Banishing the Parent Burnout Blues

“A Mother’s work is never done.” Every mom knows there is a lot of truth in the old saying. No sooner do you put the vacuum away than you hear the crunch of Cheerios underfoot.

Motherhood is a job like no other. The rewards come in terms of a child’s smile and knowledge in your heart that you are doing a good job. The external support may be sporadic, and your efforts under-appreciated. And since the day’s agenda is never completely under your control, you can end up feeling a bit powerless by the end of a long day. This profile makes mothers prime targets for physical and emotional burnout.

Most moms can relate to the feeling of being overworked and overtired, and we are so often expected to do it all and to be it all. Each of these factors can contribute to that fizzle feeling.
Catherine Carbone Rogers is the mother of two and National President of FEMALE (Formerly Employed Mothers at the Leading Edge). Rogers points out the factors that can contribute to burnout, particularly for home-based moms.

“Women who have spent time devoted to a career are accustomed to tangible rewards like promotions, bonuses, performance reviews, and verbal ‘pats on the back’ from bosses and co-workers,” Rogers says. “When you are at home with young children, you don’t get much feedback that tells you that you are doing a good job. Your ultimate performance review is years away.” Without this performance evaluation, it is sometimes difficult for moms to judge the job they are doing.

The long hours of parenthood can contribute to the burnout feeling, as well. “You don’t have the option of ‘leaving it at the office,’” Rogers says. Exhaustion escalates when sleep deprivation is added to the equation.

The warning signs

Pay attention to the following symptoms, particularly if they become overwhelming and consistent.

Anger, irritability, and hostility
A sense of powerlessness or helplessness
Fatigue, despite adequate rest
Insomnia
Compromised immune system--a higher occurrence of ailments, including colds.
Increase in the use of drugs and alcohol
Feelings of boredom
Loss of interest in your social life
Diminished sex drive

Preventing Parent Burnout
Left unchecked, burnout can lead to depression--a much more profound problem.

The good news: you’ve come to the right place. The best prescription to both prevent and treat mommy burnout is to find a strong support system and to take care of yourself.

Support system
Mental health professionals say building relationships with people is a prime tactic to circumvent feelings of burnout.

Rogers agrees. “Seek out other mothers in the same phase of life.” she says. “The value of peer support can not be underestimated."

Websites such as Momscape and organizations such as Mothers at Home and FEMALE (www.FEMALEhome.org or call 1.800.223.9399), which helps mothers make the transition from full-time career to at-home mothering, can help. Groups allow parents to seek advice and vent emotions,and they remind moms of the power of their sense of humor in dealing with day-to-day parenting issues.

Support groups can also aid in the healing process once burnout has set in, but finding this kind of group in your area might be more difficult than it has been in previous generations. “Unlike the neighborhoods of the 50s and 60s,” Rogers says. “where women formed their own neighborhood support networks, you may be the only mom on the street,” she says.

Monica Jones, a mother of two in Vienna, Virginia, agrees. "I think burnout is worse in this generation than in the past because many of us live far from family, and we don't have the built-in support system that other generations have had."

Taking care of yourself

“You can’t take care of others if you aren’t taking care of yourself,” Rogers says. Relax and recharge. Enjoy a soul snack, take a walk, hit the mall or the gym by yourself. Any activity that helps you relax and recharge will also provide a greater sense of control over your life and future, which helps squelch that sense of powerlessness.