Has anyone told you lately that you don’t have to be a superhero?
Our culture is so good at piling expectations high – we worship overachievers, respect the “hustle,” and feel obligated to stay so busy we can barely remember all the things we’ve done in a day.
We look on social media and compare our schedules and achievements to everyone else that we know (or kind of know – or don’t even know at all), and count ourselves as slackers if we don’t measure up in one way or another.
Not patient enough, not skilled enough, not pretty enough, not important enough, not smart enough, not thankful enough, not spiritual enough, not funny enough, not talented enough – I could honestly go on for pages.
Moms, especially, are given kudos for all of the things that they do for their kids, their spouses, their extended families, their jobs, their communities. We fight for causes, are expected to be the voice of reason; we are culture influencers.
But when it comes to balancing all of those things, the first thing we put on hold is taking care of ourselves.
We look at our calendars and can barely fit in a cup of coffee (wait – who am I kidding)… we fit in coffee, but skip breakfast, or lunch, or… just grab a bar on the way from one place to another and hope that it keeps our stomach from growling through our next appointment.
Burnout is a real thing. We hear it often in relation to job and workplace burnout.
But it's especially a thing for moms.
In fact – the rest of the label doesn’t even matter. Stay-at-home moms, working moms (or stay-at-home-working moms for that matter), homeschool moms, toddler moms, high school moms – none of them are exempt.
Because moms are supposed to be superheros.
Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash
At least, that’s what we think. We wear our schedules like a badge of honor.
But the truth is that an overscheduled, overstimulated, overcapacity life doesn’t actually lead to anything good.
It leaves us with less time for the important things – real connections with our families.
It leave us with lots of shallow friendships that don’t ever get beyond the surface.
Burnout can look like:
It can be any of those, individually or together, wrapped in a nice little overstimulated bow.
We don’t have to feel like this, mamas. In fact, even though every word on social media and every mom portrayed on television does all things for all people – it’s absolutely not the life that we have to live.
The things that you choose to fill your life with should build feelings of joy and excitement. If it doesn’t – it might be time to reevaluate some things.
Please hear me correctly – I understand that sometimes we go through seasons that have high stress, that leave us exhausted and longing for the next page. That’s not what I’m talking about here. If your life looks like the bullet points above the majority of the time, then this is for you.
Burnout to Balance in 4 Steps
1. Own Your Schedule.
Sometimes it’s hard to see where we can let go a little bit. Our intentions in all of these things are always good – we want the best for our kids. We want to be great at our jobs.
We want for our friends and our spouse to think that we can handle anything thrown our way.
But are we? Can we?
We can’t be good at everything.
Personally, I have seasons where I feel like the most in-tune friend, but I can’t quite hit the mark with my husband or kids – and vice versa. It can be hard to balance.
But if we can take the time to look at our calendar and can see where our time is going, we may be able to gather up some space.
Take each commitment and determine what value you are getting from it. Are you prioritizing extracurriculars over family time? Would that evening commitment be better for some downtime?
This New York Times article suggests that we should “spend time with no goals in mind” and allow ourselves family time without screens, scheduled activities, and learn how to enjoy one another’s company again.
This also helps our children learn that boredom doesn’t have to be a negative thing, and that their parents are not entertainment providers.
2. Set boundaries
Look at not only what you spend your time doing, but also who you spend it with. If we are spending our valuable time with people that drain our energy, burnout comes a lot faster.
Take stock of the people in your life and what happens when you are around them. Are your friends generally uplifting and encouraging, or do you find yourself complaining more when they are around?
The saying “show me who your friends are, and I’ll show you who you are” applies here. You choose the people that you spend your time with, and even if you consistently find yourself wondering why you hang out with them (as you plan your next happy hour) – you still hang out with them.
What would your life look like if you chose to only surround yourself with people who actively disengage from gossip and negativity?
I’m also aware that sometimes the draining ones are the people that you live with. I get it, and that’s ok. You can set boundaries with them as well.
If you need a break from your kids – what keeps you from taking one?
What really keeps you from it?
Babysitters are not in short supply. You can take the time to vet them, ask friends for recommendations, ask a responsible teenage neighbor, or even take advantage of a mom’s morning out/parents night out sponsored by a local church or agency (affiliation never required).
If you can’t handle the idea of leaving the kids with a babysitter, that’s fine. You can still ask for help. Ask a friend, family member, or even that teenage babysitter to come over and watch the kids while you are still home. You can still “act as if” you are leaving, so the kids don’t seek you out – but then make your way into your bath or lock yourself in your bedroom and read a book. Most moms will understand this – and teenage babysitters won’t care, as long as they still get paid.
You can be as creative as you want to be, but if you need a break, you’re allowed to take it.
3. Find an outlet.
For you. Not your kids. For you.
There is nothing better for burnout than finding a way to challenge your mind. Whether this means learning something new, doing something you’ve always wanted to do, or trying something creative, find something that can be “yours.”
These kinds of challenges help us to remember who we are and what we are capable of, and distract us from the pitfalls of exhaustion and emptiness.
The caveat here, of course, is not to just add on another task to your list. This outlet, in a perfect world, would be something that you carve out time for, look forward to, and that you have removed other calendar-filling-yet-draining activities and/or people from your schedule for.
Burnout can creep up on us over and over again if we don’t guard against it. When you recognize that you are going through it, take careful note of how it impacts you.
Are you shorter with your kids, when normally you have seemingly unlimited patience?
Do you start to feel resentment for your spouse?
Do you feel so overwhelmed that you can’t get anything done?
What does burnout look like for you?
Keep an eye out for those feelings to creep back up again. In our society, we are prone to get back into these cycles of overscheduling, and may have to consistently guard ourselves from repeating those patterns.
The best way to protect yourself from burnout is to have an ongoing self-care plan. Doing so will help you to manage ongoing stress and prioritize your needs.
Because you really and truly don't have to be a superhero.
Need more support than what a blog post will give you? Ready to ditch the burnout and find your way back to life? Read more about my services for moms here.
Brooke Williams, MA, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor serving South Carolina. She provides relationship and identity counseling online for busy moms and professionals. You can read more about her here.