Roughly 66% of working parents are officially burnt out. Here’s how to tell how stressed you are — along with evidence-based advice to combat burnout.
Listen, we don’t necessarily need scientists to confirm that most parents, especially working parents, are beyond stressed and experiencing burnout on the regular. Any working parent can quickly confirm that with an exasperated sigh or slightly unhinged laugh accompanied with an eye twitch as a response to the question, “How are you?”
So it’s not a surprise at all that a new study found that 66 percent of parents with kids under the age of 18 meet the definition of burned out.
That data becomes a little more interesting, however, when the person behind it is a working mom of four children under the age of 10. Kate Gawlik, a doctor of nursing practice and associate professor of clinical nursing at Ohio State, created not only the new study, but an actual tool to help exhausted parents measure their levels of burnout and get the support they need for themselves and their family.
Gawlik teamed up with Bernadette Melnyk, PhD, Dean of the College of Nursing at Ohio State, to create the Working Parent Burnout Scale. A study following the scale’s creation proved it to be a valid and reliable tool.
“I came up with the idea of creating and studying a parental burnout scale because of my own experience,” Gawlik explained to WebMD. “During the pandemic, although I wasn’t seeing patients at the clinic, I was working from home full-time in my academic position, and so was my husband, and taking care of my four children.”
In the height of the pandemic, Gawlik’s children were ages 3 to 8, so yeah, you could say she had a *lot* on her plate.
They published their studies — along with the scale itself — in the Journal of Pediatric Healthcare. The report also has advice on how to manage stress and burnout.
“We want parents to understand they’re not alone in their struggles. Recognizing when you need help is a sign of strength, not weakness, and we hope that our report and the suggestions we include will be a step in that direction,” Gawlik said.
Overall, they found that two-thirds of respondents felt burned out, with moms reporting higher levels of burnout than dads (68% vs. 42%). Of the respondents who had a history of anxiety, 77% reported burnout, and 73% of parents with children with a history of anxiety or ADHD said they were burnt out. This is all understandable, given that the data was collected in peak pandemic times, which Gawlik called “one of the hardest” times of her life.
“I wanted to be a good parent, do well in my job, and be a good spouse,” she says. She tended to the kids so much during the day that she would do her work at night. It was a “vicious cycle of always trying to keep up and not getting any sleep, and I didn’t see an end in sight.”
The report contains a self-assessment test for parents to determine their “level” of burnout. Parents complete a scale that ranks how often they experience things like “I find joy in parenting my children,” and “I feel like I am in survival mode as a parent.”
Score 0-10 indicates few signs of burnout, 11-20 indicates mild burnout, 21-30 moderate burnout, and severe burnout for scores of 31 and over. Depending on the level of burnout, the assessment then guides to additional resources with how to manage it.
But what do you do if you if still feel like the end of burnout and eternal stress is no where in sight?According to the report, self-care, especially in the form of getting sleep and practicing gratitude, are a stressed parent’s best evidence-based bet.
“I think it’s important to maintain perspective about what’s important in your life, and feeling grateful for those things is a key way to keep healthy,” said Gawlik, who uses a mindfulness app daily with her kids.
The report, which can be read in its entirety here, also advises reaching out to others you can trust with your feelings and allowing yourself to say “no” to something, be it a girl’s night out or volunteering for yet another school event, sans guilt.
Reaching out to a primary care physician, especially for parents who have felt severely depressed or hopeless “several or more than half the days in the past two weeks,” is also critical. The report lists additional harm prevention resources for extremely burnout parents.
Someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) is always available 24/7 if you ever need to talk with someone when feeling depressed.