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Parenting can be wonderful. However, it also can be stressful, and when parents lack the resources needed to handle stressors related to parenting, they may develop parental burnout. This condition is characterized by an overwhelming exhaustion related to one’s parental role, an emotional distancing from one’s children, and a sense of parental ineffectiveness. Researchers have begun to document the antecedents of parental burnout, but little is known about its consequences. Here we investigated the impact of parental burnout on escape ideation, parental neglect, and parental violence through two cross-lagged longitudinal studies (N1=918, N2=822) that involved the completion of online surveys three times over a year. Results indicated that parental burnout strongly increases escape ideation, as well as neglectful and violent behaviors towards one’s children (aggregated Cohen’s d = 1.31, 1.25 and 1.25 respectively). These findings show that parental burnout is a serious condition that urgently requires more attention.
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Running head: PARENTAL BURNOUT
1
Parental Burnout:
What Is It and Why Does It Matter?
In press at Clinical Psychological Science
Moïra Mikolajczak1*, James J. Gross2, Isabelle Roskam1*
1 UCLouvain, Belgium, 2 Stanford University, USA.
Author Note
The first and last authors contributed equally to this article. Correspondence
concerning this article may be addressed to Moïra Mikolajczak, Department of Psychology,
UCLouvain, Place Cardinal Mercier 10, 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. Email :
moira.mikolajczak@uclouvain.be.
These studies were funded by a Special Research Fund granted to the first and last author
(FSR-2016) by UCLouvain.
Running head: PARENTAL BURNOUT
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Abstract
Parenting can be wonderful. However, it also can be stressful, and when parents lack the
resources needed to handle stressors related to parenting, they may develop parental burnout.
This condition is characterized by an overwhelming exhaustion related to one’s parental role,
an emotional distancing from one’s children, and a sense of parental ineffectiveness.
Researchers have begun to document the antecedents of parental burnout, but little is known
about its consequences. Here we investigated the impact of parental burnout on escape
ideation, parental neglect, and parental violence through two cross-lagged longitudinal studies
(N1=918, N2=822) that involved the completion of online surveys three times over a year.
Results indicated that parental burnout strongly increases escape ideation, as well as
neglectful and violent behaviors towards one’s children (aggregated Cohen’s d = 1.31, 1.25
and 1.25 respectively). These findings show that parental burnout is a serious condition that
urgently requires more attention.
Keywords: Parent, exhaustion, child, neglect, violence, maltreatment.
Running head: PARENTAL BURNOUT
3
Parental Burnout:
What Is It and Why Does It Matter?
The fact is that child rearing is a long, hard job, the rewards are not always immediately
obvious, the work is undervalued, and parents are just as human and almost as vulnerable as
their children.Benjamin Spock (1945, pp. 5)
People usually expect parenting to be a wonderful experience (Feldman & Nash
1984). This is hardly surprising given the emphasis placed on the rewards of parenthood
(Eibach & Mock 2012; Hansen, 2012), including increases in meaning in life (Nelson,
Kushlev, English, Dunn, & Lyubomirsky, 2013), positive emotions (Nelson et al., 2013), and
social integration (Nomaguchi & Milkie, 2003). However, for many, parenting is no cake
walk (Hansen, 2012; Kahneman, Krueger, Schkade, Schwarz & Stone, 2004). Indeed, it can
be one of the most taxing jobs one undertakes. From birth on, children can put their parents
under considerable stress (for reviews, see Crnic & Low, 2002; Deater-Deckard, 2008). The
mere fact of being a parent confronts one with a wide range of daily hassles (e.g., homework,
driving), acute stressors (e.g., outbursts, sibling conflicts), and even chronic stressors (e.g.,
behavioral problems, health issues). When parents chronically lack the resources needed to
handle child stressors, they are at risk of parental burnout (Mikolajczak & Roskam, 2018).
What Is Parental Burnout?
Parental burnout results from a chronic imbalance of risks over resources in the
parenting domain (Mikolajczak & Roskam, 2018). It is defined as a state of intense
exhaustion related to one’s parental role, in which one becomes emotionally detached from
one’s children and doubtful of one’s capacity to be a good parent (Roskam, Raes &
Mikolajczak, 2017). Parents feel so drained by parenting that merely thinking about their role
as parents makes them feel they have reached the end of their tether. As a result, they become
emotionally distant from their children: they become less and less involved in the relationship
Running head: PARENTAL BURNOUT
4
with them, and interactions are limited to functional/instrumental aspects at the expense of
emotional aspects. Accordingly, they do not feel they are good parents anymore and lose the
pleasure of being with their children (Hubert & Aujoulat, 2018; Roskam, Brianda &
Mikolajczak, 2018). According to the most conservative point prevalence estimates (5%;
Roskam et al., 2018), at least 3.5 million US parents are currently suffering from parental
burnout.
Crucially, parental burnout is not ordinary parental stress (Lebert-Charron, Dorard,
Boujut & Wenland, 2018; Kawamoto, Furutani, Alimardani, 2018; Roskam et al., 2017; Van
Bakkel, Van Engen & Peters, 2018). It is a prolonged response to chronic and overwhelming
parental stress (Mikolajczak & Roskam, 2018). It is not job burnout either: correlations
between the two are small to moderate (Kawamoto et al. 2018; Roskam et al., 2017; Van
Bakkel et al., 2018); one can be exhausted by one’s job and not by one’s children, and vice
versa.
