So I recently went out with a few mum friends for the first time in forever. That’s right! No kids. No rushing little people out the door with a dozen bags full of spare clothes, nappies, wipes, snacks, drink bottles, etc. No wet patches on my clothes where I’d quickly scrubbed off spew, poop or food at the last minute.
This time, I had clean clothes, a face full of makeup, my hair was actually done half decently instead of just brushed through and dried naturally and I wasn’t dreading a night full of chasing little tornadoes around the table, cleaning up their inevitable spillages and half-eaten morsels of food that have been thrown on the floor with a cheeky giggle and mischievous grin, or the embarrassment as fellow diners cringe at my 20-month-olds fascination with squealing at a pitch that even a Galah would envy.
Instead, I walked out the door with a bounce in my step and an excitement about the prospect of being able to eat my dinner while it was still warm.
After a fantastic night of conversation (uninterrupted), laughing, drinking and dining, I realised that it was exactly what I had been needing for a long long time. I had convinced myself that I didn’t need a break, that the hour or so I had each evening after the kids went to bed (where I would work on my blog) was enough to keep me sane and the couple of days a week when I only had 3 teenagers (instead of 3 teens and 2 toddlers) was respite enough to start the crazy cycle all over again, but I was WRONG!
Yeah, take note of that because you won’t hear me say it too often, I was WRONG! Haha
A Full Life
I’ll break it down for you. In a nutshell, I am a single mum of 5 kids (2 x 16 yr old boys, a 14 yr old girl, and 2 boys 3 yrs and 20 months) I have my 3 teens full time and the 2 little ones 5 nights a week. If anyone has toddlers they know how full on they can be. I literally feel like I am cleaning my house all day. I once heard the quote “cleaning your house while the kids are awake is like shoveling snow while it’s still snowing” and I live by that statement.
My son keeps asking me why I don’t wait till the end of the day and clean it when they are asleep and then I only have to do it once. I tell him (and I don’t know why he still hasn’t got it):
1) I’m too tired at the end of the day to clean the whole house.
2) That’s my time to write, and
3) I like to be in a clean house, if I let the kids destroy the place all day, I’d be slipping on peanut butter sandwiches, tripping over toys and walking around in wet socks (because for some reason, even though they have cups with lids, their drinks always end up on the floor. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve washed the lounge room rug).
So I chase the kids around all day with the vacuum cleaner and a chux super wipe.
On top of cleaning, my boys have become very clingy of late. My 3 year old is constantly asking me to pick him up, play with him, tickle his hand, sing ‘spider-man’, ‘ABC’s’, ‘twinkle twinkle’ (although we change it to tickle tickle and I tickle him), and ‘God Loves you, and I love you’, not to mention numerous toilet trips throughout the day. My 20 month old is a little less demanding but he likes to eat, as often as possible, so we’ve had to put a lock on the pantry, plus locks on all the utensil drawers as he was forever throwing all the contents all over the kitchen floor.
Basically, when the boys are home I am on my feet all day. Between cleaning, changing nappies, wiping bums, picking up after them, spending time in educational play and getting them outside (including playgroup once a week) if they are awake, I am on my feet and working hard. If I sit down for even 5 minutes, they are climbing all over me, fighting each other for the best position, or asking me to come and play. I am often tempted to say “not now, I’m having a rest” but my mum guilt kicks in instantly and I feel like a neglectful mum for not being available when they want me, and so of course I get up and play with them.
When my little boys are not home, it’s teenager central at my place. My older boys both have girlfriends so I’m either running them all around town to various date locations or they are all at our place, or I take them out somewhere. I enjoy the company of all the teens (I’m not sure many mums can say that). I have amazing kids, they are a lot of fun to be with (although there are sometimes dramas to mediate and friendship dynamics to navigate), but it’s only a couple more years before they will be off living their own lives and making their own mistakes, so I want to relish every moment I have left and make as many memories as I can.
