Friday, February 19, 2016

Stay at Home Mom Burnout

Burnout is a thing.  

People talk a lot about career burn out - about losing enthusiasm, drive, and motivation.  What people don't talk about a lot is mom burn out.  And I think I have it.  

I've been a stay at home mom for nearly 5 years now.  For those five years, I have devoted pretty much my everything to my kids.  All my time, my energy, my body.  And really, isn't that what a mother is supposed to do?  Particularly when a mother's job, on a daily basis, is to be a stay at home mother?  I mean, what else is it that I'm supposed to do?  

Sure, I have done some work on the side.  I do see friends regularly.  A year or so ago I started exercising regularly and it's now become a part of my daily routine.  But for the most part, I am all mom, all the time - I eat, sleep, and breathe motherhood.  

I'm burnt out.  

It was brought to my attention the other day that I have lost the joy in parenting.  What a sad, horrible, pathetic acknowledgement, but it's true.  I wake up tired.  I loathe the morning routine of getting the kids up and packed for school, battling through teeth brushing, hair brushing, and wardrobe conflicts.  I go through the motions of taking my youngest to playgroup or to the gym daycare and feed him lunch and put him down for a nap, which he only sometimes takes.  And then around 3:30, I pick my two older kids up from school with a sigh and a hint of dread, knowing that shortly I'll be making dinner, dealing with combat of getting them to eat dinner, cleaning up after dinner, and then starting on the bedtime routine that is not quite, but almost, as tedious as the morning routine.  And then I will do whatever work I need to do, fold laundry, watch junk television, and pray I can sleep through the night without interruption to start the whole thing over the next day.

I hate admitting this apathy, because the truth is, I LOVE my kids.  I love them more than anything.  I am in awe of them and proud of them and think they are pretty much the most awesome human beings on the planet.  So reconciling these two conflicting emotions - burnout, and love, is a weird thing.  And I'm not quite sure what to do about it.  

To be sure, parenthood is never easy - whether one works or stays at home.  I'm sure every parent feels burnt out sometimes.  But lately, I can't help but think that my kids deserve better.  They deserve a mom that is positive, creative, fun loving, and energetic - not one that is sighing in exhaustion, annoyance, and dread.

The fact is, I have nothing that is truly for me.  I have help with the kids in the form of an amazing babysitter that comes two or three times a week for a few hours.  But when she comes, I use that time to work, to go to a doctor's appointment, or to pick up my other kids from school.  Besides exercise, which I do enjoy but is hardly a respite indulgence, I don't have any hobbies, any interests, any career.  I just don't have time for it.  And the big question is, if I did have the time, what would I do with it?  

These are big questions.  Existential questions.  Questions like - what do I want to be and how do I want to spend my time and who am I in this world besides a mother?  Questions that I have conveniently put off answering while I devote my life to parenting.

These questions are too big to deal with all at once.  

But I am starting the process of answering them, on Wednesday mornings.  

Our wonderful babysitter is now coming every Wednesday morning, so that I can do something for myself.  No errands or doctor's appointments or otherwise useful activities are allowed.  I am going to take my Wednesday mornings and indulge.  

I've had three so far.  

The first one, I took a Red Door gift card I was given two years ago and used it for a massage.  

The second one, I took my computer to Barnes & Noble and took an online Masterclass course (James Patterson Teaches Writing - I'm only halfway through and I highly recommend).  

This past Wednesday, I went to yoga and met a friend for lunch.

The hope is that these Wednesday mornings will break my burn out, and will fill me up enough so that on Wednesday afternoon, and throughout the week, when I pick my kids up from school, I can do so with an authentic smile.  

I'm not expecting any overnight miracles, but I can sense the start of a shift in me.  Almost like I've regained hope.  Writing that sounds so melodramatic, because for God's sake, I have a pretty amazing life.  But it's like I had given up hope on being part of something bigger, on extraordinary experiences, on intrinsic curiosity.  After my last solo Wednesday morning, I signed up for another writing class, which I'll be going to for two hours every Saturday.  I have an excitement about it that I haven't felt in a long time. 

