If you talk to moms, the one theme that seems to pop-up all the time is the sheer exhaustion that both working and stay-at-home-moms experience. Moms feel like they are doing it all – working, childcare, household management, scheduling, bills, errands, etc. And this constant relentless doing is leading to a whole host of very negative symptoms. Not only are moms exhausted, they’re angry, irritable, not enjoying life, screaming at their children, feeling the desperate need to control everything, and hating their parenting duties on the daily. Sounds like Postpartum Depression doesn’t it? It does, only it’s not Postpartum Depression if your kids are over a year old. In this case, it’s called Mom Burnout.
While Mom Burnout isn’t a diagnosis, it is a very serious issue that arises for many mothers. Though researchers call it Parental Burnout, it does primarily affect mothers, especially those who stay at home and bear the brunt of childcare responsibilities.
According to researchers, Parental Burnout is characterized by an overwhelming exhaustion related to one’s parental role, an emotional distancing from one’s children, and a sense of parental ineffectiveness.
For many moms, Mom Burnout looks like:
Do you recognize any of these symptoms? I know I’ve experienced quite a few of them. I also hear from a lot of mothers who experience these same symptoms. Most have no idea that what they’re experiencing isn’t normal part of parenting because, unfortunately, while mom burnout is common, it’s not taken seriously by anyone. Luckily, researchers are paying more attention to parental burnout and it’s very serious implications on child rearing. But for now, all we can do is spread awareness and help moms cope.
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Now that you know what Mom Burnout looks like, let’s talk about how to deal with it.
One of the biggest contributors to Mom Burnout is the mindset most mothers have towards motherhood. Due to our patriarchal and mysogynistic society structure, many women have internalized very harmful messages about motherhood. Stay-at-home-moms are viewed as lazy, not contributing, boring, without interests and ambitions. Working moms are viewed as not invested or interested in their children, callous, not caring, too ambitious, trying to emasculate their husbands.
And regardless of whether you stay at home or work, as a mother, you should be the one keeping the house clean, doing all the cooking, doing laundry, taking kids to appointments, being at every play and sports match, being up with the kids at night, and taking days off when they’re sick. On top of all that, you should also look good, exercise, be a sex goddess, and have a few passion projects.
When it comes to actual parenting, you should never yell, scream, be irritated or upset, be able to control your child’s behavior, while being careful not to overstep and squash their independence, be their teacher, therapist, doctor, hair dresser, personal shopper, line cook, cleaning lady, and laundromat. You also need to be warm and nurturing, and do it all with a smile on your face.
When you’re functioning from this mindset, you are destined to fail. All these standards are not only unrealistic, they are harmful. Mothers are constantly walking around with their self-worth below sea level because society, their friends, family, and partners are constantly bombarding them with these messages.
It’s time to stand up and say “STOP”! You don’t need to listen to anyone else’s idea on motherhood. Create your own and go with it. And to help you on the journey of redefining motherhood your way, I am providing you with a tool that will get you there. Download my free Motherhood Journey Printable and start creating the motherhood you want.
Part of changing your motherhood mindset is letting go of perfection and silencing all the “shoulds” that haunt you. You are not and will never be the “Perfect Mother” and that is ok. A “Perfect Mother” does not exist. You need to become comfortable with being a “good enough” mother. A mother who is human and has her own desires and limitations.
And if you need help in learning to accept being a “good enough” mother, read Guide To Being A Good Mother.
And the other part of “shoulding” and perfectionism is not comparing yourself to other mothers. Yes, there are some superstar moms who manage to teach their children advanced math concepts, while making a 3 course meal every day. But that has no bearing on you and what you provide for your children. Look within your family and not outside of it. You will always find someone who does things better, but you will also always find someone who does things worse. And that’s just life.
Once you start changing your mindset on motherhood, you will notice that your values may change. Things that you readily took on before because you felt you had to, you won’t want to take on anymore. This will be a big shift for you and for your family. And you will need to protect your new values by setting up boundaries.