The twins (16 yr olds) have their learner driving licences, and so I have the awesome responsibility of supervising 100 hours of driving time, EACH! So that’s 200 hours of driving time I need to supervise before they can get their licences. On top of this the boys and I have begun construction on a pallet bed for my king size mattress. If anyone is confused, that’s a bed made from pallets. We are complete novices and are learning as we go, but we are enjoying the process and the time together, and hopefully we will be instant masters at it and can start another career in furniture construction. I know, I know, it sounds rather ambitious but I think we can do it.
Keep an eye out for the blog post on our efforts in a month or so.
Last but not least we have Church commitments. There’s 3 services on a Sunday (we usually only make it to one or two though) and we help out on a fortnightly basis with whatever needs to be done with set up and pack up, etc. I am also going to start training for a bus licence so I can help pick up people who do not have transport. So as you can see a lot of our day’s without the little ones are full of busyness.
I say all of this, not to gloat about how much I do but to explain how I’ve let myself get to a place where I am so obviously suffering from Mum Life Burnout. I believe over the last 6 months, I may have put a little too much pressure on myself to be everything for everyone. I may have let the world and other people in my life, make me feel like if I’m not constantly moving, then I’m lazy and not doing enough. If I’m not constantly giving all my time to my kids, then I’m neglectful and selfish. If I say ‘no’ to anything, I’m mean and nasty and on the flip side if I say ‘I’m busy’ then I’m making other things a priority and my kids will inevitably feel like they are not a priority to me and in turn end up insecure and codependent on their future spouses. My goodness! With that much self-induced pressure, it’s not wonder Mum Guilt and anxiety where starting to steal my joy.
So what does Mum Life Burnout Look Like?
Do you ever have one of those days where you just feel like your going completely insane?
Where every little thing just ticks you off to the max? You find yourself ranting to every member of the family (and even the guy at the grocery store checkout) about how sick you are of being everyone’s slave, because you spend all day cleaning and at the end of the day it looks like you’ve done nothing (even worse sometimes). You could swear that your family deliberately make messes just so they can irritate you with unnecessary housework, your positive they are wearing their entire wardrobe everyday so that they can replicate Mt. Kilimanjaro with the washing pile.
You find yourself cursing the tv remote because you “once again” pushed the ‘return’ button instead of ‘ok’ whilst trying to let Netflix know for the 200th time that your still watching ‘The Wiggles’ (Well your children are) and the two buttons are just too damn close together. The cat or dog becomes your biggest nemesis, trying to trip you over with every step and your sure the vacuum cleaner has the same mind set. Life and the world just becomes too much to handle and you really wish Aliens did exist and one of them would beem you up and whisk you away to another planet.
If you have days like this then chances are your suffering from Mum Life Burn out.
To better explain Mum Life Burnout I’m going to reference an article from Gallup.com entitled “Employee Burnout, Part 1: The 5 Main Causes” (Gallup.com, July 12 2018) Yes this article is about burnout in the workplace but let’s face it, is there any worker that works harder than a mother? Our job is 24/7 and the pressure is all too real. The same basic principles apply.
The article states “A recent Gallup study of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23% of employees reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes. That means about two-thirds of full-time workers experience burnout on the job.” If this is the case for full-time workers, how much more would it be the case for mothers (or even dads, if you take on a lot of responsibility in the home)? Whether you work full-time outside of the house and come home to take care of a family, or you are home with kids full-time, your job never really ends so there is a high chance of experiencing ‘Burnout’ at some point in time.
The effects of Mum Life Burnout
The below table (from the Gallup report) briefly highlights some (but not all) of the effects of employee burnout.
