Burnout Prevention

A caller with a seemingly simple question has been haunting my mind since Monday.  The caller was a stay-at-home mom with four children under the age of six.  I thought I was heroic chasing after one child who never napped.  I can’t imagine four little tykes going in different directions, all with different personalities and needs.  Wow.

After asking some sneaky questions, I discerned that she was – in two words – BURNED OUT.  It’s difficult to get around the understandable embarrassment or shame that a mother has for even thinking that she wished she were on another planet away from the children for a while.  But this is a totally understandable and normal reaction to a lovely, but draining, situation.

When a woman is at a job, she can take a number of bathroom breaks, coffee breaks, and a lunch break which may even include shopping (a great tension releaser!).  When taking care of a number of children whose needs are relentless and inconsistent, it’s easy to see how one brain and heart can be overwhelmed if the kids don’t nap – mine never did, and I remember feeling mentally exhausted.

Mothers do, but shouldn’t, feel guilt at not always being thrilled out of their ears to be taking care of their children.  My first argument is that there is no one with any career or activity who doesn’t regularly feel the same way.  Human beings need breaks – changes of scenery and input – and activities that help let off steam and revive one’s sense of joy in life.  That’s why in my book, In Praise of Stay-At-Home Moms, I’ve written about the necessity of taking guilt-free breaks – and taking them before you break!

First, to the husbands:  Make sure you command and demand that your beloved wife and mother of your progeny go out with her girlfriends, go have a one-hour bath with bubbles and wine, or go ride her bike with a bike club for a morning – something so that she can feel revived and relaxed.  Plan it for her if she’s stubborn (the stubbornness usually comes from feeling guilty).  Tell her that a GOOD mother takes care of herself so that the “giving” flows more readily.

Second, to you mothers:  Grandma is useful for a break while you do nothing or something that relaxes you.  I told this caller to get one of those carriers that attaches to a bicycle, and get a child bike seat affixed behind her bike seat – that takes care of three kids right there, and one is in kindergarten.  Take ‘em all on a bike ride to picnic or relax in a park – that’s only one of the things I did with my child.  Turn on an exercise video and dance along with the music to get a workout – the kids will join in, or play next to you with their toys. 

My message is:  no guilt.  Any profession has tools that must be taken care of to keep working properly:  a computer, a saw and hammer…whatever.  For us mothers, the tool is ourselves.  So, no guilt.  Take it as a responsibility to keep yourself loose and refreshed.

My final message is that being home with your children opens up many opportunities if you think out of the perimeter of your property.  It isn’t supposed to be a “work farm.”  It’s supposed to be a joyous home.  Oh, and here’s why that caller stuck in my mind:  I heard a depth of sadness in her voice that seriously worried me, and I realized that many of you moms try so hard that you forget to take care of yourselves.  In doing so, you lose contact with your mission in the first place.  When that happens, your children miss you.

So, ladies, turn on that music and dance and sing around the house and enjoy!