A few years ago, one of my mentors, Brandi MacDonald — a social worker and trauma-informed counsellor who works with chiropractors — wrote an article about how chiropractors were getting burnout in the healing profession. It sparked something within me, and I used this as a basis to write about the 10 ways that we, as mothers, are getting burnout too. I acknowledge Brandi for the kick in the butt to begin me on this writing journey, and the discovery of how we can support ourselves and other people in our orbit.
Here are my top 10 reasons for motherhood burnout.
Boiled frog syndrome.
It creeps up on us like this: we begin by tolerating our own low-level behaviour because it seems minor. We are driven in service to our family; we are driven to have a certain mothering experience and to work a certain way. We have a constant busyness or rush in our day-to-day life, which slowly warms up the pot of water we are sitting in … which eventually becomes a pot of boiling water that we can’t escape from.
Misalignment of our actions.
We behave in ways that don’t support how we want to parent — who we want to be as a person — and convince ourselves that it’s okay just this one time. We do it for a small period of time, which extends out to the ‘normal’ things that we do, meaning it continually bleeds our energy — that very special energy that is needed for our health and wellbeing.
We are highly charged, emotional beings … mother beings. Validation is the hardest desire to fulfill. Do we get it from our children’s hugs? Do we get it from ourselves? Do we get it from our spouse/partner? Do we need external validation? Are we constantly doing ‘everything’ and chasing validation as the end point? Chasing that feeling can create a roundabout of failure and lack of fulfilment.
Not knowing how to care for our mind.
Doing the right things doesn’t always equal healing and thriving life. So we work out, we eat the right things, we get adjusted by the chiropractor, we take all the supplements. Sleep is going to be interrupted because we’re parents, but these things should help to sustain us throughout the day. But we’re still feeling disconnected from our families, unhappy and unfulfilled. Because the way we view the world, our belief system around what motherhood should look and feel like, the way we view what is happening is distorted. Bringing in the altered belief systems that we have generationally or socially acquired impacts our view or lens of motherhood. We can’t out-behave a distorted mind or belief system. We need to address this in our mind, our thinking and our values systems, and look at our core beliefs of motherhood.
Unrealistic expectations about people or events.
We simply don’t control what we have been led to believe we do. To me, mum-life provides an opportunity to finally realise this, yet we can easily try to spend our lives seeking to control, chasing that illusion and never succeeding. This is really exhausting, and is part of how we end up creating the desperation and frustrations we may experience in our motherhood. The expectations placed on us by Instagram feeds, by mummy influencers and by other people showing us the good side only — the lack of ‘real-ness’ in our relationships — creates a ‘should’ mentality. People are ‘shoulding’ all over our motherhood experience, and it’s unrealistic. It’s creating a horror of expectation both within society and internally within ourselves.
Lack of self-care.
Just as in point 4, where we do all the things except look after our mind, in this element of burnout we stop doing all the things that help us to look after bodies. We stop eating properly, we stop working out, we stop food planning and the sloth behaviour kicks in. Our new reality becomes not looking after ourselves. And then it just continues. This drives the health markers that will increase the stress load and can lead to burnout.
Life is simply entropic.
Entropy is defined as a ‘lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder’. In this instance, it also relates to the thermodynamic quality of breakdown as things convert. What this means for us is that if we aren’t continually trying to improve ourselves, we will eventually break down. A pretty morbid concept. But as mums, we don’t often have the time, or we perceive we don’t have the time, to continue to seek constant improvement. Seeking constant improvement doesn’t have to be hard work, fatiguing or tiring. But if we don’t, we will die a little bit more on the inside because that’s what happens — that’s the law of life.
Lack of personal responsibility.
When you view the world as something happening to you, versus for or because of you, your life and family become predators and you become a victim. Victims are helpless and hopeless. If this is your truth, it’s not long before you feel victimised. We can feel victimised as mums. When we don’t get the support that we want, that we feel we need, then we feel we’re failing. We feel we’re not standing up to the ideals of what we should do because our support networks aren’t stepping. We have the power of knowledge and reflection. Have you actually asked for help? Are you able to acknowledge that maybe all these things are happening to you because things haven’t been set up correctly in the first place?
Not having boundaries.
I see a pervasiveness in the mums I work with, the belief that relationships and environments — not they themselves — control their emotions. When emotions control us, our physiology responds accordingly and breaks down to give us more energy, much like the chronic stress and trauma responses. This drives us towards an energy depletion state because our physiology is responding to an emotional effect, so if we keep depleting that energy in situations and/or with people who continue to bleed us dry energetically (energy vampires), it continues on and on.
Your environment or habits never change.
Sometimes you need to mix it up externally to create an internal mix-up. When we never leave our environment — never change up our routines or habits — we become a frog in water. And this takes us back to point 1 … and the cascade continues.
I know burnout is real. You know burnout is real. We see it every day in our lives. Mums we know and love are burned out in this journey, which should be joyful. They’re not giving the time, energy or effort to experience the love side of mothering, they don’t know how to ask for support and how to receive it, and society expects so much unpaid and unappreciated work by our mums. We are trying to do everything, instead of just being in the journey and the process. Sometimes we can’t do everything. It’s okay to have days where we don’t do everything and we curl up into our hibernating selves and reset a little. Survival, and looking after yourself, are really important because you can’t look after your family if you don’t look after yourself. It’s not selfish to look after yourself at all. Not even a little bit.
Edited extract from Work.Mama.Life. From motherhood burnout to abundant health, joy and wellbeing (Wiley $29.95), by Ali Young. Ali is a highly sought after speaker, chiropractor and online coach who helps mothers the world over rediscover joy in their world, health in their body and connection with their families. For more information visit www.draliyoung.com