To date, research on parental burnout has focused on understanding what makes
parents vulnerable to this condition. Researchers have found that parents are at greatest risk
when they (1) aim to be perfect parents (Kawamoto et al., 2018), (2) are neurotic or lack
emotion and stress management abilities (Lebert-Charron et al., 2018; LeVigouroux-Nicolas,
Scola, Raes, Mikolajczak & Roskam, 2017; Mikolajczak, Raes, Avalosse & Roskam, 2018),
(3) lack emotional or practical support from the co-parent (Lindström, Aman & Lindahl
Norberg, 2011; Mikolajczak, Raes et al., 2018) or from the social network more broadly
(Séjourné, Sanchez-Rodriguez, Leboullenger, & Callahan, 2018), (4) have poor child-rearing
practices (Mikolajczak, Raes et al., 2018), (5) have children with special needs that interfere
with family life (Gérain & Zech, 2018; Lindahl Norberg, 2007; Lindström, Aman, Lindahl
Norberg, 2010), or (6) work part-time or are stay-at-home parents (Lebert-Charron et al.,
Running head: PARENTAL BURNOUT
5
2018; Mehauden & Piraux, 2018) (see Mikolajczak & Roskam, 2018 for a review of risk and
protective factors for parental burnout and their respective weights).
What Are the Consequences of Parental Burnout?
Far less is known about the consequences of parental burnout than its antecedents. In
the work domain, the related construct of job burnout is associated with a host of negative
consequences for both the employee and the company. Job burnout impairs employees’
mental and physical health (see Shirom, Melamed, Toker, Berliner, & Shapira, 2005 for a
review), decreases most aspects of job performance (see Taris, 2006 for a meta-analysis), and
drastically increases job turnover intention (see Alarcon, 2011 for a meta-analysis).
In the parenting domain, we might expect consequences for both the parent and the
family. Cross-sectional findings suggest that parental burnout is, like job burnout, associated
with depressive symptoms, addictive behaviors, sleep disorders, and couple conflicts
(Kawamoto et al., 2018; Mikolajczak, Brianda et al., 2018, Van Bakkel et al., 2018).
Importantly, parental burnout has been found to be more strongly associated than job burnout
with three variables: escape ideation (ideas of running away or committing suicide), child
neglect, and parental violence. Parental burnout explained 4 times, 10 times, and 25 times
more variance in these variables, respectively, than job burnout (Mikolajczak, Brianda et al.,
2018). It is tempting to conclude that escape ideation, child neglect, and parental violence are
therefore consequences of parental burnout—but the direction of causation is unknown.
Reverse relations are also possible, as are third variables (i.e. parental burnout and outcomes
could all be the product of a common cause, such as neuroticism). In the absence of
experimental or cross-lagged longitudinal studies, it is impossible to determine if parental
burnout increases the outcomes more than the opposite. The goal of the present research was
to address this question.
Running head: PARENTAL BURNOUT
6
The Present Research
Relying on two cross-lagged longitudinal studies, the current research aimed to
determine whether and to what extent parental burnout predicts increases in escape ideation,
parental neglect, and parental violence. We expected parental burnout to increase escape
ideation because the tendency to flee or withdraw from stressful situations is one of the basic
responses to stress: the higher the threat, the higher the motivation to flee (Blanchard, Hynd,
Minke, Minemoto, & Blanchard, 2001). However, and contrary to burned out employees,
burned out parents cannot resign or be put on sick leave from their children. This could
prompt them to think of more extreme solutions to escape from their parenthood, such as
running away or committing suicide. We expected parental burnout to increase parental
neglect because exhausted parents may strive to save the little energy they have left
(Conservation of Resource theory; Hobfoll, 1989), and taking care of the child involves more
energy expenditure than they can afford. Because of their exhaustion and emotional
detachment, it is also likely that burned out parents lack empathy (Wilkinson, Whittington,
Perry & Eames, 2017), thereby not perceiving accurately their children’s needs. Finally, we
expected that parental burnout would increase parental violence because biologically, stress
facilitates and fuels anger (Moons, Eisenberger & Taylor, 2010), and emotional and physical
exhaustion may limit executive resources available to inhibit violent behaviors (Krabbe,
Ellbin, Nilsson, Jonsdottir & Samuelsson, 2017).
The two studies presented in this paper are cross-lagged longitudinal studies. Study 1
was conducted on a French-speaking sample with three waves 5.5 months apart. It was
specifically designed to examine the consequences of parental burnout. Study 2 was
conducted on an English-speaking sample with three waves 4.5 months apart. It was launched
at the same time as Study 1 and designed to examine the common and specific effects of
Running head: PARENTAL BURNOUT
7
parental and job burnout. In the context of the current project, we used the data from Study 2
pertaining to the consequences of parental burnout in order to test the robustness of Study 1’s
findings. Both studies were approved by the Institutional Review Board. All data are available
on Open Science Framework (https://osf.io/bvjny/).
Study 1:
Parental Burnout in French-Speaking Cultural Contexts
Participants
Participants were informed about the survey through social networks, websites,
schools, pediatricians, or word of mouth. In order to avoid (self-)selection bias, participants
were not informed that the study was about parental burnout. Instead, it was presented as a
study of “parental well-being and exhaustion.” Parents were eligible to participate only if they
had (at least) one child still living at home. They were invited to complete the survey online
on Qualtrics after giving informed consent, and told that they could withdraw at any point.
