Parental Burnout
Your Baby|November/December 2019
Parental Burnout
Yes, it is a thing. But that doesn’t mean you have to let this kind of mental collapse get the better of you. Kerryn Massyn gets help from the experts
Kerryn Massyn

JUGGLING WORK, home, relationships, me-time and more is tough to do, right? Add a newborn baby into the mix, and all the sleep deprivation and insecurity that goes with it, and it’s easy to see why more and more new parents are suffering what experts have coined as “parent burnout”. And, to be honest, it’s no surprise that the fatigue and stresses of parenting in the early days – and even later in your baby’s life – could have an effect on your mental state. And from our side, there is no judgment either.

“Parental burnout is a relatively new term, surfacing in the 1980s and gaining traction in the last four years,” says Johannesburg-based clinical psychologist Jana Morgan. Its symptoms include physical and emotional exhaustion, emotional distancing from one’s children, and a sense of incompetence in one’s parenting role.”

Of course, new parents do feel exhausted beyond comprehension, but it’s when the fatigue of parenting becomes overwhelming and takes you away from your baby that burnout steps in. As Jana adds: “When parents stop having space for their own feelings and thoughts, they stop having space for their baby’s feelings, and then the connection – which is what babies, children, and people need most – vanishes. Feelings of guilt, shame and embarrassment are also rife in parental burnout, which correlate with symptoms of depression.”

SO, WHAT’S GOING ON?

Ask your mom if she had new baby burnout, and she’ll probably look at you strangely. As Jana says, this is a relatively new concept.

So, what is it about parenting in the 21st century that has us breaking down?

“Modern mothers are expected to work and parent in an equal and perfect way. They aren’t allowed to make mistakes, yet they are expected to mother without help while still contributing to the bottom line.

“Meanwhile, fathers are expected to ‘dad’ better – be more hands-on, make as much money but be home more. Increasingly, good parenting has become something we expect to be done as well as one would complete a degree. There are now rules to follow: birthing and feeding a certain way, attachment parenting, sleep training, do this, don’t do that. There is always a sense of a better way to do things – raising perfect children by being perfect parents and building a perfect world around them.”

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November/December 2019