“Having 2 children and being the default parent makes it difficult to do anything without someone tagging along or someone needing something from me. I’ve grown accustomed to serving all others needs in my home before my own. I’m too tired to take care of myself.”
“I feel tired all the time. I’m a single parent with three children in the home and feel like I have barely enough of me to give to them. I feel like I am my own personal obstacle. It never seems like there’s enough time in the day to get everything done that needs to be done. I feel overwhelmed so I do nothing.”
“Getting lost in the million things on the to-do list, not enough hours in the day, needing to take care of everyone else.”
After hearing from over 3,500 parents, mostly Moms (97%) managing their lives, health, and careers (87%) since March of 2020, one thing is clear. Despite dialing back on self-care and career ambition to do ‘all the things’ it’s still not enough. We’re like master chess players. But we worry about whether the pieces are happy and if the board might be hungry later, instead of winning the game.
Although our empathy is a superpower, we internalize the pressure to be always on. And it’s not sustainable because it doesn’t leave time or capacity for self-care and fulfillment. And what’s worse? We feel guilty about it.
We Need to Re-Invest Our Time in Self-Care
“There is not enough time, somebody always needs something from me, 24 hours a day. Sometimes multiple people and my house/grocery list/dirty car etc.”
“No time, no help with the baby. I’m constantly working and by the time I’m in bed there’s already more to do.”
“I take care of everyone and everything. I don’t have time to take care of myself properly, too. No one else notices anyway.”
Desperate for more time, surveyed Moms continue to cut self-investment first. 86% in our current survey wave, cite doing ‘terribly’ or ‘not as well as usual’ at self-care. But it’s not only the life-saving practices for our mental and physical health at risk. Most have also dialed back on their career ambitions (87%) which can limit options that come with financial wellness.
And the reality is, despite our willing sacrifices to save time, it’s not working. Depression and anxiety rates for Mothers continue to climb. And the National Institutes of Health cited, “…rising rates of ‘chronic debilitating conditions among women’ like depression and high blood pressure, was one of three key public health concerns in 2021.” The vicious cycle, of too much work without support and greater risk for stress-related illnesses, pre-dates the pandemic. But our lives require more time and mental energy now. So, what can we do to change it?
And Become Okay, With Being Less Available
“I have a lot of responsibilities, it’s hard to set time aside for myself without feeling guilty or inefficient.”
“Guilt about not spending all possible time with (my) kiddo.”
“Getting past guilt and feeling obligated to care for everyone else and our home before doing anything for myself.”
Do you want to be on call for everyone in your life forever? We take our commitments seriously and blame ourselves when we can’t make ‘it all’ work. But always-on availability is eroding our health.
In our study, most Moms (78%) feel guilty taking time for self-care because “their family needs as much as they can give.” One in five (21%) feel the same way about their boss and/or coworkers. Almost half (44%) can’t find time in the workday to care for themselves. And over a third (33%) are just worried about being unavailable during the workday.
If you are fortunate to have coverage options, at work or at home, take them. Outsource, spouse source, and ask for help from friends or family, as much as possible.
Because Work Isn’t Really More Flexible
There’s still no work-life nirvana. And real flexibility is more than working from home. Although only 58% of the workforce have the option to go remote, for most workers, losing the daily commute helps offset the increased workload everywhere else. Parents (75%) who started working from home during the pandemic hope to continue full (35%) or part-time (40%) but as return-to-office mandates gain in popularity, working from home, is trending down.
And the shaky economy means all parents are reacting to professional pivots. In priorities, budgets, staff, and revenue, all of which consume time and attention. So, what about our other responsibilities?
And Home Life is More Complicated
Have you tried to find a specialist or schedule a medical appointment lately? How about childcare or eldercare? Right. Both modern parenting and engaging with the post-pandemic health, education, and care infrastructure, is more time consuming. Early in the pandemic, during spring of 2020, almost half of those who are partnered in our study cited their partners were doing more (47%) childcare and household work (45%.) But in recent waves, including our current one, that has leveled off with less than a third citing partners who do more childcare (31%) and household work (30%.). So, many families like employers, are returning to the gendered norms and crowded calendars that haunted us pre-pandemic.
You May Already Know What You Need
Although the ‘how’ is dicey, most Moms know what they need to feel better. And guess what, feeling better is part of being healthier and happier. Moms are hungry for more discretionary time, and most, know exactly how they want to use it.
Since we began asking this question, in the current wave, overwhelmingly they want more time to themselves. ‘Me time’ (71%) remains the top category. Closely followed by more movement (70%,) more quality time with their spouse or partner (67%,) and more sleep (64%.)
So, Stop Shrinking
We love our families. But we don’t have to shrink to raise our kids and magnify their gifts. It’s not only our schedules, we also try to contain our desires and suppress our needs. But we don’t have to do that. It doesn’t help anyone.
Whatever the invisible memo was that we all seem to read, early in the Motherhood journey, it’s wrong. Although we are multi-tasking, time-bending magicians, isn’t planning for every contingency exhausting?
Leave Some Things to Chance
Society wants us to bring a nice, neatly packaged version of ourselves and families, to every meeting, gathering or event. But it’s not reality. People are messy, raising kids is beautiful but chaotic and life is unpredictable. If we’re so organized, that we’ve left nothing to chance, we own the roadmap and internalize outcomes we can’t possibly control.
It’s the weight of planning every day, vacation, appointment, party, and gift, for each family member, unitl the end of time. And cognitively, between the heavier mental load and increased decision fatigue, we drown in those details. And if we can put aside the sting of other people’s judgement, do our children suffer when they see us stumble?
To End the Cycle of Self-Sacrifice
When we’re unprepared, our children still learn from watching us figure things out. It’s a blessing to shape the next generation. But we need to do it wisely to prevent them from facing the same challenges we struggle with, 30 or 40 years from now. This is the year to stop the cycle because our suffering doesn’t help them.
To realize the dream, for our children to confidently engage in their homes, communities, and careers as hands-on, loving parents. We will have to model it. If we want our girls to honor their gifts and unapologetically care for their health, they will have to see it. If we’d like our boys to take pride in being involved, loving fathers, household managers, and allies to their partners, we have to light the path for that.
There’s no glory in being ‘the one’ to find all the lost things, that are in plain sight, until the end of time. This Mother’s Day and every day, don’t disappear behind your to-do list. Keep yourself, your needs, health and aspirations visible, as a gift to yourself and everyone around you.Tags: Manage Stress For Moms, mental health for moms, mental wellbeing for Moms, Moms Self care, Stress Management for Moms