Being a mom is a full-time job. Some days, you’re knocking everything off your to-do list, while other days, you can’t even remember your child’s first name. Finding ways to balance the everyday nuances that come with parenthood can be tough — and, frankly, exhausting — but that doesn’t mean something is wrong with you when things begin to feel like they’re falling apart. It just means you might be experiencing signs of burnout.
Unfortunately, mom burnout is real. Between work, taking care of your children, staying on top of household chores, and having a social life (is that a thing??), it can feel impossible to keep your head above water, even if you’re lucky enough to have a partner by your side to help. “Research consistently reveals that even in two-parent households where both parents are employed full-time, moms do significantly more housework and childcare than dads,” clinical psychologist Deborah Offner tells SheKnows. Yikes.
But what exactly makes mom burnout so common? “Moms don’t get a lot of credit, because American culture has long seen mother’s ‘work’ for the family and in the home as a given, a responsibility,” explains Offner. “It’s not just the labor or the ‘hours’ that contribute to burnout — it’s impossibly high standards that many moms internalize (along with lack of recognition or ‘credit’ for their efforts) that cause moms to burn out.”
Although we wish we could uproot our lives to avoid feeling burnout at all costs, that’s just not realistic, especially for new parents. So instead of providing a list of ways to completely change your life, below is a more realistic take on how to avoid mom burnout.
1. Don’t just eat your kids’ food.
While you’ll probably save some time by eating whatever is on your kids’ plates, that doesn’t mean it should be the only thing you consume. According to Offner, whipping together something for yourself while you prepare your kids’ food can help you slow down and enjoy dinnertime with your children more. “In order to streamline the process of pulling together your salad, cut up vegetables, place them into individual containers, and keep them in the refrigerator so you can grab them when you need them,” says Offner.
But, if mama needs to pretend that she’s on a tropical island while she snacks on her kids’ leftover mac and cheese (hey, we’ve all been there), Offner suggests making a mocktail to help make dinnertime feel special. “There are great ‘shrubs’ or other cocktail mixers you can find online or other grocery stores. Mix one with seltzer to add fizz. Having a drink in your hand can help you to relax,” says Offner.
2. Schedule one night off a week.
It can be hard to set aside time for yourself when you already have so much on your plate. But it’s important to put yourself first, whether it’s just for 10 minutes or one evening a week, to stop yourself from burning out. Life coach Nina Rubin suggests to “let someone in and allow help if someone offers to do something for you.” This will allow you to schedule some time for yourself so you can focus on your self-care and realign with your values. “Remembering who you are makes your job as a parent more fun; remembering your ‘why’ is also an antidote to burnout. In both cases, when you recall your values, you get an opportunity to realign with your true purpose. This can help in moments when everything feels isolating or redundant,” says Rubin.
3. Pick just three things to accomplish per day.
As a mom, you probably have a million and one things to do in a day. And while you’re a hero in your kids’ eyes, you don’t have to prove to anyone how much you can accomplish. Instead of trying to check everything off your to-do list, opt to pick just three big things you want to complete for the day to prevent feeling overwhelmed with everything you want to accomplish.
“This benefits moms by keeping goals realistic, therefore improving the chance of ‘success.’ One success builds onto another to enhance motivation and energy, leading to increased productivity and satisfaction,” says Offner. “Breaking down what we have to do into smaller, manageable ‘chunks’ creates a feeling that [our] goals are more attainable. Keep it small and you’re more likely to ‘succeed’ and be ready to move onto the next challenge.”
4. Take your vacation days!
As a mom, you shouldn’t feel guilty for asking for time off. You worked hard for those vacation days and deserve to take a break just as much as the person next to you. While you may believe you need to prove to your employer that your work ethic hasn’t changed since you’ve had a child, working nonstop on top of being a parent can cause you to burn out fast. “Vacation days are an essential burnout prevention tool. Time away from demands, projects, and pressures allows you to return to work with better mood, energy, and focus that will serve you and your work well,” says Offner.
Also, consider using your vacation days to bond and travel with your kids. Offner says that “you can’t get back [this] time with your kids at this particular age or stage, and they love and appreciate the special time with you, away from routines and day-to-day distractions.” Avoiding burnout and being a present parent while you’re at it? Sounds like a win-win.