). So even though the BPI survey is from 2018, we’re glad to see parental burnout getting some much-needed attention.

A more recent study found that parental burnout (described as “intense exhaustion”) can lead to harmful outcomes for parents and kids, including feeling detached from your children, doubting your parenting abilities, increasing neglect, and thoughts about escape.

“In the current cultural context, there is a lot of pressure on parents,” lead researcher Moïra Mikolajczak of UCLouvain said in a press release for the 2019 study.

“But being a perfect parent is impossible and attempting to be one can lead to exhaustion. Our research suggests that whatever allows parents to recharge their batteries, to avoid exhaustion, is good for children.”

In May, the World Health Organization added “burnout” to its list of syndromes, and included “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion” as one of the characterizations.

How to recharge from burnout

Parents in the BPI survey said their top responses to burnout were to take time to themselves, change their parenting approach, exercise more to decrease their stress, open up to friends and family, and seek professional help.

Therapy can help parents who feel like they’re running on empty, and there are a number of ways to find a counsellor including your Employee Assistance Program, mental health hotlines, online databases, and even apps such as BetterHelp.

Psychology Today also recommends simultaneously reducing risk factors (such as relaxing your standards of healthy eating) and increasing resources (such as caregiving help).

“Identify your biggest caregiving stressors and take steps to build resources to help you make it through,” Dr. Mark Travers wrote in the magazine.

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