We like to talk a lot about how tired moms are, right? 

“I was up six times with the baby last night. I’m so tired!” 
“We have two doctor’s appointments, piano lessons, and a soccer game after school. I’m so tired!” 
“I’ve had three cups of coffee and it’s not even 9 a.m. yet. I’m so tired!” 

I mean, it’s true—motherhood is one of the most tiring things you’ll ever do. 

But you know what I’ve learned four kids and almost a decade into this gig? What’s making me weary isn’t my lack of shut-eye.

Truthfully? That’s the easy part. (Because caffeine.)

It’s the part they don’t warn you about, the part that’s wrapped in that well-worn receiving blanket with your brand new bundle of joy that exhausts a mother down to her very core: the mental work of motherhood.

It’s freaking exhausting.

Every day, I do all the things for all the people: get the dog to the groomer; make yet another Target run; boil more water for another box of macaroni and cheese; brush teeth; braid hair; sort laundry; schedule an oil change; hunt down the “right” kind of string cheese; quiz spelling words; mend pants. 

But what you don’t see—what no one can prepare you for—is the way I’m constantly assessing and tending to the well-being of each one of my children (and my husband, for good measure). It’s like a sliding scale that never stops moving, and it’s loaded down with so much emotional weight it would squash a grown elephant like an ant. 

Is my son having a good day at school—or are those girls who’ve been bothering him lately hurting his tender heart and triggering his anxiety? 

Is my daughter mulling over questions about her soon-to-be-changing body that she’s afraid to ask—or am I doing enough to keep our lines of communication open? 

Is my preschooler going to cope well enough when her dad and I go out of town for a few nights next week?

Is my husband overwhelmed by shifting dynamics at work that he doesn’t want to bother me with?

At least the baby’s easy—all she does is get me up at night. 

See, it’s not the tasks of motherhood that do me in, that exhaust me from the tips of my toes to the split ends of my neglected hair. I mean, let’s face it—a marginally trained monkey could de-crust peanut butter sandwiches and semi-reliably pilot the van to Sunday school. 

But the ongoing attention to these precious souls on loan from God? That’s the kind of work that never lets up—the kind of work that I alone can do. 

It’s work that shifts just when you think you’ve got it figured out, that whirls you back around to square one with a sly little maniacal laugh. 

It’s work that no vat of coffee or bottomless McDonald’s Coke can even begin to suppress or smooth out around the edges. 

It’s why I’m exhausted, friends. It’s why we’re all so unbelievably exhausted all the time. 

And I don’t know, maybe it’s high time we start talking about THAT instead.

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Carolyn Moore

Carolyn traded a career in local TV news for a gig as a stay-at-home mom, where the days are just as busy and the pay is only slightly worse. She lives in flyover country with her husband and four young kids, and occasionally writes about raising them at Assignment Mom