Dear Moms: The Burnout Is Real
by Jennifer Taylor
There I was quietly crying in the kitchen after a really bad day.
I was exhausted after trying to discipline a tantrum-throwing, messy and sleep-deprived two year old.
Hudson, my son, was hangry and started clinging to my leg demanding that I give him cheddar crackers for dinner.
I picked him up and held him in one arm while scrambling to make him a nutritious meal that was worthy of a Pinterest post.
My husband was working late that night which meant that I would have to deal with this for a few more hours on my own. So, I told myself to “push through.”
Then, there were more tears of frustration ....
Why is motherhood so hard?
The truth is, I was burned out. Although it happens to the best of us, perhaps even all of us at some point in our lives, we rarely admit it.
I have been burned out a few times in my adulthood at this point.
I was burned out when I graduated from college with an overloaded coursework while trying to balance a job, an internship, and ministry obligations.
I was burned out when I finished graduate school while working full-time and worrying about my mother’s recent cancer diagnosis.
And, I was burned out when I commuted from New Jersey to my first post-graduate job in Brooklyn for a year while attempting to maintain some form of a social life.
The stress from all of these things gave me a stiff neck and I was incapacitated for a few days after that. That was my wall. That was when I knew that I was neglecting to care for myself emotionally and mentally. I told myself that I would learn from it and go back to my usual self-care regimen. The end.
But then came ... motherhood. Let me say this: motherhood is indescribably amazing but it is also indescribably challenging!
I would say of all the times in my life that I have felt overwhelmed and anxious, this was by far the most intense. It’s easy for me to feel inadequate about … well everything concerning my son: his sleeping habits, his eating patterns, reaching various milestones, the meaning behind every behavior, my parenting style, the state of my home, my marriage, my appearance, my social life or lack there of, whether I was less of a Christian for not reading my Bible enough, and whether I would ever be able to balance life without going insane. As a social worker that has gone through extensive training on self-awareness and self-care, you would think I would be a pro at applying these things to my own life. I talked about myself so much in school: my deepest traumas, my belief systems, the roots, how I handle relationships and conflicts, my emotional triggers, and identifying my own red flags for impending burn out.
But how many of us fail to apply the very same advice that we give out when we go through something? That would be me! I have had to give the speech about the importance of self-care a million times. Yet here I was running on fumes, crying at every frustration, feeling like I was drowning in responsibilities with no end in sight. Some days it felt like I just couldn’t cope. I was exhausted, irritable, and highly emotional. I would go through the day loving on my son with everything I had, but by the end I had nothing left to give to anyone or myself.
You may be suffering from motherhood burnout if you are:
- Forgetful or have a foggy memory
- Not as productive as you once were (in caring for yourself, children, partner/spouse, household, work/volunteer responsibilities)
- Having trouble sleeping
- Not excited to spend time with your children
- Having unexplained body aches or tightened muscles
- Persistently negative with your attitude or outlook
- Lacking motivation
- Lacking interest in things that once excited you
So here I was - a ticking time bomb feeling like this is what motherhood is and that these feelings will pass; that I just had to power through because my family needed me. After all, this it is what God called me to do. I just have to pray harder, read more of the word and keep reminding myself to be grateful. I just had to convince myself that things could always be worse and I had no right to have any negative feelings attached to being a mom. What I didn’t know was that denying myself the right to feel was denying myself the opportunity to allow God to work through that. He couldn’t provide any healing if I was repressing my own emotions.
One day my husband told me he felt like he had to walk on eggshells because he never knew when I was going to blow. He couldn’t gage whether he was doing something right or wrong because I was that unpredictable! YIKES! Can we say this was my wake up call?
I wasn’t just burned out, I was CHARRED. I was a shell of who I once was. I was in full survival mode and I didn’t even realize it. I wasn’t robotic, but that is what made it so sneaky. I had convinced myself I was fine for too long. I was not carving time out for myself and was struggling to have time to meditate and pray. My emotions were in complete control! Although I love my career and I love being a wife and mother, I had stopped doing anything purely enjoyable for myself. I became engulfed in my roles and lost myself in the process.
A burned out mom is the equivalent of a burned out CEO in business. She is the glue, and if the glue is dried up then everything chips away. Our society tends to put a lot of pressure on mothers, which encourages comparison, division, and unwarranted competitiveness. Somehow we are socialized to ignore our own needs sacrificing everything we are in the name of motherhood. It’s the supermom complex: The pressure to be the beautiful and fit mom whose kids behave and sleep perfectly, who also cooks homemade organic meals every day, and who creatively teaches their kids within the home while having a successful career or running an entire household. In the age of social media, this complex is magnified with stunning false portraits of what motherhood should look like creating more anxiety, insecurity, and doubt in the rest of us…but I digress.
There is so much value in being selfless and sacrificial once you become a mother since our love for our children is supposed to exemplify the love of Jesus. Mothers have a unique call to be able to raise and guide small humans to grow into who they are meant to be.
On the other hand, I truly believe that God did not intend for me to do so until I’m completely depleted physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. God calls all of us to be refreshed in His presence. Even Jesus himself called for rest because the fact is without the space to replenish and just be still, a person will deteriorate.
Here are some ways to overcome mommy burnout:
1. Be transparent about your struggles -- It was so liberating when I finally came to the place where I could be honest with my husband, my mother, and close friends about not being ok. It is validating and invites others to pray, encourage you, or help you in some capacity.
2. Be intentional about praying and carving out time with God. It’s amazing the difference it makes when I make room for God at the start of my day. For me, an hour of pure devotional time doesn’t usually happen. It can be as little as 10 minutes to as much as an hour. Every little bit counts! This way when things get rough (and they often do), I am way more likely to tap back into His presence rather than being led by exhaustion and heightened emotions.
3. Be intentional about taking daily breaks. Whether it is during naptime, taking a lunch break at work, or winding down after Hudson’s bedtime, I make sure it happens. It’s not easy because there are a million things to do. I’m very slowly starting to be ok with skipping a task and opting for rest.
4. Schedule extended alone time. This is a recent must. I discovered that I need a day once a month to just be. BY. MYSELF. I do whatever I feel like for the day. Pampering trips, being with nature, treating myself to a movie and meal, the possibilities are endless! I’m thankful for a very understanding husband because extended alone time does miracles for my emotional health.
Practicing regular self-care is a journey and a process. I’m learning to be okay with it and learning to dismiss the lies that I am not being a good mother if I choose to take time for myself. I am a performance junkie. I tend to equate my value by the level of my performance. God is continually reminding me that I am not defined by what I do or don’t do; I am defined simply by who He is and who I am in Him. There is nothing under the sun that could diminish my value in God’s eyes. It’s accepting that my expectations, influenced by the world, are flawed. It’s understanding that God doesn’t demand perfection, He desires a willing heart. One that is open to surrendering all the emotions, all the expectations, all of the failures and disappointments in exchange for His grace. That’s a profound truth and one I am constantly reminded of through my son. He doesn’t care if I’m fit and stylish, a five-star chef with a squeaky-clean house, or that I can successfully homeschool him in two languages. He only cares about me being a loving and present mother. Preventing burnout is an important way to be that mom for my precious son.