I remember the day like it was yesterday. I woke up and took the day off from work as a mental health day. My eyes were burning, my head was foggy, and my irritation level was at an all-time high. After getting my son ready for daycare and dropping him off I slipped back into bed in hopes of disconnecting and recharging my battery.
Two hours later, the daycare called: my son had thrown up, and I needed to come get him immediately. As I hung up the phone, tears streamed down my face uncontrollably because I just couldn’t take it anymore; I was burned out. On any other day, I’m putting my family’s needs before my own and making sure everyone is taken care of. On this day, I tried advocating for myself and my own well-being, and as parenthood would have it, I still couldn’t take a day off.
I stepped up and did what any parent would do, of course. I picked him up from daycare and did everything I could to make him feel better. As the day went on, his energy and giggles slowly came back, while that burnout feeling was still very much alive in me.
As I hung up the phone, tears streamed down my face uncontrollably because I just couldn’t take it anymore; I was burned out.
At first, I wasn’t quite sure how I became burned out. But after more thought, I realized that it wasn’t one major thing that happened to make me feel this way. It was tiny little moments, bit by bit, that added up to one day me saying I need a break.
It was living with the lack of sleep new parents are all too familiar with.
It was becoming a wife and a new mom within three months of one another.
It was breastfeeding for one year.
It was feeling isolated and alone by not having any friends or family nearby.
It was not feeling supported as a new mom when I went back to work from maternity leave.
It was working almost 60 hours a week.
It was navigating this global pandemic.
It was dealing with so many other little things too.
Being a mother is the most rewarding and the most thankless job I’ll ever have. I would do anything for my family as I’m sure any parent would. But through all of those sacrifices, I forgot to ask myself “What about me?” I felt tired, lonely, and disconnected from myself. I was also working through postpartum depression with help, so I knew this was something else—I was experiencing mommy burnout.
When asked to define mommy burnout, Sheryl Ziegler, author of Mommy Burnout, said it’s “the emotional and physical exhaustion that you feel from the chronic stress of parenting.” If this sounds like anything you have or are currently experiencing, you’re not alone. While mommy burnout is normal, here are a few things I’ve done to feel better.
1. Ask for more help
The key thing that helped me most was asking for more help. I’m the queen of “No, it’s fine I’ll just do it myself,” but that was no longer working for me. Yes, I can likely get something done a lot faster and to my exact expectations if I do it myself, but is it so bad if it’s done slower and a tad differently if I get 30 minutes to myself? Not at all.
Asking for help has been hard for me because I don’t want to feel like I can’t do something or that I’m not doing enough. But I can’t do it all nor should I have to. My son has two loving parents, and we’re equally capable of stepping in and helping out.
Also, there are times that my husband can’t help out due to longer work hours. When this happens, we’ve used more outsourced help like ordering groceries online or allowing some TV time during the week so I can still get a few things done. Help can look different for many families, so have a conversation about what it looks like for you to get more of it.
2. Lower your expectations
I will be the first to admit I didn’t love hearing this from my therapist when she first said it to me. But once I entered full-on burnout mode, I knew she was right. Ultimately, my son just wants to have fun and be loved by the people around him—anything else is just extra! So, why was I stressing out so much about getting the most popular pajamas, forcing him to pose for photos (he’s only 19 months!), or making all of his meals from scratch?
There are some things that I’m just going to go above and beyond on for my son—like the holidays and his birthday. But I had to take a hard look at the pressure I was putting on myself to be this picture-perfect mother in all these other moments. I had to learn that I don’t need to prove myself as a mother or a wife to anyone else. This mindset shift towards what’s really important helped me so much.
3. Find what feels good
Before I became a wife and a mom, I had plenty of things to help me release stress. Drinks with girlfriends, binge-watching trashy teen dramas, and sleeping in late—most of these would do on any given night. Unfortunately, being married with a toddler changes some of those things, and you have to find new ways to release stress and reconnect to yourself.
I’m not saying happy hour or a Netflix binge can’t happen at all once you get married and have kids, but the frequency may go down. If that does happen, what are some things you can implement in your new life that may make you feel just as good?
For me, it was taking a bubble bath while my husband did bathtime and put our son to sleep. I also decided I was going to get takeout a couple of times per week to give myself a few nights off from cooking. These things may seem small, but that they gave me a second to take a deep breath and slow down a bit.
4. Lessen your comparisons
If I’m being honest, I don’t think we, as a parenting community, talk enough about comparison and how much it truly does affect us on a deeper level. We can see directly into the lives of thousands of people with just a simple tap on our smartphones. And while this can sometimes be a great thing, when done in excess, it can be information overload.
Before I quit social media for good last summer, I was in a deep cycle of comparison. I was battling postpartum depression and just trying to make it through the day. Seeing other moms and families smiling, having loads of fun, sharing their spotless houses, and making even sweatpants look cute—frankly, it made me feel like sh*t.
Now, I’m not persuading you to quit social media (though a few breaks from it now and then could be a positive thing to try). But I do think it’s worth figuring out how to lessen the comparison trap. Can you delete the “perfect picture” accounts that often don’t show the reality of mothering? Could you find a few people to follow who have values and ideas that align more closely with yours? Or setting a cap on how much time is spent on social media help? See where and how the comparison is showing up for you and see if you can shift those habits a bit.
These ideas are just the beginning of ways to lessen mommy burnout. If you’re in the thick of it right now, my heart reaches out to you because I know how it feels. It’s hard, frustrating, and you likely feel guilty for being burned out from taking care of people you love. But what about you, mama? It’s like the quote from Buddha, “You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” Ain’t that the truth!
Editor’s Note: If you, or someone you know, are experiencing postpartum depression, please seek help from your health care provider or reach out to a close friend or loved one. If you are having suicidal thoughts, or thoughts of hurting your baby, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately at 1-800-273-TALK.