Professional Counselor Dr. Sheryl Ziegler has seen lots of burnt out moms in her office. While she usually focused on children and teens, she found that helping a stressed out mom find more peace and calm improved the whole family.
What is parental burnout?
Stressed out moms are always exhausted, snapping at their family, can’t get motivated, always have headaches, feel worthless or myriad of other symptoms. Burnout in parenting can happen just as it does in a 9-5 job that is demanding and stressful. The difference is, there is no sabbatical in parenting. There are no sick days, mental health days or vacation days. Even on days we aren’t with our kids all day, we are thinking about them, even managing them from afar.
Parenting often feels like an extreme sport. There are multiple sports, music classes, homework projects and extracurricular activities which all get multiplied for each additional child a family has. Healthy organic dinners should be served and lunches should look like something from a magazine. Mom’s are expected to contribute to the family’s finances but also always be available for a sick child or a ride to the mall. Birthday parties are extravaganzas and straight A’s are the norm. Plus, it all needs to be posted on Instagram with borderline bragging hashtags.
Y’all. It’s just too much. We are tired, hungry, unhappy with our bodies, missing our friends, annoyed with our spouses and feel like a failure. A stressed out mom doesn’t just want a break. She wants life to be different but has no idea how to change.
What causes stressed out moms?
Everywhere we turn, there is an article explaining how we have ruined our children’s future or another parent who is doing so much better. There are endless checks lists and constant paperwork for school, dance, music, sports and more. Just balancing it all is enough to drive you insane.
But there are several big factors Zeigler identifies as causing mom burnout. Isolation, social media addiction, perfectionism and business all contribute to the feelings of overwhelm.
Certain times in my life I have been more stressed than others. Right now, while we have more homework, extracurricular activities, community commitments, work obligations and family events than ever before, I’m not burnt out. But four years ago, when I had three kids ages four and under, I had no idea how I would survive another day. I barely made it from early morning nursing sessions to the time the big kids put their heads on the pillows.
What’s different today? My kids are older, but mostly- I’m different. I should have had this book years ago, but now I can testify to the fact that these methods WORK.
How Can Parenting Stress be Reduced?
This book is full of real life examples and step-by-step processes of going from stressed out mom to calm and enjoyable parent. Here are just a few of Dr. Ziegler’s practical steps to reducing a stress load.
Create boundaries. Stop the incessant multitasking. Set aside time for the things you need to do. There is time to work, time to do homework, time to have fun and time to relax and recharge. Commit to not answering work calls after 6pm. Or, as Benjamin Hardy suggests, leave the phone somewhere else when you are devoting time to your family. Make the decision once about time commitments and follow the routine. Research has proven that multitasking actually makes us less productive. Focusing on one thing at a time increases our ability to complete a task and also greatly increases our pleasure in that activity when we savor it.
Strengthen your spirituality. I’m not talking about a certain set of beliefs or dogmas. Instead, be sure to have something to fall back on when times get difficult. It may be meditation, a place of worship or a favorite nature spot. If it involves helping someone else, that provides even more mood boosting energy.
Cut back on social media. I know. It’s hard. I’m guilty too. But spending hours comparing my house, my paycheck, my kids behavior and my schedule to someone else’s is not a productive use of my time. In fact, it will destroy any peace I may have accumulated through the day.
How do I get Over my Mom Burnout?
It took a long time to get to the point where I cared about very little other than surviving the next twelve hours, so it took awhile to return to a healthy place. But that is OK. Time is what heals. Being patient with myself and others was crucial when I was tipping into burnout.
One of the most important things to have as a mom is a group of friends. Significant others are great, but to have a group of mom friends who understand exactly what the day-to-day gruel of parenting is like is liberating. These are the women who have your back. They aren’t around to judge your every move or critique your parenting. They aren’t even offering a million suggestions of how things in your house could run smoother (unless you ask and honestly want that feedback). These are the women who accept you right where you are and come to your side when you are teetering on the edge.
I can recount the names of those women. I can tell you stories of the things they said, the texts they sent to check in, the meals they brought and the coffee they drank with me. Rarely is it big, grand gestures that improve life. It’s knowing there are a few other friends out there who I can complain to and will agree that my kids were jerks today and know without a doubt that I will love them endlessly again tomorrow.
Isolation is the worst thing to do when you are burnt out. It feeds the fire of feeling alone and broken. What you really need are allies. Seek those people out and hang on tight.
Done is Better than Perfect
While burnout can take many shapes, the biggest source of stress for me was believing I had to do it all, I had to do it by myself, and it had to be perfect. I toured five schools when my oldest was preparing to go to kindergarten. Do you know what I discovered? Most of them were pretty much the same. The expensive private school and the public school serving the low income town used the same curriculum. Yet, I still couldn’t make a decision.
I was the research queen. I couldn’t buy a breast pump, a cloth diaper or a board book without first looking at the reviews and making comparisons. I knew every website that evaluated baby products and where brands were making their products. The vast majority of those big decisions are now sitting in consignment shops awaiting a second life. They served their purpose and moved on.
While I thought I always had to make THE BEST decision, I was constantly the stressed out mom. I don’t have to find the best piano teacher for a six year old. Sending him to lessons at all will help him learn. We don’t strive for perfection any more. Done is always better than a perfect dream.
Kids Respond to Stressed Out Mom
Whether we like it or not, mom is usually the emotional control of the family. If I’m burnt out, my kids are suffering as well. It may be from too many activities or just the general stress of every day life. Kids feel it too.
Being busy is not an accomplishment. It’s not a badge of honor. I’ve often responded to the question “how are you?” with “busy!” That mind-set buries me further in the pit of burn out. My goal in life is not to be busy. It’s to be engaged. To be loving and loved. It’s to have relationships that are meaningful and deep. If running all over creation for every enrichment activity available doesn’t serve that purpose, it really don’t earn it’s spot on the schedule.
My kids are involved. However, we have capped them at one activity per time per kid. That’s a maximum of four activities at a time, which is still quite a lot. But it also leaves some weeks blissfully bare. Kids feel the rush of constant motion just as we do. They respond equally with fatigue, complaints, bad attitudes and short tempers. If it is affecting me, as an adult who is supposed to know how to regulate my emotions, image how it’s affect my small people with immature ways of coping.
I love Dr. Ziegler’s suggestion of banning the word busy. If I feel the need to state that we’re busy, we’re too busy. All families need down time and kids need unstructured time to build relationships and pursue their interests.
Personal Changes to Avoid Burnout
My small step to improve my life from this book will be to ban the word busy. If I use the word, and it slips off my tongue often, I need to reevaluate. Am I using it because we’re a family of six and people expect us to be busy? Or is it because that is the norm? If we aren’t busy, maybe I’m slacking as a parent. Maybe I’m not giving my kids enough experiences.
Or maybe we really are busy. If we are, is it a temporary time where we had an unusually busy week. Or are we in a permanent state of busy. If that’s the case, what can I change to make us less busy? I know it will lead to a stressed out mom and exhausted and irritable kids. So what needs to be put aside so we are happy instead of busy?
What can you change in your life to avoid burnout? What small change would make a difference to you and your kids?
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