How to Deal with Burnout as a Working Mom — Womanhood Unwrapped
As I sat at my desk trying against all hope to find the motivation to work on the presentation due in ten hours, I realized something was very wrong. My concentration was officially no-showing for the day, and I didn’t have the time not to finish this project, but I also couldn’t focus to save my life. My daughter was home sick and had come into my impromptu office no less than ten times since the start of the day, and after snapping at her after the seventh or eighth time, I became distraught. My frustration was not her fault after all. She was supposed to be able to need me on a sick day, and I should be available to help her!
It momentarily struck me that this situation is so common. I have heard over and over from my working-mom friends about the struggles of trying to balance it all.
Sometimes it’s an unexpectedly sick kid at home or perhaps a family obligation that you can’t balance along with all of the mandatory work meetings. It could be a feeling of total exhaustion and lack of interest in doing anything but sit on the couch with a glass of wine after bedtime when the dishes have been put away, and the lunches packed; the story is the same across the board:
Mothers in today’s society, at least in the United States, are expected to be there for their children’s every need. They also ought to work for personal or financial reasons and take care of all household needs. Of course, there are the outliers. The mom’s who work and have a partner at home take care of the family’s day-to-day concerns. But in general, women now are expected to take care of everyone and everything but themselves. It’s the #Momlife expectation that’s, in fact, grinding us all to the bone. And that unrealistic expectation is causing severe burnout and depression across the board. Read more about the fallacy of #MomLife on the Chamin Ajjan blog.
What cracks me up — only because if I don’t laugh, I will cry — is the solutions presented by well-meaning bystanders on how mothers can try and balance it all.
“Just do less!”
“Can’t your spouse do it?”
“Can you hire someone?”
“But you make it look so easy!”
“Maybe you just need to give up your job. I mean, your children are more important, right?”
While well-meaning, this type of feedback is toxic to a mom who’s already overworked, overwhelmed, and overcommitted. And if you are feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and overcommitted, it’s a sure sign that you are approaching full-tilt burnout.
Being a recovering crash-and-burn burnout expert, I first want to examine the root of this societal plague facing mothers today.
BURNOUT IS NOW A SOCIETAL NORM
According to a recent survey by Motherly, 38% of Gen Z and millennial moms feel entirely burnt out, and another 55% feel ‘always’ or ‘frequently’ burnt out. If you sit down and think for a minute about mothers’ mental, physical, and emotional health, these numbers are pretty staggering and should concern us as parents and people.
I recently took a yoga class, and the instructor brought to our attention the difference between the Western and Eastern definitions of health. In the West, meaning modern western civilization, health is defined as the “absence of disease,” while Eastern cultures define health as the “presence of Chi,” or inner power and strength. One focuses on wellness, while the other focuses on absence. Learn about the two schools of thought via The Power of Prevention website.
It seems as though when it comes to working motherhood, the norm has become to push ourselves in our roles as professionals, mothers, and partners to the point of total breakdown and then do something about it.
MOTHERHOOD EXPECTATIONS ARE UNREALISTIC
Somehow we have become a society of parents either one-up-ing each other or just giving up entirely. There appears to be no in-between. And considering what our children and families want and need is considered secondary.
We’re living with the generation of two catastrophically different parenting ideologies: a) the ones who worry about Pinterest-perfect parties, ensuring their children are in every sport, and somehow finding a way to have a career on top of all that. And b) the ones who think their kids are annoying and avoid anything to do with parenting and either pawn it off on someone else or just let their children free-range. The reality is most of us fall somewhere in between, and there doesn’t seem to be a place in society for our voices. It’s impossible, and the data around depression and burnout shows that this value on misplaced responsibilities as parents is hurting more than it’s helping.
COST OF LIVING IS RISING
In the past, it was possible for one parent to stay home and the other to work. Aside from the fact that for many women, this scenario is not something they are willing to consider on an emotional level, it has also become almost unsustainable for a family to live on one income. Magnify Money recently reported that the percentage of dual-income families has risen to 53% in the last ten years. Think about that for a second, more than half of all families in the US have parents who both work full time, yet we operate as if one parent should and can stay home with their children, and working is a choice. For most of us, it’s a necessity, not a choice!
