Having more than 1 child can harm your mental health, study says

A recent study found that having more than one child could negatively impact parents’ mental health.

According to the study published in the journal Demography in April, researchers found a correlation between the number of children parents have and the decline of their late-life cognition.

"Results indicate that having three or more versus two children has a negative effect on late-life cognition," researchers wrote. 

This was more commonly found in families in Northern European countries, specifically Nordic regions, according to the study.

"We found evidence that the negative cognitive effect of having three or more versus two children was largest in Northern Europe relative to the other European regions. Although standards of living in the Nordic countries are very high, so are costs. Estimates based on purchasing power parities suggest that the prices of goods and services are up to three times higher in the Nordic than in other European countries," researchers wrote. 

Scientists believed that the higher cost of living in addition to the cost of raising a family with more children could lead to higher financial stress.

These findings follow an increased interest in "parental burnout" in dozens of countries around the world where moms and dads are feeling increasingly more exhausted with the fallout of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

A separate study published last year found one specific cultural factor common in "Western" countries that played the largest role when determining the level of burnout. 

The study was put together by the university UCLouvain in Belgium and thousands of parents in 42 countries participated. All surveys were taken from January 2018 through March 2020, before the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when stress levels were sure to be exacerbated. 

Researchers said the following symptoms are indicative of parental burnout: emotional exhaustion, contrast with one’s previous parental self, loss of pleasure in the parental role and emotional distancing from the children. Researchers disguised the purpose of the survey in order to prevent biased reports of exhaustion.

Questions included basic information such as the parent’s age, sex, occupation and number of children. Then the participants had to rank statements that assessed the symptoms of parental burnout on a scale of "never" to "every day." Statements included, "I feel completely run down by my role as a parent," and "I am no longer able to show my children that I love them."

Poland, the United States and Belgium were the countries with the highest average score for parental burnout. Thailand was the country with the lowest, with several other Asian and South American countries among the lowest. 

Researchers found parental burnout to be more common among younger parents, mothers, parents in disadvantaged neighborhoods, non-working parents, parents with more children, parents with younger children, parents in two-parent families (compared to those in multigenerational families), single parents (compared to those in both two-parent and multigenerational families) and parents in step-families (compared to those in both two-parent and multigenerational families).

How to combat parental burnout

Being a parent can be one of the most stressful jobs a human can endure. According to the American Psychological Association

, there are a few key ways parents can address burnout before it consumes their lives.

  • Find someone to share your feelings with so you don't feel isolated.
  • Take time to be mindful and reevaluate your stress
  • Make small but manageable changes
  • Work to grow parenting skills to be better equipped for different situations
  • Get rid of expectations and practice gratitude.
  • Take micro-breaks
  • find meaning in your situation

Megan Ziegler contributed to this story.