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Raising children is not easy, and parents can get burnt out just like anyone else. But research shows that parental burnout seems to be unique compare to other kinds of burnouts.

*This episode was written and recorded before most parents around the world started homeschooling because of coronavirus safety measures. Some of the suggestions in the video don't apply in times of social distancing, but the big ones do so we still felt this was an important video to share right now. You're doing great, parents!

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Parents are often typecast as people who never tire out. From feeding kids all hours of the night to being at every Little League game or band concert, they're often cast as superhuman.

But as obvious as it sounds, parents aren't magical, limitless beings, and they can get burnt out just like anyone else. Well, maybe not just like anyone else. Research is starting to show that their brand of burnout seems to be unique.

And by learning to identify it fast, we can help avoid it. Psychologists define burnout as a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. We often associate it with school or work.

And until somewhat recently, this was the main way psychologists thought about it, too. But lately, they've found that parenthood leads to similar effects. A study published in 2018 used testimonies from 901 parents, and it identified four main factors to parental burnout.

First, people felt exhausted while parenting, though not necessarily while doing other things like being at work. They also felt like they were losing pleasure and fulfillment in their parental role. And finally, burned-out parents emotionally distanced themselves from their children, /and/ were prone to contrasting parenthood with their lives before kids.

Those first two traits are pretty similar to career burnout, but this study showed that the last two are unique. Workers don't tend to dwell on their pre-job lives, and they're also prone to dehumanizing the people they work with, in a way burned-out parents don't seem to dehumanize their kids. Which is reassuring, actually.

Using these four traits as a starting point, you can measure parental burnout with surveys that ask parents to rate how true statements feel. Things like “I sometimes feel as though I am taking care of my children on autopilot.” And these surveys place the frequency of parental burnout at anywhere between 2 and 12%. That's a whole lot of tired parents.

But this research was done on parents in Europe, so numbers could vary by culture. We'll learn more as studies continue. Still, considering parental burnout can impact the level of care parents can provide to their kids and themselves, it's important we learn how to identify and reduce it.

So, how do you figure out when someone is at risk? There seem to be a few ways. For example, researchers have looked at the well-tested Big Five personality traits, and they suggest that high levels of neuroticism, and low levels of agreeableness or conscientiousness might make parents prone to burnout.

These are traits associated with having a hard time maintaining positive emotional relationships, responding to other people's needs, and keeping a well-structured home environment. Things that could make existing parental stress worse. But on the flip side, aiming for perfection can cause burnout, too, as one 2018 study on Japanese parents pointed out.

As any motivational speaker will tell you, no one's perfect. And chasing that impossible goal can set someone up to expend a lot of physical and mental effort. That exertion, along with the eventual realization that there's no way to be the perfect parent, can be demoralizing, and send someone into burnout.

Finally, and more generally, some researchers believe the balance between parenting risks and resources is a big player in burnout, too. When the resources at hand — including money, support, or time — aren't enough to meet the demands of parenting, that leads to more stress. And if that stress is sustained, burnout becomes more and more likely.

Thankfully, spotting this stress early can help avert disaster! If you notice a parent constantly striving to meet unrealistic goals, it might be time to check if they're doing alright. Helping them avoid burnout could be a case of providing more resources to tip the balance — like, offering to take their kids to Little League practice every other week.

For parents, taking time to decompress can also be a great option. Hiring a babysitter or sending the kids to a relative's place for a night might provide enough room to rest and recalibrate. But those options can be costly or impractical, and might not be an option for everyone.

So an upcoming 2020 paper suggests a more accessible option: Talk it out. Talking about struggling as a parent can feel shameful — there's a lot of pressure to be the World's #1 Parent like it says on all those coffee mugs. But engaging with people or groups that acknowledge that parenting is hard can lighten the load.

Research in other areas of psychology has shown the power of expressing yourself in a non-judgemental atmosphere, and psychologists believe it could be just as effective with parental burnout. So, yes, science is endorsing getting it all out on parental Facebook groups! Share all the memes!

Just be sure you're not yelling into the void. Talking to other people, rather than just talking, is key. At the end of the day, burnout is probably not what people hoped for when they became parents.

But progress is being made about how to identify and avoid it. I mean, babysitters and rides to baseball practice aren't magical cures, but the more we recognize burnout for what it is — a real thing! — the better off we'll be. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Psych!

If you want to learn more about the psychology of parenting, you might enjoy our video about what having a baby does to your brain. It's interesting stuff, and you can watch it after this. [ ♪OUTRO ].