Updated: Sep 18, 2021
Mommy burnout is no small thing. When it happens, the feeling of exhaustion becomes overwhelming, your memory ceases to function anywhere near a normal level, and your relationships suffer—big time. And in the family setting, where life is literally built on relationships, you can very well imagine how tough things can get.
Most of us know all that, and yet, far too many mothers still encounter burnout. Why is that?
The simplest answer is that we miss the warning signs that lead up to the event where everything comes crashing down.
As has been said more times than I care to count, one’s feelings are rarely a good judge of reality; this is true. But it is also true that feelings are an excellent judge of one’s inner state. They provide a lens that allows us to look in on a person in order to safely evaluate just how this person is interpreting the world. That is why when we talk about burnout and the warning signs that lead up to it, how a mother feels is often the best indicator of what might be on the horizon.
Of course, these expressions don’t need to fit into neat little categories like sad or angry. Instead, we need to understand feelings here in a broader sense, something closer to “I get the sense that ...” or “I experience this day or moment as ….” Once we do, we can quickly see where the mother’s mind is going, and if we are equally quick to respond, then we can avoid disaster before it occurs.
Mommy burnout is no small thing. When it happens, the feeling of exhaustion becomes overwhelming, your memory ceases to function anywhere near a normal level, and your relationships suffer—big time.
1. “When I wake up in the morning, I already feel like I am behind on my tasks.”
Though a common theme for parenting generally, the overwhelming sense that new moms and dads face can and should ease up as we gain more experience. After all, the less parenting becomes a surprise, the lower our anxiety should be in regards to what comes next.
And this makes sense, especially considering that we adults are the masters and arbiters of our to do lists. Yes, the baby will wake up when the baby wants to wake up, and they will fall asleep when they are ready to sleep, but these too have a fairly predictable pattern.
In some ways, it is very much like the gasoline needed to run our cars. We know that we will run out of gas sooner or later, so we create patterns in our lives to deal with the eventual shortage. Doing so lowers our stress and gives us some control over what happens when.
The same should be occurring with mothers. They should wake up thinking, “What a beautiful day” or “Thank you God for another day with my family” or any number of things. But what they should not be thinking morning after morning is, “Oh no! I didn’t fill up the gas tank!”
Solution: Mommy needs to plan for what she can, and let go of what she can’t. She needs to discern between what is a must versus what she would like to get done. These are two very different things. Essentially, she needs to let go of being the perfect mom (i.e. fulfilling her own never ending checklist) and learn to settle for being a great mom (i.e. how her kids see her, whether or not the laundry gets done).
2. “I feel like the kids never stop fighting.”
There is another version of this, which is “the noise never stops,” but the sentiment is still very much the same. A mother interprets her day as one long strain on her nerves.
To be clear, no one is saying that her children are not fighting a lot, and certainly no one is saying that her kids aren’t noisy; I for one don’t know them, so perhaps they are. The point here is that mommy cannot see the peaks and valleys anymore. After all, no child yells for twelve hours straight, and no children that I have ever met (including mine and I have six boys and three girls in the house) fight non-stop.
But that is how she feels and this feeling is certainly very real to her.
Solution: Mommy needs to take notice of the quiet or dull moments during the day. Get a friend to point them out if possible. If no friend is present, she should set a small alarm for herself to go off periodically so that she “checks in” on her environment. Is it really as loud as she feels? Are they really still fighting? Asking these kinds of questions at intervals will help to bring her back down from where her nerves have been leading her.
3. “I feel like I can’t get a break.”
Though it might be tempting to lump this feeling in with the previous one, I would advise against it. It is healthy for the mind to come down from a task every once in a while even if the task is a relatively pleasant one. But when the mind feels like it can’t do this then something is definitely wrong.
A mother needs to speak with other adults. She needs to think about something other than her child’s needs, even if only for a few moments. And she needs to change up her environment every once in a while if only to be more present and feel more like herself when she does step back into her role.
Solution: Mommy needs to schedule a time when someone else can step in to relieve some of her duties, even if only for a brief time. If help from another adult or older child is not possible, then she should head to the park or even backyard to experience some change. Sometimes even putting on music at a certain time of the day every day is enough to make her feel differently about her day.
Mothers really are wonderful people, giving of themselves often to the point of exhaustion. And while we, their husbands and children, certainly appreciate all of the love and attention these mothers give to their kids, it is extremely important to us all that you moms take care of yourselves.
After all, burnout is no joke. It affects our memory, our emotional state, our ability to do complex and sometimes even simple tasks, but most importantly, burnout affects one’s ability to form and nurture relationships.
And we love the relationships we have with you. So be on the lookout for mommy burnout. Get the help you need to counteract it before it can take its toll. Try some of the suggestions listed in this article and take care of yourselves.
We want you around for years to come, and we want you to enjoy the days you have now.
Patrick Sullivan is a Catholic Speaker and the President of Evango, a Catholic Media Organization that seeks to build a culture of Catholic evangelization and missionary discipleship. Patrick travels internationally to speak at Catholic events, parenting conferences, and to lead retreats and parish renewal missions. He is the creator and host of Me & My House, the Catholic parenting program that is transforming how we minister to parents in our dioceses, parishes, and communities. Patrick lives in beautiful Barry’s Bay, Ontario with his loving wife, Kyla, and their nine children.