Avoiding Mama Burnout
Ten ideas to help keep you sane during the exhausting, overwhelming years with young children.
When our five kids were little, I ran away.
I remember standing by the front door at the end of a horrible, rainy day of being cooped up with sick toddlers, fighting siblings, a hormonal pre-teen, and a hormonal and burned out me! With my coat on and purse in hand, I watched for my husband’s car to pull in the driveway. Greeting him at the door, I exclaimed, “They are all screaming, they are all yours. I am running away.” And I did—I went to the mall where I walked around in utter silence for about three hours and no one spoke to me or pulled on any of my body parts or needed me right now! Ah, bliss.
I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and teetering on the edge of “mama burnout.” Since then I’ve learned a few tricks that will help you when you feel the same.
1. Learn to see life in terms of seasons. Every season has challenges unique to that season, but every season has blessings unique to that season. We need to be honest about the challenges, but then choose to focus on the blessings.
One challenge of the “little years” is monotony—routine caring of little ones gets boring and is never finished. You wake up each day to the same things. Embrace it as a challenge of this season.
On the other hand, one of the blessings of this season is that little kids say the funniest things. When our daughter Libby was 4 years old she saw the ocean for the first time. She exclaimed, “Mama, it’s too full! You need to let some of it out!” Make a habit of writing down the funny things your kids say because this season will pass. Teenagers don’t say funny things as often.
2. Do something crazy. One of my favorite things to do with my kids when they were little and the weather was bad was to take them to a mall and ride the escalators. These days, many malls have indoor playgrounds.
Or, declare a crazy dress-up day. Dress up in the wildest costumes you can make from clothes in the house. Put makeup on everyone. Paint toes and fingers crazy colors. Eat green eggs or blue pancakes. Craziness relieves monotony and makes a day fun instead of merely an endurance race.
3. Restore perspective. Part of burnout comes because our world gets too insular. It’s about us and our kids and our needs. It helps to do something totally unrelated to us.
Get a babysitter for your children and go to a museum by yourself. Rent headphones and really study the paintings. Or attend an interesting lecture or demonstration with a friend or your spouse. Don’t discuss your kids. You will come home a refreshed mom with a restored perspective. Life isn’t all about us.
4. Find an older mentor. I will be forever grateful to Edith, my next-door neighbor. An elderly widow, she saved me in my years of parenting little ones. Many times I ran across my front yard, sometimes barefoot and in my pajamas, and knocked on her door. When she opened it, I’d burst into tears. “Edith, I am the worst mother and wife in the world!” Sweet Edith would take me in her arms, sit me on her couch, and say, “You are not the worst mom or wife. It’s just this season in your life. It will pass. You will be all right.” Edith gave me perspective because she was older. She had been there. She understood.
5. Have girlfriends who are in the same season. Too often we look to our husbands to understand, to empathize, to meet our needs for affirmation and appreciation. We need a friend in the same season who we can call and say, “You won’t believe what my 3-year-old just did!” She will! And she’ll comfort you and laugh with you.
Oh, how we need to laugh with other women. Pray for God to give you some women who make you laugh and seek to reach out to some other young moms who may be on the verge of burnout, too. Invite some to your home for a time together. Tell your grossest stories. Pray for each other.
6. Don’t neglect your husband. It’s all too easy in this season to think, I’ll work on my marriage when life calms down. But the reality is that life doesn’t calm down. It will just become more complicated with more options.
We need to work on our marriages, and we have to be intentional about this. It will not just happen. If we want our kids to have strong marriages one day they need to see us working on ours now. Marriage takes time and work.
Set aside a regular date night to go out alone with your husband just to have fun. Let a babysitter deal with the dinner, bed, and bath routine. If you wait until you put your children to bed, you will be too tired to go out. Instead, meet your husband somewhere after work.
This is not the time to discuss difficult issues. Instead it’s the time to nurture a marriage friendship. Swap babysitting with a friend. And plan at least two times a year that you can get away alone for a couple of nights out of town.
7. Do one thing each day that is not merely maintenance. Moms of young children are often frustrated. At the end of the day when we look back, we don’t feel like we accomplished very much. I found that I loved to mow the grass. It was the only thing I did that lasted more than 24 hours. And it was instant progress!
It helps to complete one small accomplishment outside of the usual laundry, cooking, and nose-wiping each day. Clean out a cabinet. Write a note or postcard to someone to say, “I’m thinking about you today and I miss you.” Cook something for a friend who needs a pick-me-up. Doing something for someone outside your immediate family is a blessing, and it teaches your kids to care for others.
8. Get exercise. It’s not a luxury; it’s for your mental health.
The hours of 4-7 p.m. are what I call the “arsenic hours.” You feel like you want to either give it or take it! You are tired, your children are tired, and you just don’t know how you’re going to get through the next couple of hours until they are in bed. I used to grab a teen in the neighborhood and ask her to watch my kids for 20 minutes so I could go for a run. I never felt like running, and often I went on the verge of tears. But inevitably it gave me the lift I needed to get through the next few hours.
Our daughter had five kids in two years, including a set of quadruplets. One thing that has saved her this year is regular exercise, even if it’s just a brisk walk alone for 25 minutes when her husband gets home.
9. Spend time in God’s Word. You might not have much time, but you can make some time. It helps to make this the first priority of your day—otherwise you are not likely to get to it. For years I’ve read a Psalm and a Proverb every day. One day I read Psalm 144:2. “He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield in whom I take refuge; who subdues peoples under me.” This prayer is still written in the margin on that page of my Bible: Lord, subdue these five little people today—PLEASE! I do believe God has a sense of humor.
10. Remember God chose your family. God has given us these exact children in this exact birth order with these exact personalities, not merely so that we can raise them, but in order for them to be His tools in our lives to grow us up into the women He has created us to be. He gave us that strong-willed toddler, that child we just don’t “get,” that one with disabilities. Every child is a gift from God and He will use each one in our lives for good if we let Him. It’s helpful to ask, God, what are you teaching me through this special child of mine? God is full of mercy and full of grace. And He is always faithful.
Copyright © 2009 by Susan Yates. All rights reserved.