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Yesterday, school children across NSW returned to the classroom after more than 100 days of lockdown. A big step towards a new normal and a relief for parents who have been juggling the demands of home learning alongside their work commitments. 

With the kids back at school, will parents who had been tasked with doing their usual jobs while also home-schooling notice an increase in their work productivity and general wellbeing? Or are many parents experiencing burnout that needs to be addressed first? We take a look at how to recognise signs of burnout and some advice on how to recalibrate. 

Are You Experiencing Parental Burnout?

Most of us know that the pandemic has led to a decline in mental health for many people. According to Australian research conducted by psychologists at the University of Melbourne last year, the most significant increase in mental distress has been amongst parents. Their findings indicated a worrying surge in mental distress in particular for employed parents with children aged five to 11. “Nearly 1.5 million Australians have a child aged five to 11 and are employed, and according to our estimates, over a quarter of them currently experience high mental distress.” (Melbourne Institute, 2020).

Burnout occurs when there is a disparity between the stress a person is under and the resources they have available to cope with it. So it’s not surprising that many employed parents who have been trying to manage home learning and their working lives have struggled and are feeling depleted. If you recognise feelings of being overwhelmed, exhausted and frustrated at your children, then it’s likely you’re experiencing some degree of parental burnout. At its most severe, burnout can lead parents to feelings of despair, disconnect and even neglect or maltreatment of their children. 

It’s always important to prioritise wellbeing and mental health, but when we’re under a lot of pressure we often don’t. Now that children are back at school and you have a little more time, it’s a good idea to take better care of your mental health. We hope you’ll find these tips helpful.

  1. Discuss it. Sometimes a little vent goes a long way to helping you feel better. It’s been a stressful time for so many of us and relating how you’ve been feeling to friends, family or even colleagues can be beneficial. Don’t feel ashamed to admit you’ve been struggling; you may be surprised to find that by being open you’ve created a space for others to share their struggles too. It can really help with processing the difficult experiences you’ve had.
  2. Exercise and eat well. The so called, ‘COVID kilos’, are a thing! Many of us became far too busy and stressed during lockdowns to take proper care of ourselves. It’s understandable, we’re only human, don’t feel too bad about it. Fortunately, parents now have a bit more time to prioritise our wellbeing and we really need to. Exercise, eating healthy and getting enough sleep are all vital components for good mental health.
  3. Reframe it. If you are a perfectionist then there’s more likelihood that you struggled during lockdown. The world has always been imperfect, of course, but it’s been glaringly obvious these last couple of years. When our expectations are continually unmet and we feel like we’re struggling to achieve our goals, this is naturally upsetting. Reframing the situation is helpful – recognise the aspects of your life that have been beyond your control, remind yourself what you have to be grateful for and forgive yourself for the times you didn’t hit the standard you were hoping to.
  4. Get a haircut. There have been a few lighter sides to this whole pandemic ordeal and the array of lockdown locks on display is one of them. A huge number of us either couldn’t or wouldn’t cut our own hair and the results have been varied. Perhaps you’ve discovered you like your carefree longer hair. However, if you’re someone who has not been feeling yourself because you haven’t been rocking your usual sharp hairstyle, then you’re going to feel better once you’ve had it cut.
  5. Take a break. It’s been a demanding time for all of us and employed parents have had an especially big mental load to carry. In the groundhog days of lockdown, many of us felt in a rut. Now that our horizons are expanding again, we should plan to take little breaks and or trips away. You don’t have to travel far (legally, it can’t actually be too far away just yet!), but a change in scenery will do wonders for your mental health. 
  6. Write a list of things you love about your child. Many working parents feel that they haven’t had enough opportunities to enjoy their children lately. There’s been plenty of time spent with their children, but with the demands of work and school this time spent together has not always been pleasant. A great way to help you feel reconnected with your child is to write a list with the things you love about them, their special attributes and some happy memories you’ve shared together. Why not tackle this list while they’re at school and you find yourself rejoicing missing them!?