How to Deal with Parental Burnout

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Burnout happens to the best of us. We tend to think that if we can just get x,y, and z done, we’ll feel better. What you actually need to do is take a breath, slow down, and let go.

“Burnout” might seem a little like a buzzword these days but if you’re a parent tending to the needs of young children, you know that its effects are real.

Burnout is that feeling of complete emotional and physical exhaustion. It’s that sense that you’re running on empty and have nothing left in the tank. You might feel like your parenting responsibilities are mounting up with no end in sight. Whatever the case may be, I’m going to teach you how to recognize burnout and then walk you through some non-overwhelming steps to fix it.

How to Recognize Burnout

If you’ve been feeling stressed to the max and endlessly spread thin, that’s a pretty good sign that you’re experiencing burnout.

You might notice an overall sense of feeling like you have just nothing left to give. Feeling like you just can’t catch up, like you never feel rested or grounded or like you’re overwhelmed by the responsibilities on your list are all indicators that it’s time to slow down.

Some mothers notice that they’re irritable or impatient with their partner or their children. Oftentimes, they explain that they’re not experiencing much joy anymore.

Others feel more emotional than usual and get weepy eyed easily. All of these are great signs that you’re depleted. I mean hey, being a mom is tough. Your kids need a lot!

I think it’s also important to acknowledge that your day-to-day flow of life can be stressful—there are going to be times when your energy levels run low.

Noticing The Shame

As a mental health therapist for moms and moms-to-be, I see women experiencing so much shame and guilt. That overwhelmed and run-off-your-feet feeling is bad enough. Add in a heavy dose of shame and we make matters infinitely worse.

I know you have an idea of how you want to be as a mother. I know you have expectations for how you should act towards your kids. When you’re burnt out, it’s so hard to show up the way you want to. It’s hard to be supermom and act perfectly towards your children all the time.

You don’t always act your best when every little demand feels like an attack on your system. And that’s OK!  I want you to notice when that shame sneaks in (telling you you’re not doing a good enough job).

Instead, what if there could be times in life when “average” is enough? What if you can’t meet all your expectations all the time? Could that be okay?

Energy in Versus Energy Out

Take quick stock: how much energy is flowing in and how much of your energy is flowing out?

If you’re burnout, that ratio will be totally out of whack.

Actually, there’s a good chance that you don’t have any energy flowing in at all! You know that saying “you can’t pour from an empty cup”? That metaphor is really speaking to the same thing here – being completed depleted and having nothing left to give!

When you’re depleted, exhausted and fried, you do not have any of your personal resources left to give to others. OK, so what the heck do we do about that?

A Three-Step Guide to Managing Burnout: 

Sure, burnout is quite common among mums of young kids. The good news is that it’s also treatable. And no, I’m not about to give you annoying, non-realistic advice.

I’m a mother of two young kids too so I know that carving out alone time sometimes isn’t possible and that a bubble bath isn’t exactly going to fix your woes.

Here’s what will:

1. Notice what’s going on for yourself.

As a mom you’re in tune to your kids’ and your partner’s needs, schedules, emotions, etc. There’s a lot of attention going outward without much care going inward.

Stop for a minute and take stock of how YOU feel. What happens when you’re overwhelmed? How does your body feel? Notice the ways your mood changes. Some people might feel irritable or snarky whereas others might feel sad and low. Pay attention to the conversations you’re having with yourself too. What’s your inner dialogue right now?

What do you feel like doing? Some people want to stay in bed, others get angry and some moms just want to check out or distract themselves. Understanding the ways you specifically experience burnout is the first step.

2. Ask yourself: “What can I remove?”

A great action to take is to evaluate your calendar and decide which things you need to say no to or cancel completely. When you’re feeling depleted, it’s absolutely essential to clear some space. By freeing up your schedule, you’re ensuring that you’re no longer going to be operating in such a frantic mode.

Trust me on this one—it’s important!

3. You can also let go of expectations.

OK, I’m not suggesting you drop your expectations forever or that you give up on the things that you care about. No. What I’m advising is temporarily lowering expectations during this phase.

Since you’re not going to be operating at your normal level (it’s just not realistic), it’s incredibly smart to lower the bar. Self compassion is meeting yourself where you’re at. Take those expectations down for now to allow yourself room to bounce back.

When you drop your expectations a little bit, you meet them more easily. That feels good! That’s motivating! Pick the most important things and focus on just those, and see if you can let some of the other things go.

Now add something to your life that’s just for you!

Going back to that energy-in-versus-energy-out point, you want to bring something back in.

Is there anything that you can add that you as a mom enjoy? Are you currently doing anything for yourself? If you’re not doing much for yourself at the moment, that’s OK.

During this time, figure out what you’re missing. Give yourself something small that will bring joy to your day. Make it super simple and easy. For example, play your music, not your kids’ or partner’s. Or, clean a small space in your home and spend a few minutes there.

I like to get outside for five minutes to feel the sunshine on my face. In the mornings, I take time to drink my coffee HOT. Commit to something small that’s going to give you a little bit more ease.


I’m going to leave you with one final thought. Burnout is normal and it happens to the best of us. It can be so tempting to try to push, push, push. We tend to think that if we can just get x,y and z done, we’ll feel better.

What you actually need to do is take a breath, slow down, and let go.

In Canada? We have a team of perinatal mental health therapists who are trained to support moms as they navigate the challenges of motherhood. We also offer support for couples who are experiencing challenges in the relationship due to their growing family and changing roles. You can learn about our team here, and book a session.

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About The perinatal collective

Welcome! So glad you're here. 

We're a team of mental health therapists across Canada with advanced education and experience in perinatal mental health, meaning you don't have to cross your fingers and hope that we understand how hard this stage can be.

We understand the nuances of the early stages of parenthood: how typical counselling strategies may not be relevant to parents with young kids, and how mental health challenges look different during this time.  

From deciding to have children, to navigating your journey through fertility, pregnancy, birth, postpartum, relationship changes, parenting, career demands and beyond, parenthood can be full with challenges.

Our goal is to help you manage the peaks and valleys of the entire journey, while staying connected to yourself, and feeling whole, along the way.