They were also assured that data would remain anonymous (participants identified themselves
via a code). Participants who completed the questionnaire (see section “Measures” below) had
the opportunity to enter a lottery with a chance of winning 300, a stay for two persons in a
hotel, or amusement park or wellness center tickets. Participants who wished to participate in
the lottery had to provide their email address. At each wave, participants could also leave
their email address if they agreed to be contacted to participate in the next wave. An
electronic procedure ensured that the email addresses were automatically disconnected from
the questionnaires and directly encoded in separated data files (one for the lottery and one for
the next wave).
At Time 1, a sample of 2,608 parents (78.8% women) completed the study. The
women’s ages ranged from 22 to 64 years (mean = 39.38; SD = 7.13); the men’s ages ranged
from 27 to 69 years (mean = 43.02; SD = 9.49). The majority came from Belgium (96.9%), a
Running head: PARENTAL BURNOUT
8
minority from other French-speaking European countries (2.3%), and the remaining 0.8%
from non-European French-speaking countries. Overall, the participants had from 1 to 7
children living at home, aged from 0 to 35 years (mean age = 8.96; SD = 6.81). The sample
was relatively representative: 14.1% of the participants were educated to secondary level,
37.6% had a first degree from university or college, 36.5% had a master’s degree, and 11.8%
had a PhD or MBA degree; 20.4% had a net monthly household income lower than 2 500,
44.4% between 2 500 and 4 000, 25.1% between 4 000 and 5 500, and 10.1% higher than
5 500.
At Time 2 (5.5 months later), 908 parents (80.6% women) completed all
questionnaires. At Time 3 (5.5 months later), 557 parents (82.8% women) completed all
questionnaires. Missingness analyses were carried out to examine the nature of drop-out (see
Analyses and Results section).
Measures
The following questionnaires were included at all measurement times. Questionnaires
were completed with “forced choice option” in Qualtrics, ensuring a dataset with no missing
values. Means, standard deviations, and reliabilities in the current sample are reported in
Table 1. Except for parental violence at Times 2 and 3, which reliability was slightly below
.70, all measures had good to excellent reliability.
Socio-demographics. Participants were asked about their age, sex, number of children
(plus the age of each child and whether s/he was still living at home), marital status, level of
education, net household income, and work arrangement.
Parental burnout. This construct was assessed with the Parental Burnout Inventory
(PBI
1
; Roskam, Raes & Mikolajczak, 2017), a 22-item questionnaire consisting of three
1
As Items 1 to 8 and 17 to 22 were adapted from the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), the copyright holder of
the MBI holds the rights for these items: Copyright © 1981 Christina Maslach & Susan E. Jackson. All rights
reserved in all media. Published by Mind Garden, Inc., www.mindgarden.com. Altered with permission of the
publisher.
Running head: PARENTAL BURNOUT
9
subscales: Emotional Exhaustion (8 items) (e.g., I feel emotionally drained by my parental
role), Emotional Distancing (8 items) (e.g., I sometimes feel as though I am taking care of my
children on autopilot; I can no longer show my children how much I love them), and Feelings
of Inefficacy (6 items) (e.g., I accomplish many worthwhile things as a parent; reverse-
scored). PBI items were rated on the same 7-point Likert scale as in the original MBI (never,
a few times a year or less, once a month or less, a few times a month, once a week, a few
times a week, every day). The global score is computed by summing the item scores after
reversing the personal accomplishment factor so that higher scores indicate greater burnout.
Escape ideation. This construct was assessed with a questionnaire created for this
purpose based on the testimonies of burned-out parents (Mikolajczak, Brianda et al., 2018).
The questionnaire comprises six items (I want to change my life, to experience something
different from being a parent; I have thoughts about leaving my family; I threaten my family
with leaving; I sometimes want to leave everything and start a new life; Sometimes I want to
go away without leaving any address; I think that my family would be happier if I were to
leave or disappear) rated on an 8-point scale (never, less than once a month, about once a
month, a few times a month, once a week, several times a week, every day, several times a
day). A global score was obtained by summing the item scores.
Parental neglect. This construct was assessed with the Parental Neglect Scale
(Mikolajczak, Brianda, Avalosse & Roskam, 2018), a 17-item questionnaire measuring
physical neglect (e.g., I don’t care about my children when I know I should (meals, hygiene,
etc.)), educational neglect (e.g., I don’t help my children when they really need it (for their
homework, to make a decision, to resolve a conflict, etc.)), and emotional neglect (e.g., I don’t
comfort my children when they are sad, frightened, or distraught). Items are rated on an 8-
point scale (never, less than once a month, about once a month, a few times a month, once a
Running head: PARENTAL BURNOUT
10
week, several times a week, every day, several times a day). A global score was obtained by
averaging the item scores.
Parental violence. Parental violence was assessed with the Parental Violence Scale
(Mikolajczak, Brianda et al., 2018), a 15-item questionnaire measuring verbal violence (e.g., I
say things to my children that I then regret (threats, insults, ridiculous nicknames, etc.)),
physical violence (e.g., I spank or slap my children), and psychological violence (e.g., I tell
my children that I will abandon them if they are not good). Items are rated on an 8-point scale
(never, less than once a month, about once a month, a few times a month, once a week,
several times a week, every day, several times a day). A global score was obtained by
averaging the item scores.
