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Study: Finnish parents suffer from burnout

Living in a society centred on individuals and not communities puts parents at risk for exhaustion, researchers say.

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When parents get burnt out, they have a difficult time enjoying their children, according to scientists. Image: Katja Halinen / Yle
Yle News

A scientific investigation of parental burnout shows Finnish parents to be the seventh-most burnt out parents among those surveyed in 42 countries by scientists, part of an international research consortium known as BParent.

Jyväskylä University professor Kaisa Aunola, who headed Finland's portion of the study, said Finland’s high burnout ranking on the list was surprising as the country is seen as offering a wide range of services for families.

"Finland is a welfare state after all and we are better off in a lot of ways than many other countries, yet we’re near the top for burnout," Aunola said.

Scientists say symptoms of parental burnout include exhaustion from one's parental role, loss of pleasure from parenting and emotional distancing from one's children.

Why are parents so tired?

Parents in Poland, Belgium, Switzerland, Egypt, Canada and the United States reported feeling the most drained, while those in Thailand and Cuba were the least burdened by their parental roles.

Researchers assessed parental burnout by assigning points to parents' responses on a questionnaire. This method resulted in a 33-point difference between parents in Poland and Thailand, for instance.

Scientists attributed cultural values as the main factor explaining burnout variance among parents in different countries. That said, fatigue was less frequent among parents raising children in community-driven cultures. Exhaustion was more acute in individualistic societies, with researchers saying individualistic cultural norms contributed more to burnout than socio-economic factors.

It takes a village

The role of individualism helps explain Finland’s high burnout ranking, according to Aunola.

"Countries with individual-centred mindsets generally believe the individual is responsible for caring for their families, but more community-driven cultures have a tendency to work together and share responsibility. Perhaps there's more of an 'it takes a village' spirit," Aunola explained.

Finland and Sweden are generally considered to be quite similar, which is why scientists were stumped that Swedish parents ranked far lower on the burnout list, coming in 21st.

"One element possibly contributing to this result is the higher proportion of dads using their parental leaves in Sweden compared to Finland," said Tampere University adjunct professor Matilda Sorkkila, who compiled the study's Finnish section with Aunola.

Parenting has long been shown to be a both complex and stressful activity and important sociological changes in recent decades have further increased the pressure on parents, according to the parental burnout research programme, BParent.

Unhealthy perfectionism

Young mothers were most at risk of developing burnout, according to researchers. Parental exhaustion increases in step with the more and younger children one has, the study found.

Parents with perfectionist inclinations were also more likely to suffer.

"Striving for perfectionism and setting high demands for oneself can lead to burnout, and this has been observed across cultures rooted in individualism," Aunola explained.

In Finland, parents said financial worries contributed to their exhaustion.

"Many parents outfit their children with designer clothes and fancy phones and can afford to put them in expensive hobbies. This can increase pressure among parents who can’t provide these things for their kids," Aunola said.

More than 17,000 parents from 42 countries took part in the Investigation of Parental Burnout study. Participants included some 12,000 mothers and 5,000 fathers between 2018 and 2019.

More than 1,700 Finnish parents took part in the study.

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