Parental Burnout Affects Western Parents The Most

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Being a parent is said to be the hardest job in the world, and it’s a fact. Raising a child takes a lot of time, effort, patience, resources, and everything you have. Raising tiny humans is never easy, from late-night feedings and tantrums to breakdowns and helping kids with their homework. And it’s particularly challenging if you’re constantly prioritizing the needs of your small one ahead of your own — which many parents do.

Just like any job in the world, parenting can also lead to stress. The high levels of stress from parenting can then lead to what is known as parental burnout, a condition of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion one feels from the chronic stress of parenting. Recent work suggests that parental burnout can be very damaging and what makes it a worrying condition is the gravity of its consequences and its prevalence.

However, it is still unknown whether parental burnout is more or less common in other parts of the world and, if so, whether culture plays a role in explaining these variations. The researchers of the study published in the journal Affective Science evaluated parents from 42 nations to answer these questions. They sought to determine the prevalence and average level of parental burnout in each nation and evaluate the relationship between that stress and the six cultural values identified by Hofstede. As a result, they made some intriguing discoveries that we will address in this article.

Examining Parental Burnout Around the Globe

The current pandemic has hard-hit parents. Many people now work from home. Many places saw the closure or partial remoteness of schools. Grandparents who are at a high risk of developing COVID-19 are segregated. Because of this, many parents now struggle to find adequate social assistance.

However, research evaluating parental burnout, including 17,409 parents from 42 countries, reveals that this tiredness was widespread long before the pandemic, especially among Western nations.

Parents who participated in the 2021 study provided demographic information, including the number and ages of children in the home, the number of hours a day spent with children, the number of adult male or female caregivers in the home, and their employment status. They also answered a 23-question parental burnout evaluation, ranging from zero for never to six for daily. They asked them to rate the frequency of feelings like “I feel completely drained down by my position as a parent” and “I do not enjoy being with my children.” If a parent’s overall survey score—which was determined by adding all of their answers—was 92 or higher, they were considered burned out. The researchers compared those results to a nation’s individuality score, calculated by the data analytics company Hofstede Insights.

Based on the findings, the researchers derived that parental burnout is linearly associated with individualism and that its prevalence differs worldwide. According to the data, culture significantly influences parental burnout, and parents in individualistic nations appear to be particularly vulnerable.

The research team discovered a correlation between higher individualism scores and more exhausted parents. For instance, in the United States, which received a score of 91 for individualism, 8% of parents reported being burned out. Less than 2% of parents were burned out in nations with individualism scores of 20 or lower, such as Pakistan, Ecuador, and China.  

It is yet unknown how individuality and parental exhaustion are related. The recent findings, however, are consistent with sociologists’ findings that over the past 50 years, parenting norms in Euro-American nations, even the most individualistic ones, have become more demanding.

Parents’ standards have changed dramatically over the past 50 years, to the point where parents who were seen as good and attentive parents 50 years ago are today, at best, seen as inattentive.

Numerous academics assert that the Euro-American nations have entered the era of “intense motherhood/parenting,” which Hays defined as a child-centered, expert-guided, emotionally draining, labor-intensive, and financially expensive approach to parenting.

The researchers also stated that the much lower prevalence of parental burnout in collectivistic countries—even when socioeconomic inequalities and other factors are controlled—suggests that strengthening the social network of mutual aid and solidarity around families might help decrease the prevalence of parental burnout in individualistic countries.

However, the researchers also pointed out that this is not the only possible pathway. Further research is required to understand why parents in more individualistic countries are more likely to experience parental burnout than parents in less individualistic nations. These studies will offer much-needed prevention or therapy options that can be customized for a particular person and cultural environment.

Journal Reference

Roskam, I., Aguiar, J., Akgun, E., Arikan, G., Artavia, M., Avalosse, H., Aunola, K., Bader, M., Bahati, C., Barham, E. J., Besson, E., Beyers, W., Boujut, E., Brianda, M. E., Brytek-Matera, A., Carbonneau, N., César, F., Chen, B.-B., Dorard, G., … Mikolajczak, M. (2021). Parental burnout around the globe: A 42-country study. Affective Science, 2(1), 58–79. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42761-020-00028-4

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