Part 1 : Parental burnout – definition, risk factors and impact

Parental burnout occurs when the level of stress outweighs the availability of resources to cope with it.

Looking after the survival and wellbeing of small humans is not all sunshine and lollipops. Although there are many moments of sheer beauty and pure love, the constant demands, pressures, and responsibilities can sometimes overwhelm even the most resilient of parents, leading to a phenomenon known as parental burnout. 

Parental burnout refers to a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion experienced as a result of prolonged stress and overwhelming parenting responsibilities. It’s a state of chronic stress that can significantly impact both parents’ wellbeing and the family dynamic as a whole.

Although many parents will resonate with the feeling of burnout, parental burnout as a clinical concept is still very new. For now, there are three proposed measurements that can indicate parental burnout:

  1. Feeling exhausted from parenting
  2. Feeling emotionally distant from your child
  3. Feeling that you are not a good parent and questioning how effective you are
  • Contrast with the parent you used to be – is a new proposed dimension to measure parental burnout

Parental burnout is far more common than you would think, regardless of what curated social media profiles might indicate. As of March 2020, a study that spanned 42 countries found that roughly 5 out of every 100 parents feel burned out from parenting. In Western countries, this number goes up to 9 out of 100 parents. 

Risk factors

There are several factors that contribute to the risk of parents experiencing burnout, but the tipping point occurs when the level of stress outweighs the availability of resources to cope with it. Key risk factors include:

  • Demanding daily routine – Balancing work, household chores, and childcare responsibilities can overwhelm parents, especially when coupled with unrealistic expectations about parenting.
  • Lack of social support – Limited support from family, friends, or community resources can intensify feelings of isolation and stress for parents.
  • Perfectionism – Striving for perfection in parenting can lead to constant self-criticism and feelings of inadequacy when expectations aren’t met.
  • Needs and resources mismatch –  A significant disparity between a child’s needs and a parent’s capabilities or resources can exacerbate stress and burnout.
  • Financial strain –  Financial difficulties can add pressure to parents, impacting their ability to provide for their children and manage household expenses.
  • Personal Factors – Individual factors such as mental health issues, sensory sensitivities, past trauma, or relationship problems can contribute to parental burnout.

Impact of parental burnout

The impact of parental burnout can have extensive and damaging effects on the parent themselves, their children and co-parenting partner. 

Parents going through burnout can find themselves:

  • Experiencing suicidal and escape ideation
  • Engaging in addictive behaviours and substances
  • Suffering from sleep disorders
  • Dealing with depressive symptoms
  • Struggling with physical symptoms
  • Managing emotional instability

Children also experience the effects of their parent’s burnout. Researchers have identified that when parents feel overwhelmed and exhausted, it can lead to kids feeling more anxious, lonely, and even behaving aggressively or feeling sad. 

Clinicians have observed a pattern in parents who are exhausted and who care for kids with behavioural issues where they tend to step back emotionally instead of physically. This means they still take care of basic needs like feeding and bedtime, but they become less connected, less understanding, and less responsive to their children emotionally. 

Evidence shows that in some cases children experience:

  • Neglect
  • Violence
  • Psychological abuse

Parents come to realise that they are not the parents they would like to be, further creating distress, shame and guilt. A vicious cycle of burnout and higher levels of coercive or punitive parenting practices emerges.

Burnout of one parent is also felt by the rest of the family.

  • Spouses experience an increase in frequency and intensity of conflict
  • Family relationships become strained
  • Family members’ quality of life is reduced

As a parent, your wellbeing is critical to your ability to effectively support your child’s emotion regulation. If you are also tired, stressed, unwell, or dysregulated, you won’t be able to effectively co-regulate with your child, and that can make situations worse. 

Unsurprisingly, the incidence of parental burnout can soar even higher among parents caring for neurodivergent children and those children with chronic illnesses. 

In part 2 we will go deeper into parental burnout for neurotypical parents and neurodivergent parents of neurodivergent children.


  1. A Step Forward in the Conceptualization and Measurement of Parental Burnout: The Parental Burnout Assessment (PBA) – PMC
  2. A systematic review of parental burnout and related factors among parents | BMC Public Health
  3. Parental Burnout in Neurodivergent Parents
  4. The Well-being and Support Needs of Australian Caregivers of Neurodiverse Children
  5. Maternal Cortisol Levels and Behavior Problems in Adolescents and Adults with ASD – PMC
  6. Caring for the Caregiver: Supporting Families of Youth With Special Health Care Needs – ScienceDirect
  7. The Family Life Impairment Scale: Factor Structure and Clinical Utility with Young Children
  8. Implementation of Australia’s National Disability Insurance… : Infants & Young Children
  9. Exhausted Parents: Development and Preliminary Validation of the Parental Burnout Inventory – PMC
  10. Is Parental Burnout Distinct From Job Burnout and Depressive Symptoms? – Moïra Mikolajczak, James J. Gross, Florence Stinglhamber, Annika Lindahl Norberg, Isabelle Roskam, 2020
  11. Parental Burnout and Child Maltreatment During the COVID-19 Pandemic – PMC
  12. (PDF) Parental Burnout: What Is It, and Why Does It Matter?
  13. Parental Burnout Around the Globe: a 42-Country Study | Affective Science

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