So, how should you combat mother burnout with all this disheartening information? I’ve been a working mom since the dawn of my motherhood, and I’ve learned a few things along the way — mainly after crashing and burning out multiple times.
GET COMFORTABLE WITH SAYING “NO”
I distinctly remember the first time I said “no” as a mom and the guilt I felt afterward. If you’re a people pleaser — and let’s be honest, most of us are — you likely struggle with saying “no” to that extra play date or drink after work. But if you’re one trip away from falling into full-blown burnout, it’s time for you to remove yourself from everything that is not completely necessary in your day-to-day life. What’s the worst that can happen? You might make someone mad? They will understand if it’s a real friend, supportive family member, or colleague! If they don’t, you have bigger issues and need to set boundaries in your momming world.
BOUNDARIES ARE YOUR FRIEND
Whether telling your mother-in-law that she can’t do a, b, or c with your children or reminding your boss of your off-hours so that you have time to recharge, boundaries are the key to avoiding or alleviating burnout as a mom. “But it’s just easier to leave things as they are,” you might think, and I get it. For years I allowed myself to be a complete doormat while an ambitious one in my personal and professional life, which worked until my life blew up in my face. Racing at full tilt towards a cliff is where you’re headed if you refuse to set boundaries as a mom. Between the work schedule, school schedule, after-school activities, friendships, family demands, etc., if people don’t know where you stand, They. Will. Take. Advantage. Of. You.
And that, my dear, is worse for your wellbeing than just bucking up and saying, “yeah, that doesn’t work for my family and me.”
RECONNECT WITH WHAT BRINGS YOU JOY
For some moms, joy looks like baking cookies with their kids on a Friday night, while others may shudder at it. Happiness could mean spending time with your friend-family and nuclear family to recharge. Getting away from your family completely to hike, or take a spa day, could do it for you. Whatever it is that TRULY brings you joy as a mother, not what you think SHOULD make you happy, is where you should focus your time and energy. Don’t feel bad that you don’t have the perfect Pinterest party or say “no” to eight out of ten playdates. It’s your family, your life, and your motherhood journey. The be honest, other moms will thank you!
REMEMBER, IT’S ALL A PHASE
Some phases of motherhood are easier than others. I know you may have heard this many times before, and if you’re in a particularly tough situation with work and parenting at the moment, this may not be what you want to hear, but it’s true. Each time I’ve gotten to a point where I need to throw my hands up, and just surrender to the impossible-ness of the moment, suddenly the moment changes, and we ease into a smooth phase as a family.
RELY ON YOUR PARTNER FOR SUPPORT
Communication is hard. Communication in a marriage or partnership as parents is even harder, but you won’t get what you need if you never ask. There were several years where I was working full-time, doing most of the pick-ups, drop-offs, cleaning, grocery shopping, etc., and the burnout experience from that time was one of the worst I’ve ever undergone. I finally had to sit down with my husband and share what I needed him to take on; funny enough, he had no idea I needed the help. I had never really communicated with him about what I needed, and once I did, he was more than willing to support our family in the areas I was struggling with; I just needed to communicate. Don’t let yourself get to a point where you literally cannot function before asking for help.
LEARN TO SPOT BURNOUT
No matter how often I learn the lesson, I still struggle with mom burnout. It always starts with an extra obligation, or activity I think we can add on, or just one more client, and then suddenly my stress level is rising, and I am no longer able to do it all. I’ve had to get honest with myself over the years, and I’m now capable of spotting when I’m tumbling toward burnout.
Here are a few signs you might be experiencing burnout from UCI Health:
- Exhaustion: Feeling so physically, emotionally, and mentally fatigued that you believe you have nothing left to give
- Depersonalization: Feeling unmotivated, cynical, detached, and disconnected from others
- Lacking a sense of accomplishment: Feeling unproductive and ineffective
- Poor self-care: Being unable to do what’s needed to preserve or improve your own physical and emotional health
Read the UCI Health article for more medical tips for combatting mom burnout.
Interested in submitting a guest article about your mom journey? Let’s chat!
Originally published at https://womanhoodunwrapped.com on July 13, 2022.