“There’s no immediate consequences to depriving myself care, but if my kids or job or house needs are not met right away, there are major consequences immediately. And more stress for me.”
“We have 3 kids and no village.”
“(I have) absolutely no time. Little help with a 5-month-old, no maternity leave, expensive childcare, absence of formula and medical debt after a c section.”
“I feel like I’m doing everything by myself. I go to work, take care of my baby, and do chores. Nothing else.”
Over 2,900 parents, mostly Moms (97%) have participated in our research study since March of 2020. And in our most recent survey wave, so far, 86% said they’re doing ‘terribly’ or ‘not as well as usual’ at self-care. It’s worse than in spring of 2020. So, you may be wondering, what’s new? Because it’s no secret that self-care is tricky for Moms.
Our discretionary time is fleeting, highly interruptible and often, poisoned by guilt. Our to-do lists resemble constellation charts so, we chase the ‘getting on top of things’ unicorn. And continue to believe the impossible. That being organized will lead to fountain of rest and relief. But our highest priorities, are never done. And our post-pandemic environment is more traumatic, chaotic and less predictable.
What Stands in the Way of Wellbeing?
We’ve heard from thousands of Moms since the pandemic began. And whether they’re in the paid workforce, partnered, privileged or none of those things, they still lack time and energy for self-care. Many also face added pressures. Including single parenthood, kids with special needs, infants, aging parents, abusive or absent partners. And limited financial resources.
Any of which can push someone further into time famine or despair. But self-care routines, like movement, sleep, and stress management, gives us energy for the marathon of parenting, partnering and career building. How do we escape this bind?
Let’s Start with Capacity
When asked about the barriers to self-care, more than a third (38%) of surveyed Moms cite insufficient childcare (29%.) And support (9%) for doing all the things. One in four (25%) directly credit lack of time. This is followed by struggles with health (14%.) Including mental health, mood, (yep, that includes guilt) and difficulty setting boundaries (9%.)
Although Moms are the default doers in most homes, the pandemic, economic and social climate, have ramped up life’s complexity. And emotional weight. So, when asked, what are the biggest barriers to your self-care or wellbeing? They had a lot to say.
And the Lack of Childcare
“Time. I have four kids, one with special needs. It’s exhausting.”
“…Having someone available to watch my toddler. Hiring a sitter for weekends on top of the daycare tuition we already pay seems excessive, but I don’t see any other way”
“(I) work full time from home plus watch 2 kids under 4 full time. One child is disabled and has special needs and tons of physical therapy and Dr appointments.”
“Taking care of 2 kids alone most of the time. Or when I have help, it’s from someone who is pessimistic and doesn’t have the same outlook on caring for my children as I do.”
Limited Support Playing Multiple Roles
“I am a single mom of three, and also a full-time caregiver to my elderly mother. I never have anytime to myself or to relax, everyone is depending soley on me. And I have zero support and no one to lean on when I need help or support.”
“I feel invisible to the people around me. I recognize that the institutions and systems that I am a part of require me to play a role I never wanted to play, and now that I have children I have no choice but to continue in that role. This leaves no time for anyone, myself included, to take care of myself.”
“Being more or less the sole caretaker of my child and my husband.”
Including at Work
“I’m stretched too thin. Between taking care of my family, being a good employee, caring for the house and just being in charge all the time.”
“Not having enough time. Unable to balance working 40 hours a week, cleaning my house, cooking homemade meals, and spending quality time with my child and husband.”
Which Leads to a Lack of Time
“Time in the day to do all the things ‚Clean, cook, laundry, groceries, play time, breastfeeding/pumping.”
“Time, spending 40 of my daylight hours working instead of raising my children, food prepping/cooking, etc. When you work 8:30-5:00 you only get from 5:30-8:30 PM to spend with family, (do) laundry, cook, baths then it’s bedtime. And that’s not much time to tend to self-care. Also my children are 1 & 3 so it’s a very needy stage of parenting we are in.”
“Not having enough money or enough time. Being too stressed to care.”
“….Inflation less money to spend on fun things or going out to eat. Feeling stuck and believe leaving job would help but too much guilt of taking pay cut for other flexible/less stress job…. In a near recession.”
Ability to Prioritize Oneself
“I have no time to relax. Taking care of baby is my top priority. But recovery from a traumatic birth (52 hours in labor, 4 hours pushing, and an emergency C-section) has been keeping me from caring for my baby and myself. My family is not supportive of my needs and make me feel as though I’m not doing a good enough job as a parent when I ask for help.”
“….My kids are exceptionally clingy.. and well, one is only a month old. I also feel rushed in anything I am trying to do because I constantly feel like the stuff I like is an inconvenience.”
Struggles with Emotional Health & Mood
“Emotionally and mentally drained after work, low energy, too much phone/tech time for all family, full time stressful job taking on more work (no extra pay) with child and spouse and housework leaves very little time.”
“I find I have too many responsibilities that depend on me to emotionally regulate or assist others, which leaves me drained emotionally.”
Mental Health & Mindset
“ADHD, depression, I’m a single mother.”
“Lack of motivation and energy depression and anxiety. I put myself below everyone else.”
“Low motivation. Loneliness.”
“Finding the motivation to actually do it. Focusing solely on my children instead of myself. Not having the time or the childcare to accomplish these needs.”
Declining Physical Health and Energy
“Illness (cancer) and subsequent treatments, work, housework, guilt, my child, putting the needs of others first, and lack of motivation.”
“I’m overweight now so that makes me feel like I don’t want to take care of me as much. I just can’t be bothered (and) lack of time for myself.”
And the Solutions Aren’t Immediate
There’s a path out. One surveyed Mom describes it beautifully. “Putting my foot down, keeping promises to myself, seeing value in self-care, helping myself like I help everyone else‚ also starting therapy.” Yes, it begins with a mindset shift that allows you to set boundaries. But there aren’t quick fixes to a lack of childcare, financial, societal, or emotional support. Let alone establishing an equal partnership or escaping a difficult manager at work.
But Self-Care is Part of the Answer
And as Dr. Charmain Jackman, Psychologist and Mental Health Advocate says, “self-care is not about pampering. It’s about your health.” In our research, the few Mothers who mention spa days, do so wistfully. With the same reverence as concerts or vacations. So, whether you call it self-care or healthcare, isn’t the point. It’s putting small doses of joy, movement, creativity, or mental health management onto your schedule. Routinely.
So, Begin with Clawing Back Your Time
The paradox is that, getting to the other side of exhaustion, requires change. And choosing a new strategy that works for you, consumes a lot of mental energy. And of course, that brings us right back to time. You’re not imagining what a recent research study calls the exhaustion gap. And as leaders like Bridgid Shulte, Eve Rodsky, Tiffany Dufu and Reshma Saujani have shared in their books, time poverty is real. And remains deeply gendered.
And Make Reflection a Habit
So, today find a space on your calendar for tomorrow that you can block off. It can be 5 minutes. But the act of claiming it and protecting it, leads you to a different destination. Away from burnout. You will have the strength to bring more wellbeing into your life. Because what’s good for you, is also good for your family and career. However, before you can, you need that thinking time. And space to recover your confidence.Tags: Manage Stress For Moms, Moms Self care, stress management, Stress Management for Moms, Work Life Balance For Moms, work life integration for Moms