Understanding Parental Burnout in Parents of Autistic Children

By Meredith Dangel

What is parental burnout?

Are you overwhelmingly exhausted in parenting?

Are you feeling emotional distance from your children?

Are you feeling completely ineffective in your parenting?

Do you sometimes dream of escaping?

You’re likely experiencing parental burnout.

Unveiling the Reality: Understanding Burnout Factors

Yes, it’s a real thing. This is not in your imagination.

When an individual arrives at this point, they may wonder, How did this happen to me? How did I get here? It’s simple math, really. Burnout occurs when risk factors outweigh a parent’s resources.

Common Risk Factors: Identifying the Contributors

Let’s take a look at common risk factors, according to research:

  • Perfectionist parenting
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Lack of ability to manage emotion and stress
  • Lack of support from co-parent or social network
  • Having children with chronic illness or disability that affect daily living
  • Working part-time or working from home
  • Both partners working full-time outside of home
  • Over-scheduled kids
  • Inability to provide structure
  • Excessive intervention in kids’ lives

I think we can all agree that we live in an era when these risk factors are very common. On their own, these risk factors don’t cause burnout. When they start to pile up, and when a parent has little to no resources to counteract them, burnout is the almost inevitable result.

The Consequences of Parental Burnout: Grave Effects

Our society glorifies busyness, but we are beginning to see pushback. Families are craving more intentional scheduling to create more togetherness.

This shift is essential because the consequences of parental burnout are grave. In fact, one study noted that it “drastically increases escape and suicidal ideation, child neglect, and child violence” (Mikolajczak et al., 2018).

Perhaps most alarming is that thoughts of suicide and escape are even more frequent in parental burnout than in job burnout or depression.

Other negative effects include substance abuse, sleep disorders, partner conflict, and partner estrangement.

In other words, no good comes from this condition. We cannot sacrifice our health and our children’s health at the altar of productivity.

Seeking Help and Support: Taking the First Step

Does any of this sound familiar to you? If so, check out our next post for suggestions. If you need immediate help, please call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline or text CONNECT to 741741.

Mikolajczak, M., Brianda, M.E., Avalosse, H., & Roskam, I. (2018). Consequences of parental burnout: Its specific effect on child neglect and violence. Child Abuse & Neglect 80, 134-45.

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