Social desirability. Given the variables investigated in this study, the short form of
the Marlowe-Crowne social desirability scale (Reynolds, 1982) was used to control for
socially desirable responding. This is composed of 12 items rated on a true-false response
scale. The items are in the form of I’m always willing to admit when I make a mistake. Over
the 12 items, seven are reversed so that the true response corresponds to high desirability. For
example, the item I sometimes feel resentful when I don’t get my way is reversed. The 0
(undesirability) – 1 (desirability) scores are summed across the 12 items.
Statistical Analyses
Preliminary analyses. We first analyzed missingness. As in most longitudinal studies,
attrition occurred due to participant dropout, inability to locate participants, or interruption of
the survey completion before the end. We examined the missing values in each measurement
occasion through logistic regression. Potential predictors of missingness at Time 1 (i.e.,
gender, age, number of children, educational level, parental burnout, escape ideation, parental
neglect, and parental violence) were entered in logistic regressions with the binary dropout in
Time 2 or in Time 3 as the dependent variable.
Running head: PARENTAL BURNOUT
11
Main analyses. In order to examine the relations between parental burnout, on the one
hand, and escape ideation, parental neglect, and parental violence on the other hand, we
performed cross-lagged panel analyses (using Stata 15) to examine the stability and the
relations between variables over time. We tested a transactional model involving bidirectional
and recursive relations among observed parental burnout, escape ideation, parental neglect,
and parental violence at the three measurement occasions, as well as autoregressive paths and
cross-sectional correlations. In order to maintain as much statistical power as possible, we
used the maximum likelihood with missing data as the method of estimation, which uses the
available data to compute the parameter estimates of a model (Acock, 2013). Skewness and
kurtosis indicated that parental burnout, escape ideation, parental neglect, and parental
violence displayed some deviations from normality. Conceptually, these deviations made
sense: observed variables were not expected to be normally distributed in the population. The
maximum-likelihood estimation used in the current study is however fairly robust even with
some violation of normality (Acock, 2013). Evaluation of the fit of the models was carried out
on the basis of inferential goodness-of-fit statistics (χ²) and three other indices: the
comparative fit index (CFI), the Tucker-Lewis Index (TLI), and the rootmean-square error of
approximation (RMSEA). Values close to or greater than .90 are desirable on the CFI and
TLI, while the RMSEA should preferably be less than or equal to .08.
Nested-model comparison was conducted in two steps. Step 1 tested the baseline
model in which parental burnout and the three possible consequences were allowed to
correlate, the autoregressive paths were drawn providing information about the relative
stability of the constructs across the three time points, and the disturbances of the measures
were allowed to correlate to provide better estimates of the autoregressive paths by
controlling for their time-specific variance (Cole & Maxwell, 2003). In Step 2, the cross-
lagged path coefficients, i.e. relating parental burnout to its possible consequences and those
Running head: PARENTAL BURNOUT
12
variables to parental burnout, were added to the baseline model and tested. The comparison
between the two models was made using the difference in the χ² statistics. Lastly, the model
was rerun including social desirability in order to see if the conclusions would hold when
social desirability was partialled out. Specifically, social desirability at Times 1, 2, and 3 were
entered in the SEM model; we controlled for autoregressive paths (i.e. social_desirability_T1
to social_desirability_T2 to social_desirability_T3), and covariations between social
desirability on the one hand and parental burnout, escape ideation, parental neglect, and
parental violence on the other hand at each of three waves.
In order to quantify the effect size of parental burnout on each outcome at each time
point, we computed bivariate correlations. Indeed, cross-lagged coefficients are not the best
indicators of effect size because they control for stability and other variables in the model.
Therefore, simple bivariate correlations give a more reliable estimate of the effect size of
parental burnout on each consequence taken individually (Hunter & Schmidt, 2004).
Results
Preliminary analyses. We found differential attrition among subgroups within the
study. In particular, participants who dropped out from Time 1 to Time 2 were slightly older
(B(1) = -.08, p<.001) and they scored slightly higher on escape ideation (B(1) = -.05, p<.05).
Also, more women (38.6%) than men (33.7%) dropped out from Time 1 to Time 2 (B(1) =
.91, p<.01). Participants who dropped out from Time 2 to Time 3 were slightly older (B(1) = -
.02, p<.05), and less educated (B(1) = .26, p<.05) (see Supplementary Table 1 for the means
and SDs of these variables separately for people who dropped out and who did not).
Differences in parental burnout between those who did and did not drop out were not found.
However, the pattern of missingness was not random. The main risk was that this would
reduce the likelihood of finding significant effect on some of the consequences, since
Running head: PARENTAL BURNOUT
13
participants who dropped out were those who scored higher. But, if some effects are found,
the pattern of missingness does not alter the interpretation of the results.
Main analyses. The two steps of nested-model comparison are detailed below. As
described below, the findings are consistent with the notion that parental burnout increases
escape ideation, parental neglect, and parental violence, more than the opposite.