I won’t go into great detail about setting boundaries in this post. (To learn how to set boundaries, head on over to How To Set Healthy Parent Child Boundaries Without Guilt). But I will tell you that setting boundaries is an important skill to master. You need boundaries in order to not slip into mom burnout zone again. So, go ahead and set those boundaries to protect your physical and mental wellbeing.
As I mentioned before, mom burnout happens because moms are overwhelmed by parental responsibilities. If all you’re doing is taking care of kids and your house 24/7, you become stressed and exhausted. And in order to not feel as stressed and exhausted, you need to start taking things off your plate.
First, sit down and write out all you do in a day. Then make a list of things you do over the week. Look over your list and identify things that you absolutely must take care of yourself. You most likely won’t be able to delegate those. But be very critical of that list. While you might feel that you have to take care of everything yourself, otherwise it won’t get done, that’s not true. With some coaching, your spouse and older children can take over a lot of the tasks. And if the idea of sitting down and writing down everything you do sounds like another stone put on your plate, I can recommend something that I have personally used and found very helpful: the book Fair Play by Eve Rodsky and the accompanying Fair Play game deck.
In the case of your spouse not being as available due to long work hours, it’s time for some paid help. Whether it’s hiring a babysitter for a few hours a week, having a cleaning service, or a laundry service, make room in your budget for it. Look at it as an investment in your health. And when any thoughts or negative messages start to creep up about the fact that you should be able to handle all this on your own, “STOP” and refer back to the need to change your mindset. Just because you’re now a mother, doesn’t mean your needs no longer matter. You wouldn’t tell someone with diabetes to suck it up and stop taking insulin, so you shouldn’t have to suck it up if you’re overwhelmed.
I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but it seems like a lot of moms still don’t get the message: Self-Care is a Must. A big part of mom burn out is stress. Accumulating stress slowly corrodes your body and its defense mechanisms. It then leads to a lot of physical and mental health issues. So, you must prioritize self-care on daily basis.
Keep in mind, while taking a shower and brushing your teeth is self-care, it is the barest minimum of self-care a person should be engaging in. You must create time to do more for yourself. Make a list of things you find relaxing, rejuvenating, exciting, fun, and just enjoyable. Post that list where you can see it. Then make time for at least one of those things every day. If you need help in making this work, check out How To Make Time for Self-Care as a Mom.
It’s no secret that parenting practice have swung from being overly harsh on the children to being overly child centered. And this child centeredness is a big driving force behind mom burnout. I’m sure you, just like me, read a lot of parenting books and tried to do right by the parenting method you picked. And I’m also sure, that you may have found it difficult to implement the method in a way that brought results and led to an easier parenting journey. In fact, you are probably finding yourself completely burnt out with being constantly empathetic, emotionally receptive, warm and available to your child’s plight. You are also burnt out by trying to follow screen rules and coming up with engaging and educational activities to keep your kids stimulated.
And I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to do any of it if you don’t want to. Sure, we shouldn’t be ignoring our children completely and letting them run amok without any guidance or supervision. But you also don’t need to have your whole day be child led. If you don’t enjoy a particular activity with a child, just don’t do it. Suggest an alternative that you would enjoy. And if you’re so tired that all you can do is turn on a cartoon and watch it on the couch together, then do it. Your child will receive much more benefit from cuddling with a relaxed and content mother, than from a cold and irritated mother who is trying to teach them something they are not interested in learning.
So, focus more on doing enjoyable activities with your children that help strengthen your love and bond with each other, and worrying less about everything else. Just because your child isn’t reading at 4 and isn’t a math wiz at 7, doesn’t mean anything for their future. Just keep that in mind, next time you choose to play a game with them over writing letters, that you child really doesn’t want to write.
Take care of yourself, mama. You matter! Being in a burnout is not something to be ashamed of. It doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong or not cut out to be a mother. If you feel like you can’t handle it yourself, reach out for professional help. Visit my Resource Library for help in finding a therapist in your area.