Burnout is usually discussed as a problem that is related to workplace stress, it is not generally associated with being a mother. But mums also suffer from burnout. The term “burnout” is a relatively new expression and was first mentioned in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger in his book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. In the book, burnout is defined as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results”.  In 2018, research by Hubert and Aujoulat[1] “Parental Burnout: When Exhausted Mothers Open Up” suggested that feelings of fear of not being a good enough mother contributed to mums experiencing burnout. The experience of burnout was further exacerbated by mums experiencing discontinuity about their sense of self.

What is the most stressful – Career or Parenting?

In my career structure, I have been a mother and an air traffic controller and believe me the stress and fear of motherhood (and being a ‘good enough’ parent) was the harder one to bear. I know there were times when I really screwed up and those were hard to forgive – yet my children seemed to have survived my misperception of myself as the ‘mum from hell’. And indeed, they are pretty well-adjusted adults, all things considered.

Parental Burnout is Prevalent in our Society

Having left the worlds of air trafficking and motherhood behind, I continued my ‘battle with burnout careers’ and trained as a counsellor and psychotherapist. Twenty years later, I am still going strong. But working in Australia and now in Hong Kong, I have discovered that there are a great many young mums who are experiencing parental burnout. Young people who really believe they are not good enough and who seem intent on burdening themselves with a guilt that is unjustified and hard to bear.

Parental Wisdom – Stop Burnout

I am a parent of 3 relatively normal, though who can really define normal, grown-up children. As a person who has had some professional training and lots of experiential exposure to parenting. I thought to write this article for all the young mums and offer my twopence worth of parental wisdom that might help them avoid burnout. Indeed I am sure a lot of people did not appreciate that mums also suffer from burnout even although they may not have stepped into the office or had a professional career.

  • As mums, we are allowed to make mistakes
    • But we want to try and stop repeating them
  • As mums, we are our children’s first teacher – remember that
    • It might help you be more determined to stop doing the same old mistakes
  • As mums, our children are guided by our behaviour so behave kindly
    • But if you, get over it and don’t carry the guilt
  • As mums, it is impossible to be perfect (whatever that means)
    • Stop beating yourself up about something you did in the past
  • As mums, we have to appreciate that all children are different
    • Stop making comparisons at school, on the sports field and anywhere else. It’s just exhausting and debilitating when you continuously play the ‘compare-game’
  • As new mums, we don’t know what we are doing half the time
    • Don’t be afraid to ask for help

A good way to help yourself is to be the observer of your own behaviour and reactions.

  • If you have yelled at your child and then regretted it (haven’t we all)
    • Work out why it happened and do something to ensure the situation doesn’t happen again
  • If you are not getting enough sleep
    • Discuss with family and friends and allocate ‘you-time’, when you can be child-free for a short period so you can catch up with some sleep
  • If you are anxious about your children being late for school
    • Get up earlier and plan to leave 10-mins before you need to leave
  • If your child keeps annoyingly demanding your attention when you are talking with friends
    • Maybe consider their emotions. What can you do to allow a fair share of play with your child time and adult catch up time? The two generally don’t mix that well

Don’t suffer – Let Go of the Guilt

The most important thing is to just do the best you can and stop carrying the burden of guilt and fear that you are not being a good enough mum. You are condemning yourself to being guilty until proven more guilty. Some of the things I felt guilty doing to my children have been a very annoying and heavy weight that I carried for a while.  And then what made it even more annoying was when they were adults I wanted to discuss ‘this guilt’ with my offspring.  Guess what?  They had no idea what I was talking about! We parents are really our own worst enemy when it comes to piling on self-guilt and loathing.

Feeling not good enough is nonsense when you are trying your best. Burnout for mums is a result of fear of not being good enough and losing one’s sense of self.  Decide to challenge burnout by mentally accepting you are doing your best, and that is good enough. And accept you are not superwoman and ask for help when things are tough. This will enable you to maintain a sense of balance about what you need as a person and what the family need as a whole.

Allowing Yourself to Change

You may have to change old habits but that is possible. Set a daily routine that allows some time for self-care as well as child-care. It may take some effort, as old ingrained habits don’t like to lose their dominance over your thoughts, but you can learn new behaviours and ways of thinking. Be confident in your abilities as a mum and confront your fears by acknowledging them, learning how to identify the negative patterns and thoughts and simply replacing them with new more positive ones.

As young mums talk with each other, honestly share what you are feeling and don’t make those pesky comparisons. Support each other and then see what happens. Mistakes are a part of life, so don’t be afraid of not being good enough as a result of making a few. We all make mistakes; it’s actually how we learn.

Mums Also Suffer from Burnout

By Liz McCaughey©Copyright 2019 aMindset.HK

Date: Oct, 09, 2019

Liz’s articles are available on both the KumaraHub and aMindsetwebsites.
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About Liz McCaughey

Liz McCaughey is a qualified psychotherapist, counsellor & clinical supervisor with her own private practice in Hong Kong and Australia. If you would like, you can arrange an appointment HERE.

If you are unable to travel to Liz’s practice, there is an online portal where Skype appointments can be arranged.

Liz has opened her new business aMindset in Hong Kong. aMindset is a comprehensive mental health resource that incorporates Psychotherapy, Counselling, Mentoring, Professional Supervision and Workshops. Liz originally founded the company “Kumara“ in Perth, Western Australia in 2003.  This company is affiliated with aMindset and you can read more about Kumara in the website KumaraHub.

[1] Hubert, S., & Aujoulat, I. (2018). Parental Burnout: When Exhausted Mothers Open Up. Frontiers in psychology9, 1021. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01021