Health Motherhood

What To Do When The Mental Load of Motherhood Is Overwhelming

I feel you in the dullness behind my eyes and in the heaviness of my arms and legs. I hear you in my thoughts that start as a whisper and then shout “it’s too much” and “I can’t do it all”. I’m so tired but you rob me of proper sleep. I’m exhausted but you won’t let me rest. There is too much to do.

There are daily decisions about meals and lunch boxes and snacks. There are the “special activities” planned by the school and extracurricular programs meaning a costume, or an item to purchase or look for. Requests to sign up to various apps and Facebook groups and the endless reminders that then appear there. Or sometimes more irritatingly, to receive no messages or updates at all on said app, after a time-consuming sign up process.

There are mountains of laundry that do not stop coming. A similarly endless cycle of dishes. There are the constant complaints from about what isn’t done, what isn’t fair or what was forgotten. There are accusations about food that nobody likes or wanted to eat. There are the bins that overflow despite reminders or because” I wasn’t the one who filled it up”. I remind myself they are kids but my burnout whispers “they don’t care”. The inability to find anything without help paired with complete resistance to using any organisation system I put in place for them.

More than anything it is the mental load of remembering everyone’s schedules, the endless school notes and invoices to pay. The unseen job of the administration of parenting is at every corner. All of it together with a lack of any positive feedback or acknowledgement is what creates burnout.

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When a family member requests to watch my kids do an activity, I think but do not say, why not take them for me instead? I know you will ask me constant questions, give critical feedback about how the activity is run or what my children should be doing. Take this weekly burden from me, just this once. My family provides you with entertainment and social currency but I am too tired to talk to you, to care about your needs as well, please let me rest. When I’m in burnout mode, I don’t have the fight in me, so I say with dread “sure that would be lovely.” I start to withdraw from my family. I connect less as my resentment builds.

Work fewer hours, some say. Your work is so demanding, delegate more. Pay attention to your self-care. Get a cleaner, shop online, get a hobby, have a regular date night. All of which I have tried and some work for a while. Some have created more work than help. Go on strike say, other mothers. After a few days the kids will start to appreciate how much you do. I hear more choices and effort in these suggestions and my burnout says I don’t know if I can. Maybe I will strike one of these times. Because burnout will likely be back, that I know.

I do what I know helps when I’ve been here before. I talk to my husband. Noticing my efforts or buying my favorite wine is not enough, take some of this workload I am drowning in. I rest. He takes on more of the load instead of telling me to do it differently. He notices the children badgering me and puts an end to it. He makes decisions about meals. I go for walks and spend time alone. Tried and tested, silence helps me recover from burnout. I put the brakes on social media for work. I stop using electronic devices an hour before bed.

I feel a lessening of burnout’s drag. My body feels better. My thoughts become more positive, my kids appear cuter. I know that it will end soon.

The recipe to avoid parenting burnout is to do less of it. To delegate, seek support and reduce the load by dumping the non-essential tasks. To say no to requests that feel overwhelming or bring more work. The recipe to burnout is prioritizing you. If I know this, then how did I get here, when I have been here before?

Maybe I’ll prevent it or catch it earlier next time. Or maybe motherhood is an eternal balancing act between self-sacrifice and self-care with unpredictable factors that can’t be anticipated and prevented against. Either way, each day is mine to keep trying to find the right mix.

About the author

Nadene van der Linden

Nadene van der Linden is a clinical psychologist in private practice specialising in perinatal psychology, parenting and trauma. Join the Unshakeable Calm facebook group today. Science based tips for calm and confident living.