10 subtle warning signs a parent is struggling (even if they won’t admit it)

Being a parent is one of the hardest things you can do in life.

And you’re mostly left on your own or with just your partner to do it.

Being responsible for the life of another person or multiple people can create enormous stress. Plus, society often judges us for how we parent our children. People aren’t nearly as quick to help as they are to form negative opinions about the way you parent your kids.

That can make people reluctant to admit when they are struggling as parents. It’s very easy to feel like a failure, so often, parents hide their struggles behind a false pretense that everything is going great.

But there are some subtle signs that parents are struggling. Keep an eye out for these warning signs that can tell you a parent is having a hard time.

1) They aren’t getting enough sleep

Being sleep deprived is so common among parents, especially parents of infants, that it has become a popular joke.

But there’s nothing funny about not getting enough sleep.

Psychologist Kendra Cherry points out that lack of sleep can cause:

  • brain fog;
  • mood changes;
  • behavior changes;
  • stress;
  • depression;
  • psychotic behavior.

Missing sleep is bad for anyone. And while it can be very difficult for parents of young children to get enough sleep, especially if their children are not good sleepers, it’s important that they do everything they can to get the rest they need.

If you know a parent who seems chronically tired and sleep-deprived, it may be a sign that they are really struggling with their responsibilities.

2) Their mood and behavior change

This can be a more obvious sign of someone who is having a hard time. However, it’s not always easy to understand why it’s happening, especially if a person doesn’t want to admit that their parental responsibilities are the problem.

Being a parent changes people. But if someone seems like they have become a completely different person after having kids, that can be a warning sign of a more serious issue.

Someone who used to be fun and outgoing may become moody and withdrawn. Someone who used to be cheerful may suddenly start being more negative.

Keep an eye out for these changes in behavior. They can let you know that someone is struggling even if they aren’t willing to admit it.

3) They lose their patience easily

Irritability can be caused by a number of different factors.

One is the lack of sleep I mentioned above.

But as anyone who has kids knows, no one tests your patience quite like your children. And when you are constantly trying to control yourself around your kids and not show anger or frustration, it can cause you to lash out around other people such as your friends, family, and coworkers.

If someone you know seems to have lost the patience they once had, the difficulty of parenting might be the cause. Because understanding why someone behaves the way they do can be the first step in helping change it.

4) They neglect self-care

Raising kids takes up a huge amount of time, so it’s common that when people become parents, they will lose a lot of the free time they once had to pursue their interests.

That’s normal. But it’s important for parents to remember that, while their kids should be everything to them, they can’t neglect caring for themselves completely.

When someone has started to neglect self-care, it can show itself in different ways.

You may notice that they no longer have time for their friends or take part in hobbies that they used to enjoy. Again, in some ways, this is a natural consequence of having less free time because of parenting.

But people may also neglect self-care in other ways. For instance, someone who used to take great pride in their appearance may suddenly no longer put the same effort in. They may even neglect basic hygiene.

That’s a sure sign of someone who is really struggling but doesn’t want to admit it.

5) They isolate themselves

Again, this can be hard to spot because in some ways, it happens to all parents.

When kids start to suck up all your free time and energy, it’s almost inevitable that you will tend to withdraw from other social commitments.

That doesn’t mean a parent should live in total isolation.

Sometimes, a parent may even use the children as an excuse to isolate themselves. They will stop going out socially or attending family or work events.

This can often be a symptom of depression.

“Given that there are numerous contributors to a person’s decision to socially isolate, it is hard to quantify how much is due to ‘depression’ on the front end,” says psychologist Michael Jochananov, “although more often than not a person will experience worsening depression as they isolate and spiral downward.”

In other words, this behavior can often make the problem worse.

It’s normal for new parents to have less time for social life after they have kids. But it’s not normal for them to isolate themselves completely. If they do, it may be a sign that they are struggling silently.

6) Their eating habits change

Kids take up a huge amount of time, to the point that many parents struggle to find time to feed themselves healthy and nutritious meals. But a change in eating habits can also be a sign of struggle.

Parents may eat less because they are concentrating on feeding and taking care of the kids. Also, being tired all the time can diminish your appetite.

On the other hand, they may eat more, relying on food as a kind of stress response.

Over time, this can show itself in fluctuations in their weight.

7) They lack energy and motivation

With all the new responsibilities, hard work, and sleep deprivation that come with having kids, it’s no surprise that parents may lack energy and motivation.

But a lack of energy and motivation can also be a symptom of depression and other psychological problems.

If someone no longer has the energy to take part in things they used to enjoy or loses the motivation to work toward their goals, it’s a bad sign. Whether you see it in a friend or a work colleague, consider the possibility that their struggles to be a parent are robbing them of energy and drive.

8) They look for ways to escape

When people feel stuck in a bad situation, it’s natural to try to escape. Decent people don’t just walk out on their families, but they may seek other ways to escape from what is stressing them out.

Maybe they immerse themselves in video games. Maybe they binge-watch TV. Maybe they drink more or turn to drugs to help them escape the unpleasant parts of their life.

Especially in the case of substance abuse, this can be a sign of a serious problem. But even less harmful forms of escape can indicate that someone is having a hard time, even if they don’t want to say it.

9) They have a hard time focusing

This is another symptom of fatigue. But difficulty focusing can also demonstrate that someone is under a lot of stress.

“When we’re under a great deal of stress, we’re not in a good position to think most clearly and creatively and come up with our best problem-solving skills,” says psychologist Stephen Fabick.

And this inability to think straight can cause problems in a person’s work and personal life.

If someone who used to be very focused and competent seems to suddenly lose their cognitive abilities, consider the possibility that it’s the stress of parenting that has caused them to change.

10) Their relationship suffers

Finally, this is a very common problem that many people are unwilling to talk about.

Having children puts huge stress on a relationship, and it can cause any problems that existed below the surface to come to light. It can also create a whole new bunch of problems itself.

People may disagree with their partner on how they parent. Or they may blame the other partner for not doing enough to help.

There are so many ways becoming a parent can put stress on your relationship with your partner.

A new parent may not admit this. But you may see it for yourself through changes in behavior.

Maybe a couple who used to be very loving and affectionate have suddenly become distant and cold. Maybe they argue in a way they never used to do.

These can all be signs of people struggling with parenting.

Parenting is hard

The responsibility of being a parent is absolutely enormous, and it overwhelms lots of people.

Add to that the pressure of trying to appear like you have everything under control, and you have the perfect recipe for people stressed out by parenting to hide their feelings.

Keep an eye out for these signs of struggling parents, and try to offer some help where you can. Parenting is never easy, but it’s a lot easier when you have the support of the people around you.

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