While caring for one’s offspring, it is just as important to look after one’s well-being, say health experts.
In Singapore, the constant fast-paced, high-achieving nature of society fosters unnecessary stress for both parents and their children.
These high-stress levels can cause work or marriages to suffer. In the worst case, some parents may even end up emotionally distancing themselves from their children.
This is a sign of parental burnout, a syndrome that three in 20, or up to 14 per cent of parents, are at risk of, according to a Belgian study last year.
Emotional and physical exhaustion, coupled with a feeling of incompetency are warning signs of parental burnout.
“Parental burnout is not an entity commonly discussed or recognised. It’s only in the last few years that research has emerged from Europe to characterise this syndrome,” said Dr Julian Hong of DTAP Clinic.
“Today’s parents carry varied responsibilities, each competing for their time and energy.”
Decades ago, parents likely had it easier and simply made sure their kids were fed, safe and not causing trouble, said Ms Cheryl Ong, a senior psychologist in the child development unit at National University Hospital.
Given the extensive research on early childhood development and its correlation with adulthood outcomes, parents are also tasked with the additional responsibility of caring for their emotional health on top of their physical health, she added.
Ms Ong also pointed out that parents often have to navigate through conflicting theories about what the “best” practices are and, often, these theories do not align with reality.
“Furthermore, in today’s dual-income, multi-generational households, some parents face the stress of dealing with conflicting parenting values between the couple and their grandparents who would vocalise how they have done things differently.” If a child has an easy temperament and turns out “well”, parents may still be able to cope with these stressors, she said.
“But in cases where children have negative temperaments and face difficulties, and coupled with unexpected life challenges, the stress can be overwhelming.”
Additionally, some parents might feel frustrated as they try to balance parenting, family responsibilities and outside commitments such as friends and work.
Dr Chua Siew Eng, a specialist in psychiatry and consultant at Raffles Counselling Centre, said “some parents feel torn between the child and other commitments and this can lead to an increase in stress as well”.
SANDWICH GENERATION CAN EXPERIENCE BURNOUTS TOO
Today’s parents may belong to the “sandwich generation”, as they have to care for young children as well as ageing parents, Dr Chua said.
There are emerging studies on the “sandwich generation” that highlight multiple significant changes relevant to Singapore and other countries, she pointed out.
These changes show the effects of a rapidly greying society, rising costs of living and healthcare, reduced fertility rates, older first-time parenthood, increasing divorce rates and single parenthood, and children remaining in their “nests” for an extended period before reaching independence.
This adds to the caregivers’ emotional load which can increase the risk of anxiety and depression, which are top contributors to the global disease burden, said Dr Chua.
The main stressors are usually related to the child (be it about their health, peer integration or studies), their marriage or work, caring for ageing elders, and even the challenge of balancing all these priorities.
HIGHER STRESS MEANS HIGHER CHANCE OF GETTING BURNOUT
On the other hand, even for parents whose kids are well, they face tremendous stress at every stage of their children’s life.
According to the information from Raffles Medical Group, research has established an association between parenting stress and child behavioural problems. This highlights the importance of including parenting stress as part of routine care and behavioural intervention programmes.
All in all, the advice given to parents is to priortise self-care as it is one of the most beneficial actions they can do for their children.