Self-care can't fix parental burnout, but redefining motherhood can

Parents need help, and we need to take back the definition of what makes a "good" parent.

Self-care can't fix parental burnout, but redefining motherhood can

Burnout is back in the news this week with CNN Business declaring workplace "burnout is a big deal" and other outlets, including Vox, Refinery 29 and Forbes reporting on how to combat employee burnout.

We have said it before here at Motherly: Burnout is real. That's not news to us and it shouldn't be news to anyone that it is hurting parents and consequently, their children. While much of the conversation about burnout is around workplace stress, new research published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science explains the very real and serious repercussions of parental burnout at home.

This research is important because it is time society recognizes that you don't have to be engaged in paid work to be burnt out. The unpaid work of parenting can take just as much of a toll as workplace stress and ignoring this hurts children.


Earlier this year the World Health Organization recognized burnout as "a syndrome... resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed," and the new research suggests that parental burnout isn't being successfully managed either. It's good that so many articles are being written about recognizing and reducing workplace stress, but until better policies are written to support parents, the impact of burnout is going to trickle down to the next generation.

Parents need help, and we need to take back the definition of what makes a "good" parent.

According to the new study, which saw some 2,000 parents (mostly French-speaking adults in Belgium, and then a second group of English-speaking parents in the UK) complete online surveys, parental burnout can lead to parental neglect and violence, and escape ideation. Parental burnout and neglect seem to have a circular relationship in which burnout leads to neglect which leads to further burnout. This makes parents feel worse and even more burnt out and traps them in a horrible cycle.

The researchers noted the irony in that by trying to be perfect parents, parents become the opposite, and people who so desperately longed for motherhood end up daydreaming about running from it.

"In the current cultural context, there is a lot of pressure on parents," lead researcher Moïra Mikolajczak explains in a release. "But being a perfect parent is impossible and attempting to be one can lead to exhaustion. Our research suggests that whatever allows parents to recharge their batteries, to avoid exhaustion, is good for children." Mikolajczak says "parents need to know that self-care is good for the child and that when they feel severely exhausted, they should seek help."

Mikolajczak is right, but as Motherly's Digital Education Editor, Diana Spalding, previously wrote, "self-care is not enough" to fix parental burnout.

Today's parents are not burnt out because they aren't getting enough bubble baths.

They're burning out because no human can live up to the expectations we are putting on ourselves.

In the age of continuous parenting, when parents are spending more time with their children than previous generations did, parents are also expected to pretend as if they don't have children when they get to work in the morning and live up to an impossible standard of parenting in which life looks like a Pinterest board, every snack is organic and no one ever forgets their sunscreen.

If we want to address parental burnout we have to listen to a generation of mothers who are telling us, through Motherly's second annual State of Motherhood survey, that they don't think society understands or supports them. On a personal level, we need to give ourselves permission to pack a non-organic lunch box and give a fellow parent our sunscreen if they forgot theirs.

Society needs to take proactive steps to prevent parental burnout instead of expecting exhausted mothers to advocate for themselves and commit to self-care when they are already drowning in care work. And we need to let go of the myth of the multitasking super mom. No one can do it all, mama. Give yourself permission to stop trying.

We hope all the recent headlines about burnout lead to better support for parents, but until that day comes we support mothers in doing the following if they feel burnt out:

Make an appointment: If you are able to see a doctor or a therapist take the time to make an appointment for yourself and be honest with the professionals about how burnt out you are feeling.

Delegate: If you have a partner, let them know you are struggling and ask them to take something off your plate. If you have the option of securing childcare, find someone to relieve you of your responsibilities even for just a few hours a week. Use this time to do something that makes you happy or simply to sleep.

Drop some balls: It is simply not possible to do everything and if you are burning out it is time to stop doing something. Give yourself permission to bring store bought cupcakes to the school bake sale or to not raise your hand when someone asks for a few volunteers. Give yourself permission to say no to things that stress you out.

If you have been feeling burnt out, know this: You are a good mother. Feeling overwhelmed doesn't mean that you are necessarily going to neglect or be violent with your children. But the research does show a link between burnout and these outcomes. It is not too late to ask for help.

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These are the best bath time products you can get for under $20

These budget-friendly products really make a splash.

With babies and toddlers, bath time is about so much more than washing off: It's an opportunity for fun, sensory play and sweet bonding moments—with the added benefit of a cuddly, clean baby afterward.

Because bathing your baby is part business, part playtime, you're going to want products that can help with both of those activities. After countless bath times, here are the products that our editors think really make a splash. (Better yet, each item is less than $20!)

Comforts Bath Wash & Shampoo

Comforts Baby Wash & Shampoo

Made with oat extract, this bath wash and shampoo combo is designed to leave delicate skin cleansed and nourished. You and your baby will both appreciate the tear-free formula—so you can really focus on the bath time fun.

Munckin Soft Spot Bath Mat

Munchkin slip mat

When your little one is splish-splashing in the bath, help keep them from also sliding around with a soft, anti-slip bath mat. With strong suction cups to keep it in place and extra cushion to make bath time even more comfortable for your little one, this is an essential in our books.

Comforts Baby Lotion

Comforts baby lotion

For most of us, the bath time ritual continues when your baby is out of the tub when you want to moisturize their freshly cleaned skin. We look for lotions that are hypoallergenic, nourishing and designed to protect their skin.

The First Years Stack Up Cups

First year stack cups

When it comes to bath toys, nothing beats the classic set of stackable cups: Sort them by size, practice pouring water, pile them high—your little one will have fun with these every single bath time.

Comforts Baby Oil

Comforts baby oil

For dry skin that needs a little extra TLC, our team loves Comforts' fast-absorbing baby oil aloe vera and vitamin E. Pro tip: When applied right after drying off your baby, the absorption is even more effective.

KidCo Bath Toy Organizer

KidCo Bath Organizer

Between bathing supplies, wash rags, toys and more, the tub sure can get crowded in a hurry. We like that this organizer gives your little one space to play and bathe while still keeping everything you need within reach.

Another great tip? Shopping the Comforts line on to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices—and follow along on social media to see product releases and news at @comfortsforbaby.

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.


Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!


Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.


Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.


Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.


Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.


Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.


Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.


Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.


Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.


Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.


Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.


Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.


Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.


We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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