Are parents more stressed than before?

Are parents more stressed than before?
It’s hard to deny that parents today are more stressed than in previous generations. Increased social pressure, a tougher work–life balance, and shorter marriages are among the many reasons behind this change.

It’s hard to deny that parents today are more stressed than in previous generations. Increased social pressure, a tougher work–life balance, and shorter marriages are among the many reasons behind this change.

“Parents put a lot of pressure on themselves to be perfect,” says psychologist Nathalie Parent. Fanie, mother of three, agrees. “I’m pretty hard on myself, which means I’m constantly questioning my parenting decisions. Are my kids overstimulated? Under-stimulated? It doesn’t keep me up at night, but it’s always in the back of my mind.”

Work-related stress . . .

Much of the stress of parenthood comes from trying to reconcile work and family life. Responsibilities such as getting the kids two and from daycare, planning and preparing meals, and scheduling doctors’ appointments can all be major sources of stress for parents.

“Don’t forget the stress that parents experience at work!” adds social worker Steve Audet. Given how bad traffic can get, even the commute has become a source of stress: in 2015, a Quebec study showed a link between traffic congestion, stress, and job burnout.

. . . and family-related stress

Family dynamics can also have an effect on stress. With unions growing shorter, separation and blended families are becoming commonplace, resulting in a lot of changes that have only added to parenting stress. One American study even found that parents in blended families are more likely to experience depression. According to the researchers, these parents juggle multiple roles and feel immense pressure in attempting to be good at them all.

Though society has become safer and dangers are few, parents’ obsession with their children’s safety is another significant source of stress. “More than ever, parents see danger everywhere they look,” says Sonia Lupien. “And the information spread by the media and on the web feeds their fears.”

Parental burnout

Long-term stress can lead to mental health problems. Although the disorder has yet to be officially recognized, some parents suffer from what is referred to as “parental burnout.”

According to Belgian researchers Moïra Mikolajczak and Isabelle Roskam, there are three stages of parental burnout. First comes a sense of being physically and emotionally drained—parents feel wiped out and at their wits’ end, and everything seems like a challenge. Next is emotional detachment, where they begin showing less interest in and affection toward their children. By the final stage, they have begun to feel like bad parents.

Parental burnout can come from many factors. However, the desire to be perfect parents and the tendency to set impossible goals play a major role. Oftentimes mothers and fathers will invest so much energy in being parents that they forget about the other aspects of their lives. For example, in their book on the topic, Mikolajczak and Roskam discuss how some parents put all their efforts into childcare, stimulation activities, meals, and playtime. They stop making time for themselves, neglecting their friends, interests, and relationship. Eventually, they snap.

To avoid parental burnout, it’s important to set realistic expectations, take time for yourself, and share childcare and household responsibilities with your partner. At the same time, don’t forget to enjoy quality time with your family!

Parenting stress by the numbers
According to a Quebec study conducted among parents of children aged 0 to 5 years, dealing with a buildup of responsibilities adds to the stress of being a parent.
  • Close to half of the parents surveyed said that they often or always felt as if they were running around all day to get everything done.
  • A little over a third claimed that they were often or always exhausted by dinnertime.
  • 55% never or rarely felt that they had enough free time for themselves.
  • 15% reported often or always feeling stressed about their children’s behaviour or difficulties.
Source: Mieux connaître la parentalité au Québec, Institut de la statistique du Québec, May 2016.
Naître et grandir

Source:Naître et grandir magazine, November 2017
Research and copywriting: Nathalie Vallerand
Scientific review: Dr. Nicolas Chevrier, psychologist