Parental Burnout During COVID
By Athena Ives
Social distancing, shelter in place, 6-foot markers, school closures, unemployment, millions of acres on fire, election year… One or two of these issues would be enough to burn out any parent. “Parental burnout is a chronic condition resulting from high levels of parenting-related stress due to a mismatch between the demands of parenting and the resources available for parents to meet those demands” (Griffith, 2020). Experts have found that parental burnout can result in child abuse and neglect. Since June 2020, over 96% of Americans have had to shelter in place. There are over 74 million children under the age of 18 that live in the U.S (U.S. Bureau of Census 2018). 63% of these children have 2 working parents and 91% of parents have reported that their lives have changed and 44% have experienced significant changes (Pew Research Center 2020b).
Some of the causes of Parental Burnout during COVID include parental unemployment, financial stress, loss of social support, and lack of time away for self-care. Help from grandparents and extended family/friends has often been the go-to for working parents, but due to health restrictions, parents have lost this support. Even though virtual options of communication have increased and are valuable, they cannot replace an in-person support system. A grandparent can’t babysit virtually. Research has shown that these support systems assist with lowering parental burnout and taking them away increases it (Pew Research Center 2020b). According to data from NordVPN, parents working from home have experienced an average of 3 extra hours of work a day (Davis & Green, 2020). Parents have also lost their stress outlets such as the gym, bars, malls, and social gatherings. All of which increases parental burnout (Parkes et al., 2015).
In previous articles I have talked about the rise in severity in child abuse, a drop in reports of child abuse, an increase in minors reporting abuse, and a massive increase in child sexual exploitation online. One of the main factors responsible behind this is parental burnout. Short term effects this has on children are physical injuries (head trauma, broken bones, death) and mental health injuries (PTSD, stress, depression, anxiety) (Fortson et. al., 2016). Long term impacts include but are not limited to chronic mental health issues, drug use, risky behavior, suicide, risky sexual behavior, lower levels of education, economic hardship, unemployment, and re-victimization as adults (Haj-Yahia et al. 2019; Norman et al. 2012).
Kansas City Children’s Mercy Hospital has advised the following tips to parents to avoid parental burnout.
Find time to be alone. This has been difficult for all of us. We are spending more time at home with fewer places to go and our children at home most of the time. That being said, being alone keeps us grounded. It will likely require a little creativity and compromise. Go grocery shopping alone, take walks, go for a drive or exercise. If your kids have screen time, use that time to be alone. If you have a spouse/partner, set a schedule with one another to allow for time alone.
Consider strategies to find peace and calm in the midst of uncertainty. If you have thought about trying meditation, now is a great time to try it. Mindfulness is a great way to help us focus our attention on purpose. Several mindfulness apps are offering free subscriptions at this time. If that’s not your style, connect to your spiritual community. Spend time outside listening to your kids play or to the sounds of nature.
Maintain a daily schedule, but don’t feel the need to follow it exactly. Set times to separate work and parenting, even if it doesn’t always work that way. This helps your children know what to expect and allows you to shift gears. Try to work in the same area of the house so your brain is prepared for work when you walk to that space. Teach your kids to help with chores so you can do them together. Go to bed and wake up at similar times each day.
Connect socially in new ways. Several of us have figured out how to connect with friends through Zoom or other apps. Scheduling these times on a regular basis can ensure that we make time to connect with friends. Netflix watch parties, virtual game nights, and socially distanced walks or bike rides can help us feel connected to friends and family.
Take time away from technology. We are all more connected now by electronics than we have been before. We rely on social media for social connection. We work on our computers and phones at the same time. Scheduling Zoom calls for work, our kids, and connecting with friends can be chaotic. My phone is getting so much use it overheated last weekend! All this technology use makes it even more important to step away from electronics from time to time. Put the phone in the other room with the volume up so you don’t miss important calls. Play board games, read an actual book, or write a real letter.
Understand you cannot be great at everything every day. No one can be great at each of their roles every day. For me, I think about the most important roles I fill (mom, wife, psychologist), and try to ensure that I am not doing any of them poorly for too long. If I am lacking in one area for more than a couple of days, I shift my priorities. Determine what is most important to you and pay attention each day to how well you are fulfilling those roles. It’s not necessarily about daily balance, but a general focus on giving some attention to the things that mean the most.
Focus on gratitude. In a time that we hear so much negative around us in the world, pay attention to the things for which you are grateful. Spend a few minutes each day thinking about the positives in your life. Start your morning writing these down, or end your day reflecting on your gratitude for that day.
Don’t compare. None of us are experiencing COVID in the same way. Our responsibilities and those of our family are different. Our homes, pets, children, jobs, and other life tasks are all different, and our skill in managing them is a combination of so many things. Do not feel the need to keep up with other moms on your social media or work the same way as your colleagues. Figure out what works best for you and your family. It may take some trial and error, but it’s all about what you need to meet your needs so you can meet the needs of others.
Learn how to give grace…to yourself, your children, and others. Grace is a word used often by one of my colleagues, and I never really thought much about it until I met her. Kindness is an important value in our family, but grace kicks it up a notch. It’s not just about being kind, but about accepting others for what they can do at that moment. It is recognizing we all have struggles and strengths that make us imperfectly balanced at times, and we do not know others’ stories. The mom who is on her phone at the park may be trying to get some work done as her kids play. When our kids yell at each other, it may be their frustration at the current situation in the world rather than frustration with their sibling. And when we cannot be the perfect parent, partner, colleague, coach, or friend….we must give ourselves the grace and recognize that it is OK to not be perfect at everything every day.
Davis, M. F., & Green, J. (2020). Three hours longer, the pandemic workday has obliterated work-life balance. Bloomberg Business. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04-23/working-from-home-in-covid-era-means-three-more-hours-on-the-job?srnd=premium
Fortson, B. L., Klevins, J., Merrick, M. T., Gibert, L. K., & Alexander, S. P. (2016). Preventing child abuse and neglect: A technical package for policy, norm, and programmatic activities. Atlanta: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Griffith, A. K. (2020). Parental burnout and child maltreatment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of family violence, 1-7.
Haj-Yahia, M., Sokar, S., Hassan-Abbas, N., & Malka, M. (2019). The relationship between exposure to family violence in childhood and post-traumatic stress symptoms in young adulthood: the mediating role of social support. Child Abuse & Neglect, 92, 126–138. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2019.03.023.
Norman, R. E., Byambaa, M., De, R., Butchart, A., Scott, J., & Vos, T. (2012). The long-term health consequences of child physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS Medicine, 9(11), e1001349. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001349.
Pew Research Center. (2020a). Most Americans Say Coronavirus Outbreak Has Impacted Their Lives. Retrieved from https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2020/03/PSDT_03.30.20_W64-COVID-19.Personal-impact-FULL-REPORT.pdf