Mom burnout is real.
If the motherhood manual had a visual for the chapter on burnout, it would be the image of Cruella Deville’s dastardly drive through the snow-covered, winding streets of 101 Dalmatians. She has that wild hair and that maniacal look on her face with her foot full-throttle to the gas, and no intention of braking.
However, since there’s no manual, we’re breaking the silence and writing that chapter for you.
There’s much talk of burnout in corporate culture but it’s time we acknowledge that the same phenomenon exists in parenting culture. Moms burn out. And while it can leave us feeling crazed and maniacal, it’s actually common and normal. Look around you. Someone you know is feeling it right now.
It’s important to understand how and why it happens so we can fight against it!
The 3 components of burnout.
According to Amelia and Emily Nagoski, twin-sisters and co-authors of Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, there are three components to burnout: emotional exhaustion, decreased sense of accomplishment and depersonalization.
In an interview with Brené Brown, they go on to define these components…
Emotional exhaustion is the fatigue that comes from caring too much for too long.
Decreased sense of accomplishment is the unconquerable sense of futility, feeling that nothing you do makes any difference.
And depersonalization is the depletion of empathy, caring and compassion.
Amelia notes that, “in particular for women, it’s the emotional exhaustion.” I agree with that sentiment and would second that for moms specifically.
Why does emotional exhaustion happen?
According to the twins, exhaustion happens when we don’t complete the emotional cycle.
From Emelia, “Emotions have a beginning, a middle, and an end. A lot of us are taught to believe that if we fix the problem that caused the stress or the emotion, then we will have dealt with the emotion itself. It turns out, no, there is a disconnect in the world we live in now between the behaviors that deal with the things in our lives.”
Stopping in the middle of the cycle means getting stuck in the emotion and when we do this, it wears us down, resulting in exhaustion. As caregivers, moms tend to repeat this broken process again and again and again, until it leads to burnout.
This really resonated with me because so often, as moms, we operate at full speed with our head down, trying to do the right things for our crew. Rarely do we take time to stop and smell the roses let alone work through a process of completing an emotional cycle.
It seems almost indulgent to think that we could do that for ourselves. And yet, I’m starting to see the writing on the wall for what NOT completing the cycle is doing to our wellbeing.
Moms wear burnout like a badge of honor.
We’re SO busy. We’re SO tired. We wear SO many hats. Who is it serving?
In an interview with Raj Jana on the Stay Grounded podcast (episode 129. John Wang: The Insanity Of Burnout And Why It’s A Lie), speaker and educator, John Wang, says “There’s a story about who we’re supposed to be.”
Moms know their story well. We’re “supposed to” give all of ourselves to the good of the family. And we do. We do it until we burn out and then we keep on doing it. Wang describes it as excessive ambition resulting in complete collapse. But again, I have to ask, who is that ever serving?
“You acting at your best is in everyone’s best interest.” – John Wang
We need to shift the narrative. Being a mom is a ton of work and it’s a little confusing because if we’re being honest, the work is emotionally fulfilling. We want the best for our children and so we do what it takes to provide that for them. However, when it results in us winding up feeling burned out – on a regular basis – it’s no longer effectively serving them or us.
“Wrongologist,” Kathryn Schultz, suggests that “Trusting too much that we’re on the right side of anything is dangerous.” Feeding the above narrative feels right because the story we’ve told ourselves is that this is just what moms have to do.
I’d suggest that what we’re doing is getting stuck in feeling right and not completing the emotional cycle which would mean admitting that we’ve actually got it wrong… That we can’t continue momming on a chronic and recurring path to burnout.
So, what can we do about it?
It starts with awareness. Recognize where you are in the cycle and work through it. Give yourself grace when you realize you’re stuck in it and then continue the work. John Wang says, “whatever you’re going through, accept it.” And Raj Jana reminds us that, “what isn’t working can be left behind.” This acceptance of your fallibility and the release of what isn’t serving you will free you to mom as the humble warrior you are!
Tap into this week’s recommended resources for more information. There you’ll find the Brené Brown podcast episode noted above as well as Kathryn Schultz’s TED talk: On Being Wrong. In our Smart Reads this week we have articles covering the topic of burnout from multiple perspectives including wellness and personal development burnout, compassion fatigue, and 17 things you can do to avoid mom burnout.
It all comes back to grace.
In conclusion, mom burnout is real and manageable. When you feel burnout setting in, give yourself grace, take a break and regroup.
If you’re headed into Spring Break next week, be sure to lean into the “break.” Give yourself permission to relax – physically, mentally and emotionally – especially if you have a tendency to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Fellow empaths and HSPs (highly sensitive parents), I’m talking to you.
If you’re traveling (be safe!), recognize that moms still have to mom on vacation, so you’ll need to be intentional about making space for downtime and self-care.
What fills you up? Reading a book, staring out at the ocean, a long hike through nature, taking a bath or a nap? Schedule it, make it known to your family that this is important to you and then make it a priority! After all, it really does benefit them in the long run; and that’s why we mom!
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