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Parental Burnout: Breaking Down the Gap Between Expectations and Reality

mom with baby

Parenting is often portrayed as a journey filled with joy, fulfillment, and endless love. However, the reality can be starkly different, with many parents facing overwhelming stress, exhaustion, and a sense of inadequacy. This disconnect between the idealized vision of parenting and the day-to-day challenges can lead to a state of parental burnout. Understanding the causes of parental burnout is crucial not only for managing our own stress but also for enhancing our ability to support and serve our families more effectively through parent training and education.

A model proposed by Maslach, Jackson, & Leiter (2001) suggests that burnout is due to a mismatch of expectations vs the actual interaction of the person in their work environment. While their research was focused on the workplace, this model of a mismatch between expectations and reality can apply to life as a parent as well. Here are a few common parenting expectations and the reality of the situation:

Bonding Moments

  • Expectation

    • Imagining endless cuddles and affectionate moments with a happy, smiling baby.

    • Believing that bonding will come naturally and effortlessly.

  • Reality

    • Bonding can take time and may not always feel immediate or constant. There will be moments of frustration and exhaustion mixed with the loving ones.

Well-Behaved Children

  • Expectation

    • Expecting that their children will always listen and behave well.

    • Thinking discipline will be straightforward and easy to manage.

  • Reality

    • Children will test boundaries and misbehave at times. Discipline requires patience, consistency, and often trial and error to find what works.

Quickly Achieving Milestones

  • Expectation

    • Expecting children to reach developmental milestones on time, if not early.

    • Believing that any delays or issues will be easily fixed with a little effort.

  • Reality

    • Children develop at their own pace, and there may be delays or challenges. Milestones might be achieved earlier or later than expected, and that's okay.

Perfectly Balanced Life

  • Expectation

    • Envisioning a smooth balance between work, family, and personal time.

    • Assuming that maintaining pre-parenthood hobbies and social life will be simple.

  • Reality

    • Balancing work, family, and personal time can be incredibly difficult. Sacrifices and compromises are often necessary, and perfect balance is rare.

Parenting as Natural & Instinctual

  • Expectation

    • Thinking that all aspects of parenting will come naturally.

    • Underestimating the learning curve and the need for guidance and education.

  • Reality

    • Many aspects of parenting require learning and adaptation. It's normal to seek information, take classes, and ask for help.

Parental burnout is a significant and often overlooked issue that arises from the disparity between the expectations and realities of parenting. By understanding the root causes and recognizing the signs of burnout, parents can take proactive steps to manage their stress and maintain their well-being. Equally important is the role of effective parent training and education in providing the tools and support necessary to navigate the challenges of parenting. Bridging the gap between expectations and reality can lead to a healthier, more balanced family dynamic, allowing parents to enjoy the journey of raising their children with greater resilience and fulfillment. Remember, acknowledging and addressing parental burnout is not a sign of failure, but a step towards creating a more supportive and nurturing environment for both parents and children.

If you want to learn more about the science of parenting which spans multiple scientific disciplines, check out our Parenting Science Coaching Certification program. This extensive program will give you all the education and tools you need to take your parent training skills to the next level and even work for yourself and a Certified Parent Coach.

Do you struggle with parental burnout and stress? Schedule a call with me today to learn how I can help you overcome these barriers to achieving joy in parenting through 1:1 parent coaching.


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