The effects of Employee Burnout
Employees who say they very often or always experience burnout at work are:
- 63% more likely to take a sick day
- Half as likely to discuss how to approach performance goals with their manager
- 23% more likely to visit the emergency room
- 2.6 times as likely to leave their current employer
- 13% less confident in their performance
Let’s break that down in terms of Mum Life Burnout:
- 63% more likely to take a sick day – Well wouldn’t we love to take a sick day occasionally? The truth is, there are no sick days in our employee contract as a Mum. If your sick, the best you can hope for is putting off a few of the household chores for a day or two but you’ll inevitably have to work twice as hard to catch up on it all. Most of us just keep working through, unless we are close to death and succeed in our pleadings for our other half or a family member to take over for a day. If you never get a chance to rest when your under the weather, you can become run down, it can take longer to recover and you can become more susceptible to illness in the future.
- Half as likely to discuss how to approach performance goals with their manager – Sometimes I wish I had a manager, someone who could organise my life and just tell me what to do and how to do it. The reality is as a mum you are your own manager. So I see this one as being ‘half as likely to spend time thinking about how to better manage and structure their time and activities with the kids’. So in other words we just go with the flow, going into autopilot or survival mode and not putting in the effort required to stick to a routine or schedule.
- 23% more likely to visit the emergency room – In all honesty a visit to the emergency room would be a welcome break. If you have someone to mind the kids, a visit to the emergency room could be on the cards, anxiety, stress and Mum Life Fatigue can lead to all sorts of physical symptoms, from racing heart beat to fainting, palpitations, nausea, migraines, stomach problems, etc. If you don’t have someone to take responsibility for your kids then you will inevitably feel like you just have to push through which can lead to more anxiety, illness and possibly depression.
- 2.6 times more likely to leave their current employer – Stress, burn-out, fatigue etc can put a lot of strain on a relationship and a family. Partners can sometimes unintentionally put more pressure on us by expecting us to be available for their needs whenever they have them. If your suffering from Mum Life Burnout, your unlikely to be able to give your partner what they require of you, leading to strain in the relationship. If this goes unchecked for a long period of time, separation can result or in the worse case scenario, leaving your family all together.
- 13% less confident in their performance – I feel this percentage is much lower than it would be in the case of motherhood. Motherhood is basically a one person owner operated business with the odd casual worker coming and going. You are responsible for every aspect of the job and therefore expected to be an expert in all areas of operation. The pressure can sometimes be overwhelming and with no holidays or sick days, there’s not much opportunity to take a load off. Most of us will eventually cave under such pressure and find that our confidence in our ability to Mum right, is dramatically reduced, by more like 80% than 13%.
From these results it’s easy to see that burnout can have a dramatic affect on work performance. It’s no different with Mum Life Burnout. Our job comes with a huge responsibility. Not only are we responsible for the safety and care of our little humans but they are watching us all the time as an example of how to act, how to cope with life, how to be a complete human and in the future a good parent. If you weren’t feeling the pressure before then here’s the reality. Everything we do matters!
Or does it?
That said, not everything we choose to undertake, matters. Our actions, our words our responses matter, but there are some activities or objectives that don’t matter as much as we think they do. Having your house spotless all the time for example.
Sure, it’s important to have a clean house and to show our kids that keeping clean and tidy is both better for hygiene and for promoting organisation and productivity, but if we have the unrealistic expectation that we have to have a perfect house 24/7 then we are putting undue pressure on ourselves to reach a standard that is close to impossible with little children in the house. Kids don’t need to see a perfect house, they need to see a well-maintained but lived-in home that is clean but full of all the things that make each person who they are and give them the freedom to learn, explore, experiment and play.
We need to stop putting so much pressure on ourselves to be the perfect Mother and start making our health a priority so we can be the best Mother for ‘our children’ that we can be. Get out with the girls every now and then, be the you that you are when your not being a mum. Explore new hobbies or interests or simply spend time doing what you already know you love.
There are many ways that you can combat or prevent Mum Life Burnout, but that’s a topic for my next article ‘Mum Life Burnout: 10 ways to cool down‘ or some other super helpful sounding title like that.
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