Mom burnout is often characterized by the chronic stress and exhaustion related to relentless caregiving demands, and this epidemic is exceedingly high in women who have full-time careers or are without a co-parent.1 Mom burnout can lead mothers to feel ineffective and lacking confidence as parents, while simultaneously experiencing the pull to be a better parent amidst feelings of disconnect with their children.
Especially after over 18 months of pandemic upheaval resulting in changing expectations for parents and an increased mental load on mothers, the numbers of women reporting mom burnout have never been higher.
What Is Mom Burnout?
Moms experiencing mom burnout often report feeling intense exhaustion and disengagement or depersonalization related to parenting, such as simply “going through the motions,” rather than feeling present or engaged with their children’s lives. Additionally, many parents report feeling inefficient or useless in their child-rearing roles, doubting whether they’re “good enough” at it.
Similar to the workplace syndrome referred to as burnout, parental burnout is a multidimensional state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that positions parents (but in many families, especially mothers) to have increased risk for other mental health problems and increased work/family conflicts, contributing to decreased well-being in many facets of one’s life.2
Because traditional industrialized American gender roles often place increased demands of caregiving on the mother whether or not she also maintains paid work outside of the home, this imbalance creates a perfect opportunity for moms to get extremely stressed, leading to burnout. To attenuate rates of mommy burnout, systemic reform such as paid time off for caring for children, better parental leave policies, and enhanced infrastructure to support growing families is long overdue.
Symptoms of Mommy Burnout
Moms who work outside of the home and those who are stay-at-home moms may both experience symptoms of mommy burnout, which may include decreased effectiveness both in your personal and professional life, acting outside of your philosophical orientation toward parenting (like harsh punishments or extreme reactions to minor issues), and the extreme desire to be away from your children.3 It can also be a symptom of stay-at-home mom depression.
Here are several potential symptoms of mom burnout:
- Extreme mental fatigue or physical exhaustion
- Being “short tempered”
- Feeling emotionally depleted
- Feeling disconnected or isolated from others, including one’s children
- Feeling mom guilt about behaviors, reactions, thoughts or feelings
- Feeling parental guilt or like you’re an inadequate parent
- Feeling anxious or overly focused on what comes next
- Experiencing mom rage— being hostile or having extreme emotional highs and lows
- Questioning life choices such as regretting having children
- Entertaining “escapist” fantasies
- Extreme feelings of “never good enough” at home or at work
- Concerns that your children deserve someone “better” than you
- Disconnection from partner/co-parent
- Social fatigue preventing you from tapping support networks
- Inability to ask for support or state one’s needs
How to Recover From Mom Burnout: 12 Tips
The transition into parenthood is one of the most stressful periods of a person’s life, and it is often linked to increased depression or a recurrence of previously well-managed mental health issues.4
Recovering from mom burnout can be possible by learning how to deal with feeling overwhelmed, by creating supportive communities, by increasing mental energy, and by further expanding your access to stress management resources.
Here are 12 ways to deal with mommy burnout:
1. Know Your Risk Factors
Moms who live in cultures that are considered more individualistic, rather than collective, are more likely to suffer from burnout. So are moms who are compensated for their paid professional work outside of the home, along with low-income moms. By knowing your risk factors, you can more readily identify and name what is happening to you, starting you on the path to making helpful changes.5
2. Don’t Compare Yourself With Other Moms
Whether it’s with friends or on social media, finding what works for you and for your family is what is most important. No one is “doing it right,” but parenting in a way that is aligned with your values will help you feel more in control and less chaotic.
3. Journal to Track Your Mood
By breaking down your day in a way that allows you to step back and reflect on your accomplishments, as well as your areas of imperfection, you’re engaging in emotional self care. This also models an excellent example for your kids. Journaling gives you the opportunity to be a mindful observer of your own life and family dynamics, and look for patterns that could prevent burnout in the future.
4. Consider Learning More About Mindful Parenting
Mindful parenting will keep you grounded in the moment and the tasks at hand rather than generating more family anxiety by worrying about what is to come. Focusing on the “here and now” will deescalate the urge to push ahead at a time when that might not actually be valuable for you or your family.
5. Plan Breaks From Having to Parent
It’s perfectly acceptable to need time away from your children, your partner, your work, and your responsibilities at home. Even if you do nothing more than sit in a parking lot and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea in peace, brief periods of separation from your stressors allow you the space to reset.
6. Find a Mom Buddy
Finding another mom who can relate to your experience and spending time with her (preferably in person!) can be very healing when you’re facing mom burnout. Sometimes all you need is for another person to truly empathize in a way that reassures you that you’re not alone.
7. Move Your Body
In times of stress, we often de-prioritize our own needs when we should actually be attending to them as much as possible. Even if it means dragging a stroller along, a brisk walk or jog can get you the physical adjustment you need to snap out of the grips of stress.
8. When It’s Time for Bed, Go to Bed
One of the trending habits contributing to mom burnout is the late night scrolling that we do on social media or other technology in order to “take back time” during the day that we did not have to ourselves (called revenge bedtime procrastination). However, engaging in this behavior leaves you underslept and overstimulated, and positions you to engage in unhealthy comparisons. Leave the phone in the next room at bedtime, or at least set it aside an hour before you actually wish to get to sleep.
9. Designate Different Spaces for Different Activities
Because of the pandemic, many moms are living, parenting, working and exercising all in the same place. If space allows, attempt to segment when and where you engage in certain activities, such as not working in bed or in the kitchen where you prepare meals. Create physical spaces that will allow for you to transition more readily from role to role, removing the pressure of having to multitask at all times.
10. Join a Group
Whether in person or online, join a group that focuses on something that interests you as an individual person, such as a book club, a running club, or a knitting group. By developing your identity outside of being a mom, an employee, or a partner, you’re feeding the part of you that is quintessentially you, and enhancing your identity development.
11. Stop Apologizing for Being Human
A tenet of self-compassion is that part of the human experience includes being flawed together and sharing in this imperfection with others. Employ a self-compassionate attitude as you would apply compassion to others and don’t apologize for feeling things and behaving in ways that simply make you… human.
12. Make Time for Sleep
Because mom burnout is a phenomenon that exhausts you on many levels—physically, emotionally, mentally, and often spiritually—attention to sleep hygiene and rest is imperative. Adhere to consistent wake and sleep times as much as possible; this also models the importance of resting and recharging to your kids.
When to Seek Professional Help
If you find that mom burnout is leaving you increasingly feeling depressed, disconnected, or without hope for change, it is time to seek help from a professional. Every transition period can bring stress, but when low mood or feelings of despair persist, reaching out to professionals is necessary. You know yourself better than anyone – if you’re asking yourself, “Do I need therapy?” you probably do.
Another critical piece of information to pay attention to is the way you’re parenting. If you are seeing increasing levels of or desire for violence or neglect of your children, help is needed immediately as this signifies a dangerous level of parental burnout.6
Specific kinds of therapy that help to manage mommy burnout, such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), include stress management techniques and are based in building mindfulness and self-compassion. Our therapist directory can help you to find the right therapist for your needs.
Mom burnout, especially in this era, can feel extremely overwhelming, but a better understanding of what parental burnout is, as well as a focus on building internal resources, can help you create a plan to move forward. Parenting perfection is an unachievable goal, but finding your pace of “good enough” will help you recover from mom burnout.