Last week I hosted a sleepover birthday party for six girls. Six 5-year-olds descended on our house, invited by me in a weak moment of expansiveness and generosity to my 5-year-old’s birthday wishes.
I fed them pizza and ice cream cake. They demanded candy. They staged a disco party. They stayed awake past midnight. Almost everyone cried at some point.
The next morning—after serving six waffles with whipped cream, not with butter, why don’t you have strawberries?—I felt exhausted and annoyed at myself for taking this on. It was unequivocally a terrible idea. I should’ve known it was too much. But when I’d shared my plans with my friends, their responses had been overwhelmingly supportive. Woohoo! High fives! Four friends said in essentially the same peppy voice, “Wow! That’s amazing; so brave! You’re supermom!”
They’re trying to be kind, but it amounts to the way we all encouraged each other to take 10 shots and make terrible choices in college. We’re just cheering each other on to crash and burn, not wanting to be the only one doing too much. It was alcohol then; it’s over-functioning now. Have we really grown up that much?
I know they’re trying to be supportive. I know because I’ve been there too. When I hear my friends doing impossible things, I say things like “Go you!” and “You’re amazing!”
When my real response should be something like, “Wow, that is a big commitment. Are you sure? Are you well-resourced? Are there ways around this?”
We’re afraid to check each other’s enthusiasm, so we end up condoning poor behavior. We keep each other spinning in these gymnastics loops of overdoing it, each of our performances encouraging others to think it’s normal or sane.
Parenting, working, or doing anything beyond our capacity isn’t healthy: it’s destructive. We’re responsible for our choices, but the opinions of friends matter more than we know. We value each other.
And there’s a lot on the line, we’re not just overdoing it with one-night birthday parties. We’re doing it with jobs, commitments, volunteering, and the insidious belief that it’s not enough just to be a mom.
How do we change the way we talk to each other when we see each other carrying burnout like a designer bag? It’s not an accomplishment to do too much. It’s an accomplishment to feel peaceful. To be well rested, well nourished, connected, and sane. So much of motherhood is insanity, we cannot keep voluntarily creating more drama for ourselves and then cheering each other on like that’s the point.
Let’s support a friend who says no to an event. Let’s support a friend who’s not doing anything this summer. Let’s support the mom who is not joining the board. Supermom, not volunteering!
It is great to help. It is necessary for a community to function. It’s great to host events. But we can only go there if we are well-resourced already, and so often we are not.
Let’s love each other enough to call it when we see it: mom-burnout isn’t cute and never was. We can do better than cheering on each others’ impending breakdowns. We need each other’s support—true support—and sometimes that means telling a friend that hosting a 5-year-old slumber party is NOT A GOOD IDEA.