I was nine years old and I didn’t understand. Usually my mother, a stay-at-home mom, ran back to us when we cried, and I was crying as hard as I could. But she still wheeled her suitcase over to the driver and got on the bus. Some women had talked her into believing we would be OK for a few days without her while she enjoyed her first cruise. They said she needed the break to refresh herself. Every year since then, she’s taken several trips — to include an annual cruise — and now I get it.
Years later, I’m the one fully immersed in being a wife and mother. Add in the additional role of being married in the military, and I’m programmed to fill any holes created by this lifestyle. When I look at the guy I’ve committed myself to, and the twins I birthed, my heart collapses with love. The thought circles my mind of how could I ever live without them. So, I give every waking moment until I have nothing left.
Aside from daily cooking, cleaning and wanting to create special moments for our kids, I would also make snacks for their basketball team with added motivational messages. I’d find a creative dessert we could make together. I’d take them on a trip for donuts after school knowing that we still had to do homework and Spanish. Even when I was tired, I did it for them.
Where did this relentless and sometimes self-destructive idea of motherhood come from? Everywhere.
Pew Research Center found that 77% of adults say women face a lot of pressure to be involved mothers. We not only pressure ourselves, but we are hit with expectations from society, our families and our peers.
The burnout crept up on me. I would need to go to bed earlier because I felt depleted and sucked dry. I would give my girls shorter answers because I didn’t want them talking to me. I was annoyed with everything my husband did or didn’t do and couldn’t find a reason. Arguments were frequent, tension thick and I felt trapped in my life.
I know I love them, but why don’t I like any of them right now?
I religiously had “self-care,” which looked like pedicures and a little time to myself on weekends. What had I not done right that led me to this point and what do I need to feel balanced and full?
I didn’t have an answer but the timing was perfect. My brother was getting married and my mother, sisters and me planned to attend his wedding across the country in San Diego. Finally, I would be able to breathe for five days without being responsible for someone else. I didn’t have to cook dinner, compromise for football game marathons on television, plan activities or haul kids everywhere.
And I don’t feel bad about admitting that I needed it!
Oh. My. God. The California sun healed my soul. But more than the sun, it was the space. Pedicures aren’t enough anymore. My needs have changed and that’s OK.
When I returned home, my desire to be with my family was real I could completely nurture them because I’d met my own needs first. And as cliché as it sounds, I wasn’t pouring from an empty cup anymore.
But I realized I had to make changes to maintain my peace and reserve space for myself.
Here are three things you can do to avoid burnout and keep your sanity:
Don’t put more pressure on yourself than is required: Frustration is often self-inflicted from trying to do it all. There’s no law that says your family has to have a home-cooked meal every night. If a bowl of cereal is the best you can do because you’re too tired from your day, that’s OK.
Do it later: There’s a quote that says, “There’s a difference between importance and urgency.” For the mama with the mini mountain of clothes that aren’t folded yet, it’s important that your family has clean clothes to wear, but NOT urgent that they are folded and put away. You’ll get to it eventually. Don’t stress.
Take your break: “Your break” means whatever you need right now. That may be a stroll down the street, a weekend trip or an uninterrupted day with a friend. Don’t give your needs the brush off anymore.
As responsibilities grow and change, I’ve allowed myself the space to adjust. Being honest about what I need and taking it without feeling guilty saves my family from a lot of frustration and drama.