Families in Stress:

Parents Often Pushed to the Limit

Berlin (Germany)
Few families have a completely stress-free existence. And, while stress is common within families, sometimes the level reaches beyond the limit, resulting in "parent burnout". 

A lot of combined factors create stress within a family - some are objective factors, others could be described as subjective perceptions.

"Parents today see their role quite differently compared with parents of previous generations," said Bettina Maehler of Gelnhausen near Frankfurt. 

"It used to be that children simply had to go along with things and people didn't worry them," said Maehler, a teacher who has given parenting courses.

"Today being a parent is viewed with great expectations and there is enormous pressure for achieving perfection." 

Reality is often greyer than the colorful image of the family that is presented in public. This image includes well-rested individuals in good moods who live in clean and tidy homes, said Maehler.

Look into a child's room and the contrast is clear to see. Aside from that, many children are simply more difficult than children used to be. And they act differently around their parents. 

A true burnout in which parents breakdown psychologically and physically occurs seldom, said Maehler, but stress overload occurs in many families.

"Depending on the age of the child, there are various stress triggers," said Julia Scharnhorst, a member of the board of directors of the Berlin-based professional association for German psychologists. 

Young parents with small children are often stressed out when they don't get enough sleep at night and their baby cries a lot during the day, she said.

"Even nursing the baby at night is no fun. Then comes teething and later illness," said Maehler. This often leaves parents in a state of sleep deprivation, and these are just the usual day-to-day problems. 

"Premature babies are more common today," said Andreas Engel, director of a consulting centre for child rearing in Hof, Germany.

"But the frequency of eating disorders in children has increased as well as the number of children who cry continually." 

There are warning signs that indicate when mom or dad has reached their limit. These include when parents feel a constant restlessness and have the feeling that they simply are running from appointment to appointment, said Ulrich Gerth, director of Germany's nationwide conference for parental advice. 

Another is when parents feel they constantly have to strive to get something achieved, but it still isn't enough, said Gerth. Scharnhorst added that another warning sign is when one parent begins to feel indifferent. 

People who notice such tendencies must get back on track. A decisive step is breaking the vicious circle in which the demands become excessive and the more excessive the demands, the greater the stress, said Scharnhorst. The break one gets by going to a spa, for example, can help. 

"Parents must seek relief, possibly in ways that require them to hire a babysitter at least for a while," she said.

Getting away temporarily from the ongoing burdens of parenting is also what Maehler advises. 

"Parents must regularly do something without their children," she said. Leaving at least some unscheduled time every week for enjoying a quiet evening together, for example, is a sensible approach. It's also important to have contact with other parents and neighbors because it is doubly difficult for parents who are stressed and have no one to help them or to listen to them, said Maehler. 

"A person who spends his or her entire day with a child can feel like they are in solitary confinement," said Maehler.  


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