Last week, I woke up and immediately reached for my laptop, still on the bedside table from where I had left it the night before. I figured if I wrote a quick story before my kids detected that I was awake, I could get a jump start on my work for the day.
I opened the computer, stared at the screen and then thought, “This is ridiculous.” I at least deserved a cup of coffee before jumping into the madness of running a business, raising two kids and keeping a household together.
That morning, I closed the computer and made myself a cup of coffee and toast before I started working. I wish I could say that that moment marked a change, but this morning I started my first interview within 10 minutes of waking up, as my husband slipped a coffee through my closed door. I’m not proud of it, but it’s just a symptom of the pressures on working moms that are simply overwhelming. There’s no way to tackle them all with balance.
10 Million Moms Are Overwhelmed
There’s some solace in knowing that I’m not alone. A recent report found that 9.8 million mothers are feeling burned out. That’s nearly 1 in 3 working American moms.
The fact that exhaustion and overwhelm is so widespread tells me that the issue isn’t mine alone — it’s societal. Women have been conditioned to take care of everything in the household, and even with partners like mine who are deeply involved in parenting, the emotional labor that we take on is too much. Add to that the fact that most moms are also working full time and many, like me, are breadwinners in their households.
We have so many balls in the air that it’s natural to feel overwhelmed trying to keep them all afloat. But the problem isn’t our juggling abilities — it’s the society around us that just keeps tossing in one ball after another, because, after all, we’re handling them all beautifully, aren’t we, so what’s one more?
A Mind In Constant Motion
Like most mothers, I have a constant orchestra in my mind, playing a symphony called Things That Must Be Done. The two predominant themes are work and kids: what interviews do I have booked? When are my deadlines? Is my six-year-old doing enough school working and getting enough snuggles? Then, there’s everything else. The budget. Planning our family time. Managing our rental property. It’s truly endless.
To be clear, I have a ton of privilege. For starters, my husband stays home with the kids, taking care of lots of their day-to-day needs. I’m making a good income, and I am in control of my schedule. I know that many, many families are in a more difficult position than mine.
But that’s exactly it — if I’m overwhelmed with all the support that I have, there’s something wrong with what’s being asked of me, and all other mothers. How do we fix expectations that are simply unrealistic?
A Little Mental Space
There are many ways that our society could be more supportive of parents and families. Childcare is a huge one, and fair pay for traditional women’s work. But I really believe the most important conversation that we need to continue having is about emotional, mental or invisible labor.
Call it what you want, but I’m talking about the constant to do list running through women’s minds. We’ve been conditioned to see this as productive, when really it’s wearing us down. It used to make me rage to see my husband simply relaxing with a book or tinkering with his motorcycle when there were clearly a million things to be done. But when I paused to think about it, I realized that he wasn’t doing anything wrong — I was.
He has been conditioned to take down time when he needs it and make space for his mental health. That’s what we should all be doing, even if we need to put boundaries in place with our employers and our selves.
After the chaos of 2020, I’m feeling burnout and exhaustion more than ever. To fight it, I’m taking two weeks off at the end of the year. That’s an option many people don’t have. But still, it’s stressing me out — how will clients respond, will I get everything I need to get done? But I know that, like many moms, I’m on the edge of what’s sustainable and I just need a break in order to be at my best.
Whether it’s a day off, a night out or even just an hour alone in a room without kids, I hope all moms can find time to do the same. After all, we can’t just keep trudging along in a state of burnout. We deserve that coffee before jumping into work for the day, or jumping into a new year of keeping everything together.
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