The baseline model displayed barely acceptable fit to the data: χ²(40) = 393.35,
p<.001; CFI = .94; TLI = .91; RMSEA = .10 .09-.11. The high and significant
autoregressive coefficients (β between .69 and .75, p<.001) showed that parental burnout,
escape ideation, parental neglect, and parental violence were relatively stable across time. The
cross-sectional covariances showed a coherent pattern of positive associations between
parental burnout on the one hand, and the three consequences at each of the three time points
on the other. The pattern of cross-sectional relations among the three possible consequences
was also coherent.
The cross-lagged panel model (Figure 1) fitted the data better than the baseline model,
Δχ²(12) = 162.85, p<.001; χ²(28) = 230.50, p<.001; CFI = .96; TLI = .92; RMSEA = .09 .08-
.10. All 6 cross-lagged path coefficients from parental burnout to its consequences were
significant (β between .11, p<.05, and .20, p<.001). In the reverse direction, i.e. from the
consequences to parental burnout, 3 cross-lagged path coefficients were significant (although
smaller). They concerned parental neglect (β = .08, p<.01) and escape ideation (β = .09,
p<.001) at Time 1, and parental neglect (β = .07, p<.05) at Time 2.
The conclusions hold when including social desirability in the model. Social
desirability was quite stable across time (.69, p<.001, from Time 1 to Time 2; .71, p<.001,
from Time 2 to Time 3). Social desirability covaried with parental burnout at Times 1 (-.26,
p<.001), 2 (-.08, p<.05), and 3 (-.10, p<.05), with escape ideation at Time 1 (-.18, p<.001),
Running head: PARENTAL BURNOUT
14
with parental neglect at Times 1 (-.25, p<.001) and 2 (-.09, p<.01), and with parental violence
at Times 1 (-.30, p<.001), 2 (-.12, p<.001), and 3 (-.12, p<.01). As expected, higher social
desirability was associated with lower scores of parental burnout, escape ideation, parental
neglect, and parental violence.
To refine our analysis, we tested the equality of standardized coefficients using post-
estimation χ² to check if bidirectional paths were significantly different from one another. For
example, if the path coefficient relating parental neglect at Time 1 to parental burnout at Time
2 was significantly weaker than the path coefficient relating parental burnout at Time 1 to
parental neglect at Time 2, than we could assume that parental neglect was more a
consequence of parental burnout than the reverse. We used the post-estimation tools for SEM
in Stata to test standardized path coefficients. By comparing two paths with a chi-squared test,
this approach made it possible to assert that the effect of one variable on another was
significantly stronger or weaker than the effect between two other variables or between the
same variables at different timepoints. Post-estimation tests showed that parental violence was
clearly a consequence of parental burnout rather an antecedent, χ²(1) = 5.82, p<.05. The
difference did not reach significance for escape ideation. Finally, parental burnout and
parental neglect had circular effects (parental burnout increases parental neglect, which in
turn increases parental burnout, and so forth).
We also examined the overall effect size of parental burnout on escape ideation,
parental neglect, and parental violence. As shown in Table 2, parental burnout had large-size
associations with escape ideation as well as with parental neglect and parental violence at all
times.
Running head: PARENTAL BURNOUT
16
Study 2:
Parental Burnout in English-Speaking Cultural Contexts
Participants
Participants were recruited via Prolific (https://www.prolific.ac), a subject-recruitment
platform created in Cambridge, UK. Prolific connects researchers with people around the
world and is now used by most top-ranked universities because it enables fast, reliable, and
high-quality data collection. Researchers can enter their study proposal and select screening
criteria that ensure that only people with certain characteristics can participate (e.g., only
people whose mother tongue is English, who hold a job, and who have children). In order to
avoid (self-)selection bias, participants were not informed that the study was about burnout.
Instead, the study was presented as being about “fulfillment and exhaustion in professional
and family life.” Participants were eligible to participate only if they had a job and at least one
child. Participants who met the pre-screening criteria were invited via Prolific to complete the
survey online on Qualtrics anonymously (matching across times was done using prolific ID).
Participants who completed the questionnaire were paid £3 for their participation. The same
amount was paid at each wave. Because payment on Prolific depends on study length,
shortened (3-item) measures of the consequences were used. Since participants were paid for
their participation, we introduced three attentional check items. Only participants who
correctly answered all three items were considered for the analyses.
At Time 1, a sample of 822 English-speaking parents (59.2% women) completed the
study. The women’s ages ranged from 20 to 63 years (mean age = 38.68; SD = 8.44), and the
men’s ages ranged from 21 to 62 years (mean age = 38.02; SD = 7.20). The majority came
from the UK (55.7%), a minority from other English-speaking countries (31.8%) and the
remaining 12.5% from other countries. Overall, the participants had from 1 to 6 children. The
Running head: PARENTAL BURNOUT
17
sample was relatively representative: 38.3% of the participants were educated to secondary
level, 43.6% had a first degree from university or college, 15.2% had a master’s degree, and
2.9% had a PhD or MBA degree. At Time 2 (4.5 months later), 530 parents (57.4% women)
completed all questionnaires. At Time 3 (another 4.5 months later, i.e., 9 months after Time
1), 494 parents (56% women) completed all questionnaires. Missingness analyses were
carried out to examine the nature of drop-out (see Analyses and Results section).
Measures. The following were included at all measurement times, in addition to
socio-demographic questions. Questionnaires were completed with “forced choice option” in
Qualtrics, ensuring a dataset with no missing values. Means, standard deviations, and
reliabilities are reported in Table 1. All measures had good to excellent reliability.
