A high level of stress in the family can lead to parental exhaustion, which has serious consequences for both parents and children, a new study based on 42 countries has discovered.
The study's findings are categorical: rich, individualistic Western countries, which on average have few children, are the most affected by the phenomenon.
Culture, rather than socio-economic and demographic differences between countries, plays a predominant role in parental burnout.
“Prevalence varies greatly from one culture and country to another,” Isabelle Roskam of UCLouvain, one of the study's co-ordinators, explains.
"We could have hypothesised that it would be the same everywhere, but that the reasons for exhaustion would be different," says Prof Roskam, but this was found not to be the case.
Published in Affective Science, the study shows that the values of individualism in Western countries can subject parents to higher levels of stress.
“Our individualistic countries cultivate a cult of performance and perfectionism,” says Prof Roskam, a parental burnout specialist.
"Parenthood in these countries is a very solitary activity, unlike in African countries, for example, where the entire village is involved in raising children."
The study found that poorer countries, where parents often have many children, are more collectivist, which seems to protect against parental burnout.
In addition, Western individualism is exacerbated by the current health crisis: families find themselves isolated and cut off from their social relations.
Prof Roskam suggests a way to tackle the problem, saying: “The first would be to revive in our cultures the dimension of sharing and mutual aid among parents within a community.
“And abandon the cult of the perfect parent and gain some perspective on all the parenting advice out there in order to choose what works for you.”
The study's co-ordinators say their work opens up many avenues for future intercultural investigations.
They added that all studies on parental burnout had, until now, focused on personal factors, however parents affected by this syndrome exercise their parenting in a particular cultural context, which researchers say is important to take into account when treating symptoms.