Parents who are overwhelmed but won’t admit it tend to show these 9 signs

We all wear many hats during our time here on earth. There’s the job hat, the friend hat, the partner hat…

And for some of us, there’s the parent hat. Undoubtedly one of the best, if not THE best, roles one can take on in life. 

But it doesn’t come without its challenges. In fact, even if you went into parenting with eyes wide open, a fully stacked bank account, and the biggest heart, it can still be quite overwhelming. 

What’s more, being overwhelmed as a parent isn’t the easiest thing to admit. There’s always the risk of being judged as a “bad parent.”

No matter how hard they try to hide or gloss over their struggles, though, you can still tell when a parent is overwhelmed. Here are 9 signs of parental burnout, even if one doesn’t want to admit it: 

1) They look tired, act tired, and feel tired

All the time. 

I consider myself blessed to be both a parent and a teacher. When I look back at my life, I feel so grateful to have been given the opportunity to raise kids, both my own and others’. 

And yet I can’t say that I was always peppy and upbeat and happy. Anyone who tells you that parenting is a walk in the park is lying. (Either that or they have a nanny doing the actual work…)

Because the truth is, raising children is a tall task. It’s super rewarding but it’s also physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. 

Not to mention that you have to do it on top of everything else you’ve got going on in your life. 

So yeah, parental burnout is real. And there’s no shame in admitting it. We’re all just taking turns feeling tired here! 

2) They have a short fuse

Another real talk moment – as wonderful as they are, kids can try the patience of a saint. 

Consider the ways children can be exasperating to deal with: 

  • Temper tantrums
  • Constant questions
  • Pushing limits and boundaries
  • Leaving messes and chaos
  • School-related stress

I could go on and on because parenting poses different specific challenges for each one of us. And sometimes it can get really frustrating. 

Before we forget, parents are humans, too. They may have the longest fuse in the world but when it’s just one uncontrollable situation after another, that fuse can easily become short and explosive. 

Take the pandemic, for instance. Research shows that the pandemic had a huge impact on parental burnout, with some moving from “normal” burnout levels to clinical levels. 

And that’s just the percentage of parents who were willing to participate in the study. Can you imagine how much more there’d be if the ones who don’t want to admit they were overwhelmed were in there, too? 

3) They tend to engage in escapist behavior

So, because they’re overwhelmed but can’t say it out loud, how do these parents cope? 

Simple – with escapist moves. These can take various forms, ranging from the seemingly harmless to more concerning habits: 

  • Binge-watching TV or movies
  • Excessive phone use or gaming
  • Stress eating 
  • Retail therapy
  • Addictive behaviors like drinking, smoking or gambling
  • Overworking
  • Withdrawal from family life

Anything to get away from all that parenting stress. But while it’s understandable, escapist behavior leaves the real issues unaddressed. 

And unfortunately, getting to the root issue first requires something they find hard to do – admit that they’re feeling overwhelmed. 

4) They engage in suicidal ideation

While we’re on the topic of escapism, it can even go as far as suicidal ideation. 

An interesting study found that parental burnout increases suicidal and escape ideation. 

Why? Because it’s all just too much. They feel trapped and suffocated by all the demands placed on them. 

And because of the stigma associated with parental burnout, they can’t even admit it. It’s much easier to resort to fantasies of escaping their current situation.

5) They’re emotionally detached from their children

I guess this is just another way to escape – detachment. Don’t get me wrong, in most cases, detachment isn’t intentional at all. 

I see it as a form of self-preservation. Because they’re dealing with their own stress, anxiety, and fatigue. 

And that consumes so much emotional energy that there’s very little left to offer to their kids. 

Does that make sense? 

Imagine that you’re stressed about something at work. You’re run down, tired, and all you want is to climb into bed and not wake up for a whole day. 

Now imagine someone coming up to you to rant about their problems at that instant and wanting you to do something about it. How much energy can you give them when you’ve got none yourself? Probably not much, right? 