Parental burnout was assessed with the Parental Burnout Inventory (PBI
2
; Roskam,
Raes & Mikolajczak, 2017) described in Study 1.
Escape ideation was assessed with the following three items: I want to give up
everything and leave without leaving any address; I want to leave everything and start a new
life; I have suicidal thoughts). A global score was obtained by summing the items.
Parental neglect was measured using a shortened 3-item version of the Parental
Neglect Scale (Mikolajczak, Brianda et al., 2018) used in Study 1. The items cover physical
neglect (I don’t care about my children when I know I should (meals, hygiene, etc.)),
educational neglect (I don’t help my children when they really need it (for their homework, to
make a decision, to resolve a conflict, etc.) and emotional neglect (I don’t comfort my
children when they are sad, frightened, or distraught). A global score was obtained by
summing the items.
2
As Items 1 to 8 and 17 to 22 were adapted from the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), the copyright holder of
the MBI holds the rights for these items: Copyright © 1981 Christina Maslach & Susan E. Jackson. All rights
reserved in all media. Published by Mind Garden, Inc., www.mindgarden.com. Altered with permission of the
publisher.
Running head: PARENTAL BURNOUT
18
Parental violence was assessed with a shortened 3-item version of the Parental
Violence Scale (Mikolajczak, Brianda et al., 2018) used in Study 1. The items cover verbal
violence (I say things to my children that I then regret (threats, insults, ridiculous nicknames,
etc.)), physical violence (I spank or slap my children), and psychological violence (I tell my
children that I will abandon them if they are not good). A global score was obtained by
summing the items.
Statistical Analyses
Preliminary and main statistical analyses were conducted as in Study 1.
Results
Preliminary analyses. We found differential attrition among subgroups within the
study. In particular, participants who dropped out from Time 1 to Time 2 were slightly
younger (B(1) = .05, p<.001) and they scored higher on parental neglect (B(1) = -.35,
p<.001). Also, the participants who dropped from Time 2 to Time 3 were slightly younger
(B(1) = .04, p<.001), and had more children (B(1) = -.15, p<.05) (see Supplementary Table 1
for the means and SDs of these variables separately for people who dropped out and who did
not). In addition, more women (23.5%) than men (16.7%) dropped out from Time 1 to Time 2
(B(1) = .33, p<.05). Differences in parental burnout between those who did and did not drop
out were not found. The pattern of missingness was not random. The main risk was that this
would reduce the likelihood of finding significant effect on some of the consequences, since
participants who dropped out were those who scored higher. But, if significant effects were
found, the pattern of missingness would not alter the interpretation of the results.
Main analyses. The two steps of nested-model comparison are detailed below. As in
Study 1, the findings are consistent with the notion that parental burnout increases escape
ideation, parental neglect, and parental violence, more than the opposite.
Running head: PARENTAL BURNOUT
19
The baseline model displayed barely acceptable fit to the data: χ²(40) = 317.77,
p<.001; CFI = .91; TLI = .87; RMSEA = .09 .08-.10. The cross-lagged panel model (Figure
2) fitted the data better than the baseline model, Δχ²(12) = 128.31, p<.001; χ²(78) = 189.46,
p<.001; CFI = .95; TLI = .89; RMSEA = .08 .07-.09.
We also examined the overall effect-size of parental burnout on escape ideation,
parental neglect, and parental violence. As shown in Table 2, parental burnout had large
associations with escape ideation as well as with parental neglect and parental violence at all
times.
Running head: PARENTAL BURNOUT
21
General Discussion
When Dickens wrote that “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” (1859, p.
1), he could have been describing parenting. Parenting can be a wonderful, meaningful,
rewarding experience when parents have enough resources to deal with parenting stress
(Nelson et al., 2013). But, as shown in the current studies, when stressors outstrip resources,
there can be very damaging consequences, not only for the parent (in terms of escape
ideation, involving thoughts of running away or committing suicide), but also for the children
(in terms of neglect and violence). Consequences for the children are especially worrying, not
only because parental burnout is a highly prevalent condition that appears to have a large
effect on these important outcomes (which is not so surprising, considering that parenting is
the source of the parent’s suffering), but also because both neglect and violence have long-
term harmful effects for the affected children (for a meta-analysis, see Norman, Byambaa, De,
Butchart, Scott & Vos, 2012).
Implications for Science and Practice
The present findings are of both scientific and practical relevance. At the scientific
level, our results emphasize the importance of conceptually distinguishing between parental
and job burnout: while job burnout has a trivial impact on child neglect and violence (see
Mikolajczak, Brianda et al., 2018), parental burnout has a large impact on these outcomes.
