In my psychology practice, I meet weekly with moms who work both inside and outside of the home. While their feelings are often the same—questioning their purpose in life, not sure if they should continue to do what they are doing and a constant feeling of exhaustion, the specific triggers for their burnout can differ based on their working situations.
The reality is most moms believe the other side of the “work” fence is better. If they are a stay-at-home mom they think they would feel better and less stifled if they were outside the home every day. Mothers who go to an office or a similar workspace might be overwhelmed and wonder if they should find a way to be home. When stressed, bored or frustrated, moms in either situation instantly begin looking for reasons to change their work status.
Whether you work at home or out, or even if you don’t work at all, it is a decision that is based on your particular family’s needs and values. But if you do work outside of the home, this can create a unique set of stressors that can add to your negative feelings. Chief among these stressors is guilt, and there is no guilt like mommy guilt. You feel guilty for leaving your kids in the morning, working late nights, not cooking homemade dinners more often, being on your computer even after a long day’s work, missing soccer games or play practice—the list goes on and on.
Many working moms have had their children ask them questions such as, “Are you ever going to stop working?” The feeling of being torn between two worlds, never having enough time and feeling as if we are not fully successful in either endeavor wears on us. But still we march on, trying to be in two places at once, trying to advance our careers while pretending our minds aren’t distracted by concerns for our kids and ignoring our own personal and health needs.
You may be thinking all these feelings are just part and parcel of being a mother. No one ever said it was going to be easy, right? With a little wine and some humor, you’ll be okay, right? And while stress is a part of all our daily lives, chronic stress wreaks havoc on our minds, bodies and our perception of being smart and competent mothers. Chronic stress can lead to burnout—both in the workplace and in our homes.
Read on to see if you may be suffering from working mommy burnout:
1. You constantly question why you do what you do, and no longer take joy in work you once loved.
2. You think what you do (paid work or staying home your kids) may not be worth the stress it causes or the money you earn.
3. You still wonder who you will be when you “grow up” because, even at this age, you don’t feel like you are able to achieve what you want in life—whether it is financial success, recognition, or enjoyment.
4. You feel time is running out to achieve your dreams, and you don’t know the next steps to take to accomplish them, in your profession or your personal life.
5. You feel like you should be working if you are at home with your kids and vice versa.
6. You wonder about the purpose of life in general and constantly question if doing something different will bring you closer to clarity.
7. You secretly have something you want to do in life—start a business, write a novel, go back for your graduate degree, run a marathon—but it feels too big to even attempt.
If two or more of the above symptoms sound familiar, you may be experiencing what I refer to as the working mom’s dilemma, which can lead directly to mommy burnout. The great thing is moms don’t have to accept these feelings as their normal. There are some easy-to-implement changes that can be done to cope with working mom stress.
Learn to ask for and receive help. You don’t have to do everything on your own to be a good mom, or a good employee!
Be protective and intentional about your time. Say yes to the most important things at home and work and no to the things you don’t have to or want to do.
Teach your kids independence while they are toddlers. These important life skills like clearing a plate, getting dressed or brushing teeth on their own will make a working mother’s life much better in the long run. If your child is already older, it is never too late to drill the independence lesson. Start today.
Set one achievable goal a day. Do your best to accomplish that goal, and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get to it. It’s a goal, not a life or death situation!
Being a working mom can be a challenge whether you love your job or have to work to make ends meet. It is also an opportunity to be a wonderful role model for our children and to do their best to achieve their dreams. Finding and making peace with our purpose as a working mom is essential to being able to enjoy life every day. It helps us to be present, to gain focus on what is most important and to integrate the challenges we all experience as part of our journey.
Dr. Sheryl Ziegler, MD, is a doctor of psychology and licensed professional counselor. She is the author of Mommy Burnout: How to Reclaim Your Life and Raise Healthier Children in the Process