A parental burnout can be diagnosed when, after you have sorted out all the practical issues for the kids, there is no more energy or desire left to play with your children or invest time and effort in them. Burnout occurs when the balance between things that give energy and things that demand energy is lost. Bart Soenens is an authority at Ghent University: “The most important symptom is exhaustion. You don’t feel like the parent you were and you only do the bare necessities for the kids. There is no energy left to invest emotionally in your offspring”.
“It’s a situation that leads to slight neglect at first. People with burnout produce more stress hormones (cortisol) and have a harder time controlling aggression and physical and verbal violence too”.
Up to 70% of the parents with burnout are mums. The international study involving parents in 42 countries revealed that parents in more individualistic societies in the West are more prone to burnout. An African saying – a village is needed to raise a child – is correct because burnout is rarer in collectivist societies.
Prof Soenens: “In individualistic societies educating a child is seen as a personal task for parents. If this does not go well it can easily be experienced as personal failure.”
Moira Mikolajczak is a researcher at UCLouvain: “In Non-Western societies parents get a lot of support from all kinds of people in their surroundings. This protects against burnout.”
Meanwhile in Belgium parental burnout remains a taboo. It’s not done to admit parenthood isn’t making you happy. Fortunately, Belgium boasts some 600 therapists who can treat parental burnout in around eight weeks.