Our findings also constitute a call to action for researchers in clinical psychology: parental
burnout needs urgent attention. Research is in its infancy and more studies are needed about
the etiological processes of parental burnout at the micro, meso, and macro-levels (and the
relations between these) in order to develop efficient interventions to prevent and treat
parental burnout. Beyond their contribution to clinical psychological science, our results are
of scientific interest for several related fields: (i) developmental psychopathology, as this
research suggests that parental burnout is most likely an important mediator (and perhaps
Running head: PARENTAL BURNOUT
22
moderator) of the effect of identified risk factors on child neglect and violence (Stith et al.,
2009), (ii) clinical neuroscience, as our findings emphasize the need and relevance of studies
that seek to uncover the brain changes that tie exhaustion to violence (e.g., Heatherton &
Wagner 2011), (iii) social work, which will have to study the most appropriate way to support
families when child abuse comes from parental exhaustion, and which should also examine
more deeply the issue of missing parents, as the current result suggest that some parents may
abandon their legal obligations towards their children due to extreme exhaustion, and finally
(iv) public health, which should study how some campaigns in the parenting domain
contribute to the exhaustion of today's parents, creating a cascade of downstream negative
consequences for parents and their children (e.g., Coyne, McDaniel & Stockdale, 2017).
At the practical level, our findings show that although folk theories of parenthood
render severe parenting-related distress taboo (Hansen, 2012), the veil must be lifted on
parental burnout. Sensitization campaigns would allow burned out parents to seek help (and
be taken care of) earlier on, thereby reducing the risk or frequency of deleterious
consequences for both parents and children. Besides parents, professionals of health and
child services should be informed as well. This is essential to allow them to accurately
diagnose parental burnout and to provide parents with the most appropriate care. Beyond
intervention, prevention of parental burnout must be intensified too. This can be done by
reinforcing the use of existing “parenting hotlines” but also by providing parents with more
resources to do their parenting job. On a more general note, our findings suggest that
clinicians working with suffering children might want to consider more systematically the
suffering parent behind the suffering child. The former can impact the latter, so by reducing
parents’ suffering, clinicians can help reduce that of their children.
Running head: PARENTAL BURNOUT
23
Limitations and Directions for Future Research
The current findings are robust (large effect-sizes, large sample sizes, replicated in two
samples from different cultural contexts), but several limitations bear mention.
A first limitation is related to the drop-out rate across time. As in most longitudinal
studies, only a fraction of participants (21% in Study 1, 60% in Study 2) completed the study
at all times. Additional studies with higher levels of participant retention are needed.
A second limitation is the very small proportion of fathers in Study 1 (only 17% at
Time 3). The gender distribution was more balanced in Study 2 (44% fathers at Time 3) and
the results were consistent with those of Study 1. However, the sample size was not sufficient
to test the invariance of the model across genders. Future studies that delve more deeply into
possible gender differences in parental burnout outcomes are therefore needed.
A third limitation is that these studies relied on self-reported outcomes. Three factors
lead us to feel confident in our findings: (1) the relation between parental burnout and
consequences hold when controlling for social desirability; (2) qualitative interviews of
burned out parents confirm suicidal and family evasion ideation (Hubert & Aujoulat, 2018),
and (3) qualitative interviews of children of burned out parents confirm parents’ reports of
child neglect and violence (du Pouget de Nadaillac, 2018). However, one research direction is
to extend the present research by using objectively assessed outcome measures. It is difficult
for the variables investigated here (because only a fraction of neglectful and violent behaviors
is reported to the police) but other consequences are more suitable for objective study.
A fourth limitation is that these studies did not cover the whole range of possible
consequences of parental burnout. Parental burnout likely has many other consequences
besides those investigated here. We focused here on the ones that appear to differ most from
job burnout. Future studies will be needed to examine other possible consequences of parental
burnout for the parent (e.g., health deterioration), for the couple (e.g., divorce), and for the
Running head: PARENTAL BURNOUT
24
children (e.g., educational difficulties). However, based on the present findings, it is already
clear that parental burnout is a serious condition that deserves increased attention.
Running head: PARENTAL BURNOUT
25
Author Contributions
M.M. and I.R. developed the study concept and the study design. M.M. collected the data.
I.R. performed the data analysis and interpretation. J.G outlined the article, M.M and I.R.
drafted the manuscript, and J.G. provided critical revisions. All authors approved the final
version of the manuscript for submission.
Open Practices Statement
Neither of the experiments reported in this article was formally preregistered. However, the
data have been made available on a permanent third-party archive: Open Science Framework.
The two databases are available at https://osf.io/bvjny/
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no conflicts of interest with respect to the authorship or the publication
of this article.
Protection of Research Participants
The two studies reported here were approved by the Institutional Review Board and were
carried out in accordance with the provisions of the World Medical Association Declaration
of Helsinki.
Running head: PARENTAL BURNOUT
26
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31
Table 1.
Means, Standard Deviations, and Reliabilities (Cronbach’s alpha) of the Variables
Time 1
Time 2
Time 3
M
SD
α
M
SD
α
M
SD
α
Study 1
Parental burnout
33.58
22.26
.94
32.94
22.34
.94
31.63
22.23
.95
Escape ideation
9.72
4.34
.82
8.47
4.17
.84
8.50
3.88
.84
Parental neglect
1.63
.51
.79
1.60
.52
.81
1.64
.57
.83
Parental violence
1.50
.44
.78
1.49
.44
.79
1.50
.45
.80
Study 2
Parental burnout
29.43
21.78
.93
27.15
19.80
.92
29.96
20.44
.93
Escape ideation
1.55
1.09
.82
1.56
1.02
.79
1.54
1.09
.85
Parental neglect
1.43
.98
.82
1.28
.64
.70
1.30
.77
.83
Parental violence
1.46
.88
.74
1.34
.62
.61
1.32
.67
.68
Running head: PARENTAL BURNOUT
32
Table 2.