In taking these Wednesday mornings for myself, I have to fight back that little voice in my head called guilt.  It says things to me like:  How dare you pay for a babysitter to watch your children so you can be indulgent?  Aren't you a stay at home mom?  Isn't this your JOB?  Who do you think you are?  Suck it up.  You have three beautiful children.  You have a "perfect" life.  You shouldn't have to take a Wednesday morning off to be happy.  You are selfish, selfish, selfish, and spoiled, spoiled, spoiled.  


There's a fine line between overwhelming gratitude and martyring oneself.  I know how lucky I am to be able to stay at home, let alone pay for a babysitter to come on Wednesday mornings so that I can do things just for myself.  It doesn't seem fair, when one looks at what is going on in the world. And at the risk of being overly dramatic and philosophical, I have often wondered how it is that I have my life, and children are dying on beaches in a flight from Syria.  If I'm going to be doing something "extra" with my time, shouldn't it be in the form of giving back?

The answer is yes.  But, I'm allowing myself baby steps.  Baby steps to rediscover myself, my place in this crazy world, and how it is I can face dinnertime each night with some actual joy (if such thing is possible).   For now, it starts with Wednesday mornings.

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  1. I'm so sorry to hear this but I don't think you're alone. If we forget to take care of ourselves and take a few hours to do the things that we enjoy, it's so easy to burn out no matter WHAT you're doing, whether you are working outside or inside the home. I also think it takes mindfulness - to realize that you're feeling the way that you feel and then to be gratful for doing the things that give you pleasure you know? I hope that those Wednesday mornings work for you!

  2. Really good that you are taking time for yourself.

    Staying home is a privilege (especially around here) but tending to others all day long is exhausting and lonely not being around a peer group like at the office.

    Have fun with your newly carved out self time. You and your family will benefit from it.

  3. Hi. I’m following your blog regularly. I am a former lawyer from Montreal who turned stay-at-home mom and once a year, part time law teacher. After the implicit decision not to have a fourth child, I needed to do something for me but something as though and exciting as having a new baby. I started to train for triathlon and finally registered for my first Ironman next summer. I think that nothing is as big as having another baby, and even if you are sure that you’re done, you need to fill the void, you need to be excited about something to come. Registering now for sports event in the summer (10k, half marathon…) might help you because you will HAVE to get out after dinner to train? You might also know that endorphins help a lot for absolutely everything. Well, I totally understand what you describe, since it’s the same circus here everyday. Going to the spa or having a coffee once a week is not the answer (I think…). You need to start something that will make you proud and happy and alive, outside of the house. My humble and very subjective opinion.

  4. I love your honesty and everything you say resonates with me. I've been a sahm for 3 years and all of it, all of what you've wrote is something I have felt - burned out, guilty, indulgent, relieved, selfish - and still feel. Thanks for writing about it!

  5. I'm also a DC stay at home mom, with 2 boys- 1 and 5. And a law career on hold. :) I've not been staying home as long as you, but I juggled for a while before we moved to DC, and I may be able to help with the burnout.

    First, take care of yourself, whatever that looks like. like working out? Awesome. Also find something that sparks excitement. Maybe it's creating art, maybe it's a book club. For me, it's knitting. Carve out time to do this WITH OTHER PEOPLE. Not alone. This will be great adult time, where someone other than your adult family members will interact with you and be interested in you as a person, not a caretaker.

    Second, delegate tasks.
    1, 4 and 6 are tough ages. The 1 year old is totally dependent, and probably only minimally directed. However, a 4 and 6 year old can sort laundry, fold socks, fold shirts, fold pants and towels, use a dustpan to clean up after dinner, set the table, clear the table, put toys away, etc. Yes, standards do have to drop if you include your kids in these jobs, but I found that my 5 year old loves having a job and is proud of himself for contributing. It's also how he earns his money for treats (aka little toys). In our house, 2 loads of towels (kitchen and bath) is a $2 job.
    My 5 year old can also do his routine in the morning by himself. Get up, bathroom, brush teeth, hair and picks his own clothing and gets dressed. He looks crazy some days, but I'll take the independence over the matching outfit any day. I do retain veto power over weather appropriate clothing and fancy dress events (aka restaurants and holidays).

