Breaking free from 'mommy burnout': 5 questions to help break the burnout cycle

There is no grand prize for being the mommy martyr.

August 23, 2021, 8:21 AM

Ericka Sóuter is a journalist, parenting expert, mother of two and the author of "How to Have a Kid and a Life: A Survival Guide." In her new book, Sóuter digs into 21st-century motherhood and explores the benefits of parents taking time for themselves in a kid-centric culture.

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, women were experiencing what I call an epidemic of mommy malaise – a feeling of constant overwhelm and unrelenting pressure that left them feeling completely depleted. Over 100 interviews with moms across the country revealed a universal dilemma: parenting was exhausting, expensive and more stressful than they ever imagined.

That, of course, has only intensified in the past year-and-a-half. Fathers have certainly had a trying year as well, however, moms have picked up nearly three times as many child care hours during the pandemic. And while many hoped that the availability of a vaccine would bring normalcy back into our lives, the delta variant has brought many fears percolating back to the surface.

PHOTO: Ericka Sóuter/"How to Have a Kid and a Life: A Survival Guide"
"How to Have a Kid and a Life: A Survival Guide" is available now.
Ericka Sóuter/"How to Have a Kid and a Life: A Survival Guide"

Meeting with a group of mothers recently, the anxiety was palpable.

One had been working from home while overseeing virtual learning – not an easy feat by any measure. Another had to stop working altogether because of lack of childcare. Already stretched thin, they worried about school closures, unvaccinated children getting sick, their relationships, job security or finding new employment. It’s frustrating, to be sure. Before the pandemic, 90% of parents in dual-income households used some kind of child care, according to the Department of Education. Many of those programs no longer exist.

While there are no guarantees about how the pandemic will play out in the weeks and months to come, there are things we can do to better deal with the burnout. The first step is to figure out what you need to relieve your stress and anxiety. A few simple questions can help you begin to figure it out.

The Mommy Burnout Litmus Test:

1. Am I nurturing my marriage or partnership?

2. Is my career headed in a good direction (if applicable)?

3. Do I have supportive friendships to turn to?

4. Do I nurture the passions or interests I had before kids?

5. Have I created an outlet that has nothing to do with my children?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you need to re-prioritize.

There is no grand prize for being the mommy martyr who never does anything for herself.

It may feel counterintuitive to focus on your needs right now, but there is no grand prize for being the mommy martyr who never does anything for herself. In fact, if you are not feeling nurtured and supported, it will be hard for you to be the parent you want to be.

Making small changes will make a world of difference for you and your family.

Here are some places that may be helpful to start to ease the feelings of stress, anxiety and burnout.

Create a supportive network

We have always heard it take a village to raise a child. Well, it takes a village for you too, especially now. That feeling of loneliness is your body's way of telling you that you need connection.

Carving out 10 minutes each day to talk to someone who doesn’t live in your home can be sanity saving. Some moms expressed hesitancy to bother people when everyone is so flustered and overwhelmed. I guarantee that if you need the outlet, so do they. I've personally learned on friends and neighbors more in this past year than I ever have ever done in the past. I've spoken with parents who have not just created social pods for their children, but ones for themselves as well. The parents help each other with meals, babysitting and provide emotional support.

We can't be afraid to ask. Those that do reach out realize how much others want and need the same thing.

Something just for you

With so much uncertainty, we have to make space for things that help create a sense of calm, even for a short while. It doesn’t have to take up a lot of time, it just needs to be consistent. Even just 15 minutes of yoga, meditation, exercise or your favorite reality TV show can make a difference. It's something for you, that feeds you, makes you feel something other than stress and anxiety.

All hands on deck

It’s also helpful to have your children take on more responsibility. Kids as young as four can help with vacuuming, dinner prep, putting away laundry and wiping up spills. Everyone has to contribute in new ways to help the family function and survive.

Be honest with yourself and your kids

Set realistic expectations about the school year. We are desperate to get our kids back into classrooms and they are excited about seeing friends again. However, distancing rules and mask mandates may still be in effect. Also, be aware of the school’s policy on covid infections. If someone in class tests positive, will all the kids be sent home and for how long? It’s important for everyone to know the “what ifs.”

Fears about safety

Families have to decide what is right for them and stick with it no matter what friends, family or neighbors say. You want your kid to wear a mask? Then they should wear a mask to school every day. You don't want unvaccinated guests in your home? Then let that rule be known. If it gives you peace of mind, these things should be non-negotiable.

16 questions to help tap into your feelings

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what is missing from our lives or what we need to feel fulfilled outside of work and family.

Sit down with a notepad and answer each of these questions. They will lay the groundwork for figuring out what you need to do to pursue your dreams or just a little bit of relief. Keep in mind that bliss and fulfillment look different for every mom, for every person. Find your happy.

1. When you were a little girl, what did you want to be when you grew up?
2. What is your dream job?
3. Other than your children, what fulfills you?
4. What do you think you need to be happy?
5. If you never tried to reach your, goal, how would you feel?
6. What do you think is holding you back?
7. What can you do to get closer to your goal?
8. What was your dream before you had children?
9. If you could divide up your day any way you wanted, what would it look like?
10. Name three things you do for you and only you.
11. What do you think is your purpose in your family? What is your purpose beyond your family life?
12. What made you most proud before you had kids?
13. What change do you want to see in your life?
14. How do you want your children to see you?
15. What part of yourself do you want to share with the world?
16. If you were guaranteed success, what would you try?

PHOTO: Ericka Sóuter/"How to Have a Kid and a Life: A Survival Guide"
"How to Have a Kid and a Life: A Survival Guide" is available now.
Ericka Sóuter/"How to Have a Kid and a Life: A Survival Guide"