Bivariate Correlations between Parental Burnout and its Consequences at Each Time Point
Parental burnout
with…
Study
Time 1
Time 2
Time 3
Aggregated
effect size a
Escape ideation
Study 1
.54***
.55***
.55***
.55
Study 2
.57***
.48***
.51***
Parental neglect
Study 1
.57***
.58***
.63***
.53
Study 2
.53***
.49***
.49***
Parental violence
Study 1
.56***
.57***
.60***
.53
Study 2
.55***
.42***
.44***
Note. a To take into account the dependence between measures within studies, effect sizes
were first aggregated across time points and then across studies. ***p < 0.001
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This study aimed to investigate the maternal sense of competence and maternal burnout in Italian mothers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The sample was composed of 278 mothers of children/adolescents aged 4 to 17 years old. Participants were recruited after the end of the first spring total Italian lockdown (June–October 2020) through online advertisements on websites and social media. We hypothesized a model in which a specific personality trait, such as neuroticism, affected maternal competence by the mediating role of maternal burnout. Results showed that neuroticism was directly and negatively predictive of perception of maternal competence, and it was negatively associated with maternal burnout, specifically specific antecedents that were strictly related to parental burnout. ANOVA results highlighted that the maternal level of education affected maternal competence in terms of satisfaction. In contrast, the working regimen during the first lockdown for COVID-19 affected maternal competence in terms of efficacy. Maternal burnout was affected by atypical child development in terms of both common (job burnout, stress management abilities) and specific (parental burnout) antecedents. COVID-19 strongly increased the risk of maternal burnout, resulting in mothers having a poor perception of their own competency. This is particularly the case in the presence of a neurotic personality.
... Self-compassion is usually seen as having a compassionate, accepting, and thoughtful response towards oneself when presented with personal inadequacies and problems (Neff, 2011). Parental negative emotions impact parenting practices and children's socioemotional functioning, which can be mitigated by effective emotion control (Mikolajczak et al., 2019). Based on the Self-Determination theory (SDT), individuals may suffer emotionally in circumstances that lack autonomy support since they may perceive a loss of desire, determination, and choice (Ryan & Deci, 2020). ...
The present study examines the mediating role of parental burnout in the relationship between students' behavior problems and academic outcomes and whether this mediating process is moderated by parents' self-compassion (PSC). This study was designed according to a cross-sectional study model, and includes 821 Vietnamese primary students (Mage = 9.98, SD = 0.889) completing behavior problems questionnaires. The parents completed parental burnout and the PSC questionnaires. The school office reported academic outcomes. Main findings include: (1) Student's behavior problems have a direct negative influence on academic outcomes; (2) the mediating role of parental burnout was significant; (3) the moderating role of PSC was also significant. This study suggests that students' behavior problems increase parental burnout, reducing academic outcomes. Next, higher self-compassion protected parents from the negative effect of children's behavior problems. The results of this study are meaningful for developing interventions, which help improve parents' mental health and children's positive outcomes.
... Unfortunately, the sample size was small (nine fathers and mothers each), they did not report accuracies and there was no control task. It is, therefore, unclear if the slower responses were specific to FER: parenthood is often associated with more stress and less sleep, sometimes leading to parental burnout (Mikolajczak et al., 2019). This could lead to a general increase in response times on any task. ...
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Parental burnout is a specific syndrome resulting from enduring exposure to chronic parenting stress. It encompasses three dimensions: an overwhelming exhaustion related to one’s parental role, an emotional distancing with one’s children and a sense of ineffectiveness in one’s parental role. This study aims to facilitate further identification of antecedents/risk factors for parental burnout in order to inform prevention and intervention practices. In a sample of 1723 french-speaking parents, we examined the relationship between parental burnout and 38 factors belonging to five categories: sociodemographics, particularities of the child, stable traits of the parent, parenting and family-functioning. In 862 parents, we first examined how far these theoretically relevant risk factors correlate with burnout. We then examined their relative weight in predicting burnout and the amount of total explained variance. We kept only the significant factors to draw a preliminary model of risk factors for burnout and tested this model on another sample of 861 parents. The results suggested that parental burnout is a multi-determined syndrome mainly predicted by three sets of factors: parent’s stable traits, parenting and family-functioning.
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Parental burnout is a specific syndrome resulting from enduring exposure to chronic parenting stress. It encompasses three dimensions: an overwhelming exhaustion related to one's parental role, an emotional distancing from one's children and a sense of ineffectiveness in one's parental role. This study aims to facilitate further identification of the consequences of parental burnout for the parents themselves, their spouses and their child(ren). In a sample of 1551 parents, we examined the relationship between parental burnout and seven possible consequences: escapism and suicidal thoughts, addictions, sleep disorders, marital conflicts, a partner estrangement mindset, and neglect and violence towards one's child(ren). We examined (1) to what extent parental and job burnout related to each of these possible consequences and (2) whether parental burnout is specifically related to neglectful and violent behaviour towards one's child(ren). The results suggest that parental burnout has a statistically similar effect to job burnout on addictions and sleep problems, a stronger effect on couples' conflicts and partner estrangement mindset and a specific effect on child-related outcomes (neglect and violence) and escape and suicidal ideation. These results emphasize the importance of accurately diagnosing this syndrome.
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