Among the many buzzwords that dominated the headlines throughout the pandemic (Contact tracing! Social distance! Mask mandates!), there was one phrase in particular that really hit a nerve among those of us with kids: parental burnout. The parental burnout crisis has reached a tipping point, Vox proclaimed in December of 2020 and Parental burnout: how juggling kids and work in a global pandemic brought us to the brink, The Guardian wrote in 2021, and so on and so on.
Indeed, the exasperation and exhaustion that many parents felt was widely reported. But ask any mom and they’ll tell you—we were running on empty long before Covid knocked on our doors. This didn’t just happen overnight and—spoiler alert—it’s not our fault.
“I’ve always felt a level of parental burnout, both pre and post pandemic,” says Diana, a Texas mom-of-three. “How can a mother, who is needed 24/7 not feel this at some point? I actually felt a sense of relief in my parental burnout load during the height of the pandemic because my spouse, who typically works long hours at an office, was able to be home with me to help co-parent.
It’s true that the pandemic added multiple stressors to family life (dear God, please let us never return to homeschooling!), but the flipside was that it gave others—from work colleagues on Zoom to secondary caregivers—a glimpse into just how challenging raising tiny humans can be. “Oh wow,” the world seemed to say collectively. “Y’all have a lot to deal with.”