It is time to acknowledge the Motherhood Burnout!

This article is inspired by various clients, exhausted mothers that I have been talking to and also based on personal experiences. There were many things in common in these conversations, with one thing in particular: the shame of opening up about it. In a society where for a woman becoming a mother and performing perfect in her parenting role is associated with her value as a person, it is a taboo to talk about the downsides of the job. I truly appreciate these brave women who dared to tell their honest feelings during their “Mommy Burnout”. Many intense feelings we talked about: stress, anxiety, fear, hate, shame, guilt, exhaustion. Or the other way around: numb, empty, isolated, lonely and uninterested.

The difference from a professional burnout

First of all, let’s not mix up Motherhood Burnout from parental stress that we all feel when taking care of a little baby that asks 24 hours of attention from us. That kind of stress reduces when we get used to our parenting role, we get to know the baby and the baby becomes a toddler with less needs. Motherhood Burnout occurs in the life of women with older children, starting from toddlers. What is the definition of Motherhood Burnout? “The emotional and physical exhaustion that you feel from the chronic stress of parenting.” While the phenomenon of professional burnout, defined as a syndrome of exhaustion related to working conditions is nowadays well known, that of the Motherhood Burnout, defined with the exhaustion caused by being physically and emotionally overwhelmed is still not acknowledged so that we don’t dare to talk about it.

The characteristics of the Motherhood Burnout

Studies show that Motherhood Burnout affects up to 14% of mothers, and knowing that women don’t talk about it, it is most probably a much higher percentage. Physical and emotional exhaustion, emotional distancing from our children, and a sense of incompetency in our mother role is what characterizes this burnout the most. Mothers demand so much from themselves, because of unrealistic images of what a mother “should” be, how perfect the life of their children must be, and because their self-value depends on their efforts in their mother role. Here are some thoughts my clients shared with me in the years:

  • “I am not doing enough, need to do more”
  • “I never do it right”
  • “If I take time off, everything will fail”
  • “I have no time to sleep, eat or healthy exercise”
  • “My family can’t function without me”
  • “My children need the very best, I have no choice”
  • “My children must have a perfect life”
  • “I am the reason when my children fail”
  • “I don’t like my children”
  • “I hate being a mother”
  • “I am worthless, not doing anything useful”
  • “I am boring and not likeable”
  • “I don’t know who I am”
  • “My family expects me to be a perfect mother”
  • “The school of my children can’t find out that I am a bad mother”
  • “I hate waking up and start the day”

The results of these toxic thoughts

These harsh critical thoughts and feelings result in depression, isolation and self-hate.  Mothers with unrealistic expectations form their role max out on their capacities to provide physical, mental, and emotional support to their children. Headaches can become migraines, irritability can shift to rage, verbal aggression can intensify to physical aggression, sleeplessness can transform into insomnia, worry can lead to constant anxiety and forgetfulness can become memory impairment.

As their environment gets used to their “Super-Mom” role, this just spirals even further. Nobody expects that a Super-Mom can feel down, exhausted and needs help? The family can get comfortable and claim the Super-Mom even more, while not learning to be less dependent on her. Some signs of the Motherhood-Burnout:

  • Withdrawing from others
  • Losing interest in things she once loved
  • Sleep problems
  • Changes in appetite
  • Feeling exhausted or low energy
  • Having trouble controlling her worries
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Feeling emotional—sadness, irritability, or anxiety
  • Feeling like she needs a break 
  • Noticing she has a shorter temper
  • Feeling any new task puts her over the edge
  • Needing to not be touched or needing to be alone
  • Waking up not wanting to do the day
  • Feeling resentful (towards children, your partner, or the world)
  • Feeling guilt

How to cope better and finding our way back to who we are?

Learn to focus on yourself to gain patience and make yourself independent from “social expectations”. Remember why you chose to be a mother in the first case. Was it because that is what society expected of you? Realize that when you are struggling your entire family is struggling. What is it that you can control, and what can you not? And how bad is that if you can’t control everything, does that perhaps even give value to your children’s life? In therapy we will help you recondition your norms and values, help you to face your fears, and remember your self-value, outside of your mother role. We help you to find new routines, to get assertive and stand up for your needs. We help you to trust your loved ones, they can also learn to take care of themselves, and instead of being a Super-Mom, they will appreciate you for being who you are.

  1. Learn to take care of yourself: like exercise and healthy food, it gives you a mental recharge to handle emotions
  2. It is necessary to be selfish and charge your batteries in order that you can take care of others
  3. Make time for yourself, connect to your hobbies, and activities that make you “you”
  4. Recondition your values: what makes you a valuable person, why do people love you? It is not only your mother role
  5. Go against social norms, remember why you chose to be a mother
  6. Learn to choose for what is really necessary, and let others wait
  7. Remember that failure makes your children grow, and trust gives them independence, they learn life skills
  8. Connect to other mothers, dare to share your feelings to friends and family, you are not alone
  9. Allow help from other family, that creates an even stronger family attachment and helps children learn to be flexible and that they belong to a safe social network
  10. Accept your limits and that those don’t define your value

Would you like to talk more about your feelings of being a Super-Mom, you are more than welcome to make an appointment for an initial talk in my practice or online.

Enikö Hajas

Born into a diplomat family in Hungary, I lived in Vietnam, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal. My lengthy experience of understanding different cultures makes it natural for me to work with any nationalities.

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