I’ve been there, and yes, it’s hard to admit – when you’re so tired that you’ve got nothing left to give, it’s hard to care about anything. 

The old saying is true – you can’t fill up others if your own cup is running empty. This is exactly the case with parental burnout and emotional detachment

6) They have poor sleep 

There’s nothing an overwhelmed parent wants to do more than sleep. All the damn day. 

The bad news is, they can’t. You don’t have to be a parent to know just how much stress and anxiety can mess with your sleep patterns. 

This study confirms how parenting-related stress results in insomnia/hypersomnia. 

Unfortunately, it worsens all the other symptoms of burnout, which includes this next one: 

7) They have brain fog

Back when I was still teaching, I had a student whose mom was a little hard to talk to. She was often distracted and jittery, and she’d easily forget things we’d already talked about. 

You had the sense that she wasn’t all there. 

As a parent, I’ve been this way myself once, too. So I wasn’t quick to judge that she was a bad mom, especially since I knew that she had three other kids to think about. 

I instinctively knew that she was having a hard time coping, even if she wouldn’t say it out loud. 

It’s easy to overlook these signs and label someone as disorganized or inattentive. But in both my parenting and teaching experiences, I’ve learned that these behaviors often mask deeper issues. 

This is why I always say that we shouldn’t be too quick to judge others; we never really know what they’re going through. 

8) They approach parenting in survival mode

What do I mean when I say “survival mode”? 

Well, basically, just don’t let the kids die. Period. 

Look, when you’re at your best, parenting is a joyful stage of your life. You enjoy the time you have with your kids, you take joy in planning activities and making sure they get whatever opportunities are available to them. 

If you noticed, the key word there is “joy”. In survival mode, there’s none of that. 

Parents who are overwhelmed but don’t admit it tend to switch to a mindset of just getting the basic needs met – food, clothing, shelter. Or even if they do provide the extras, you’ll notice one thing missing: joy. 

Or at the very least, engagement. 

Parents in survival mode find it hard to plan long-term strategies. How can they, when the immediate present – what’s on their plate right now – is overwhelming enough? 

So, their focus is on just checking off the absolutely necessary boxes (like not letting the kids die!) and getting through the day. 

Because anything else is just too, too much. 

Unfortunately, this state also leaves them showing this next sign…

9) They don’t feel a sense of accomplishment when it comes to parenting

Obviously, for overwhelmed parents, the joy/pain scale of parenting is skewed. Unbalanced towards the negative. 

That tends to leave them feeling like they aren’t effective as parents, even if by all accounts, they’re actually doing well. 

The feeling of overwhelm prevents them from feeling capable. If anything, they see that feeling of being overwhelmed as a sign that they can’t hack it as parents. 

And if they admit it, then that’s even more proof that they are “terrible parents”. 

This mindset creates a vicious cycle where feelings of inadequacy are compounded by the stress and challenges of parenting. 

I remember a good friend of mine who had a special needs child. As you can imagine, taking care of a child with special needs comes with an even bigger set of challenges. 

My friend was overwhelmed but she wouldn’t admit it (most parents think that to admit it is tantamount to saying you don’t love your kids as much as you should). 

But I knew she was because she’d constantly compare herself to the other moms in her support group. She would hold herself to unrealistically high standards that would be impossible to meet every single time. 

The funny thing is, I could see just how capable she was of meeting all the demands that her situation would throw at her. She simply needed to take a step back, breathe, and recharge. 

Final thoughts

If you’re a parent and some of these signs resonate with you, here’s my gentle reminder: feeling overwhelmed does not equate to being a bad parent

Parenting is an incredibly complex and demanding role, and it’s normal to feel overwhelmed at times. Like I said, we all go through it, not even just once but many times. 

Admitting you’re struggling isn’t a sign of failure or weakness. It’s actually what brave and honest parents do. Asking for help is the wise thing to do. 

And on that note, I’d also like to say – we’re not meant to raise our kids alone. As the old proverb goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” 

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