Being a mom is hard. It is harder than I thought. Moms operate on all cylinders 24-hours a day and are constantly needed as Mom, driver, meal maker, doctor, playmate, sleeping buddy, and safety net. Motherhood makes you grow as a person, and also takes away from you as a person. No longer can you always take those spur-of-the-moment decisions – going out to watch a film, or to the parlor, or whatever. Mom burn-out is bound to happen at some point or another.
Heck, I had to even think if I could take a head bath or would the shower have to be a two-minute affair while my baby was sleeping. I was tired beyond belief; never had any time for myself; slept with one ear always turned on listening for a restless or awake baby; made meals, cleaned, played, comforted, cuddled, nursed, washed, and a lot more every waking moment of each and every single day.
I battled post-natal depression (even though no one in my family was willing to acknowledge it), feelings of worthlessness, and the gnawing feeling of just disappearing somewhere. Every day seemed like an endless whirlwind of too much to do in too little time – like living life on rollerblades. The worst part – I was always thinking if my living life on the edge was making any difference at all. Now, several years later, I have realized that the loss of enthusiasm, energy, perspective, and purpose and that constant total exhaustion—physical, mental, and spiritual—was actually brought on by unrelenting stress. I was facing a mom burnout – I finally hit the threshold.
A mom burnout doesn’t mean you’ve failed. On the contrary, it’s often the mothers who care the most who are the most prone to burnout. In fact, I could say something very strong here – that a mother burns out is the failure of people around her – her family.
Being accountable and responsible for others all the time is tiring. Taking care of someone else takes a lot of energy and giving up the lifestyle and your identity you knew before you had children, while it may be everything you’ve ever wanted, is a hard transition.
Here are 6 reasons why you are facing mom burnout:
1. Unrealistic expectations
“Mothers should be able to take care of everything.” “Mothers should put family first.” “Mothers who take time off are lazy.” Mothers often have ideas about motherhood that are not based in reality. As a Mom, no matter what you do, you’re stuck. Whether you have a big family or small family, stay at home or work outside the home, somebody, somewhere is going to deride your choices. Unrealistic expectations (both by others as well as their own) often take the form of “should” statements and involve internalized beliefs about what mothers should be and do.
Lots of people will tell you how to parent your baby, and their insistence that what you are doing is wrong can undermine your self-confidence. Don’t argue with them. Don’t spend a lot of time thinking about their advice. Remind yourself that you are the expert on your baby.
2. Pressure to be a ‘superhero’
From unrealistic expectations and demand on their time comes the pressure of performing. Add to this the mindset that you have to essentially be a “superhero in everything you do” – and you have a bomb ticking away inside you. Today’s moms have high-stress jobs, and those that stay at home have really no other outlet and they have the kids. So there is this pressure to be the best at jobs, and the best with kids, and then you want to sometimes take time for yourself, and you feel guilty, but you can’t feel guilty. WHY??? IT IS OKAY to go to a movie with your husband.
IT IS FINE to go for lunch with your friend without having a breakdown. You have to excel at work, in relationships. You have to be a great parent who feeds the kids with nutritious food, stimulates their brains while still in the uterus, finds the right balance between protecting them, and the list goes on and on! A supercomputer would go crazy. You are just a human being!
3. Inability to Say ‘No’
As mentioned in the above points, because women are inherently wired to never say ‘no’, we don’t even attempt it. At great personal, emotional, physical, and psychological costs to ourselves. I admit I am still a work in progress, but there is no reason you could not start early. Be a little selfish. Communicate the reason for your ‘no’ – but not always. It’s fine to say ‘no’ even on a whim sometimes.
A subtype of unrealistic expectations and pressure is perfectionism. I know this because I am guilty of being one. If you feel that you have to do all things well, or that your best is never good enough, or that if you delegate a job to someone, it may not get done well – you are inviting a major burnout. Some of us try so hard to be good mothers, that we feel they can’t make any mistakes; that even our thoughts must always be loving and nurturing. TOO UNREAL! Learn to let go. I did. The hard way – and I am still paying the price and often get to hear the people or relationships I neglected.
5. No help
It is important for families to understand that bringing up a baby is not a one-person job. And also that they need not ‘handle’ the baby when he is in a good mood. If they wanted a toy, they should have bought one and not had one. It takes a village to raise a child. Ask for help. I was always afraid of saying I needed a break because I thought it would make me sound like a horrible mother – sometimes I really did not have a choice because I knew the other family members would never chip in.
Help yourself and your husband by stating clearly and calmly what your own needs are. Men can’t guess what it is women want from them because most men are not as intuitive about other people’s needs as women are. If a mother has trouble asking, it’s a red flag that some counseling is needed. She may have a severe tendency toward perfectionism, or, if she’s struggling with depression after the birth, she may be having trouble communicating her needs.
6. Ignoring yourself
As mothers, we are conditioned (or sometimes grow to) put our needs on the backburner. Moms keep their feelings reigned in because we must be patient and loving, kind and understanding, empathetic, helpful, energetic, and playful for our kids. We are also socialized to ignore our needs; taking care of our own selves is considered selfish. Worse still, asking for help is seen as somewhat weak. Because that is when the sermons start: “we did this too!” or “what is so unusual about it” and the most painful – “you don’t know how to do it”!
Sometimes we get so caught up in taking such good care of all of those little people around us – that we forget to take care of ourselves. I have several friends who have told me (and it does pain me because I have been through this myself) they do everything when it comes to parenting while their husbands enjoy plenty of “me” time. Communicate openly with your partner about your needs. I remember the relief I felt when my mother would babysit or my husband came home less tired and I could do basic things for myself that I was neglecting, like taking a shower, going to the dentist for an overdue appointment, or just snoozing for ten minutes in a peaceful bedroom to get my energy back. This ME time helps find balance when you need a little extra time for yourself to escape the chaos. Find something you love to do. What do you love? Reading, painting, movies? Do you have a hobby?
Never feel guilty or ashamed about being a burnout, because the truth is: being a parent is exhausting when you’re pulled in so many directions. Most importantly, remember to go easy on yourself!
by Aarti Kapur Singh