    Third, plan something FUN. Leave all that crap at home, and find something that you all will enjoy. Maybe a hike, a picnic, museum or playdate. Whatever it is, have as happy a day as possible. Consider taking the older kids out together, so you have more flexibility. It could be an adventure, or just a fun day in the sprinkler, but leave the routine behind and just be in the moment.

    Fourth, don't be hard on yourself. Burnout happens to everyone in a routine, working or not working. I think that change is part of human nature, and now that your youngest is 1, burnout is your mind's way of triggering a new routine. It's ok to bitch and moan. I'm on a reddit forum for moms where it's ok "to bitch, but not be a bitch." It's great to have a group that is non-judgmental for those days, even if it's only online. :)

  6. I stumbled upon your blog while reading your story on a clothing ad in my Facebook feed. I was intrigued by the article's title and gave this post a read. I am a proud auntie and full-time worker who handles most of the household chores and all the vet stuff for the dog, while my hubby works full-time and cooks every night. I am in awe of good parents (it sounds like you are in that group). There is nothing wrong with taking a few hours for yourself every week! For my in-laws, that's their Sunday afternoons, when hubby and I entertain the littles at their house. Obviously count your blessings and smile at your fortune, but take time to enjoy what life has to offer. From the sounds of things, when you were employed you worked really hard, and most likely "earned" the ability to be a SAHM, that it was a mutually-beneficial agreement for your family. If you ever decide you miss the legal field, you could always go back, even part-time, when your kids get a little older... I work as a legal assistant for a large foreclosure firm and am considering whether law school and potentially being a lawyer is right for me. Your posts are eye-opening and honest. I truly enjoyed this. Keep up the good work, and do what feels right for you and your family and friends. Sometimes the answers are simpler than they seem: look within yourself.

  7. Thank you for this post. I have 2 kids (6&8) and have been a stay at home mom for 5 years. And I practised law for 10 years before that. I went back to work after each child was born but my husband is a lawyer as well (in private practice) and we were never seeing our kids and had to hire out for all parts of our life. In any event, something had to give and I really wanted to be with the kids so here I am I've loved being home but I get you on the burn out. The repetition can really get to you and you start wondering if you are throwing away all the hard work of getting your degree and start being tired of being known only as x's wife and y's mom.

    I have no clue what/when I'm going back to work. I've volunteered over the past 3-4 years at my kids school, I co-chair the playground committee and volunteer for an organization that sponsors refugees. It helps pass the time and makes me feel like I am contributing to the world and looks good on the resume when that time comes. But I feel lost some days, like I'm treading water and wasting time. Do you ever feel that?

    I like the suggestion above about training for a triathlon. We are goal oriented people and having a big one to pick at is a great idea.

    Thank you for your post. You are not alone. Law to SAHM is a huge transition. It sounds like there is a good community of women out there who have gone through this as well and we all have each other's back.

    Take care

    T from Canada

  8. Hi congrats to that post and btw I love the name of your blog (butIhaveaPhDinbiology...)I think it doesn't really matter if you stay home or work (I started working again after 11month) I guess almost every parent will come to a point where you have kind of a burnout either from staying at home > giving up a career you worked hard for or from getting both done career and kids. I guess it is absolutely necessary to have time for yourself and as a couple (following a yoga class once a week in the evening and I decided to take one day off 1-2times a month just for me! Besides we just had a weekend only with the two of us, which was essential as well for us as a couple) thus, great decision with your Wednesday mornings! Greetings from a german mum.

  9. It's as if you've literally, yes literally, read. my. mind.
    Thank you for this.


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