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Let's talk about parent care
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While stress is common within families, sometimes the limits are breached and the result is "parent burnout". Photos courtesy of Quanjing


Few families have a stress-free existence but sometimes the level is over the top and results 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 roles quite differently compared with parents of previous generations," says 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," says 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."


The reality is often grayer than the colorful image of the family that is presented in public. This image includes well-rested individuals in a good mood who live in clean and tidy homes, Maehler says.


Look into most children's rooms 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 break down psychologically and physically rarely occurs, Maehler says, but stress overload occurs in many families.


"Depending on the age of the child, there are various stress triggers," says 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.


"Even nursing the baby at night is no fun. Then comes teething and later illness," Maehler says. 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," says Andreas Engel, director of a consulting center for child rearing in Hof, Germany. "And 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 they are simply running from appointment to appointment, says 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, says Gerth. Scharnhorst, adding 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, Scharnhorst says. 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 says.


Maehler advises getting away temporarily from the burdens of parenting.


"Parents must regularly do something without their children," she says.


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.


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


(China Daily via DPA January 23, 2008)


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