Thursday, October 29, 2020

Mom Burnout - Is it possible to be a good mother and have a career?

It’s 11:09 am on a Tuesday morning. I’m still in my pajamas, and I’ve went back to bed once already, hoping a catnap will give me a spark of energy. Anxiety, fear, and confusion have been running through my mind for weeks. Feelings of incompetence weigh heavy on my heart, and I can honestly say that I’ve never felt more lost.

I can’t go on like this.

The pressures of running a cleaning business during a pandemic, overseeing my children’s homeschooling, and trying to keep the household functioning in a normal manner are making me feel like my head is going to explode.

When I’m working, I feel guilty because I’m not at home to help my youngest kids (10 and 16 years old) with their school. I worry the teachers think I don’t care about their education.

When I’m home, I stress about the bills and whether I’ll have enough money to make ends meet.

I’m never fully present in either situation.

I’m one of the fortunate ones. I didn’t lose my business when the first shutdown happened. I know this is something to be thankful for, but this doesn’t mean my business hasn’t been affected.

Prior to COVID19, I thought nothing of going to work with a cold or a case of the sniffles. Now, I don’t feel right about cleaning a client’s home when I’m feeling sick. It would be unethical. I can’t count the number of days that jobs have cancelled due to illness. My income has been drastically affected.

At the beginning of the fall term, I made the decision to stop working so I could homeschool. It would’ve been a financial strain but doable with the profit from the commercial side of the business, child support, and the small amount of income from my book sales.

Shortly after my decision, my ex-husband changed jobs, and the child support stopped for two months.

(Thanks, Murphy’s Law…)

I’m not about being broke, so I continued to work as much as possible.

Last week, I got sick. I took off Friday, Monday, and today. Over the past five days, I’ve had a lot of time to think. I’m not sure if my thought process is messed up from the illness, but the voice in my head is yelling, “This isn’t working! Figure out something else!!!”  

I’m exhausted and ashamed.

Why ashamed? I feel that I should be smart enough to create a work-from-home business that allows me to also be a full-time mom. I’ve been self-employed for years. I’m not scared of a new venture. I should be able to figure this out.  Look at me, “shoulding” all over myself….

If I were in my twenties, I would go back to school. And that might make sense, because I would have years ahead to earn enough to justify the outrageous expense of school. At my age, school doesn’t seem rational.

The added load of college on top of my workload and family responsibilities would be too much, and I don’t have much left to give.

I’m terrified that I won’t have the strength to pull myself out of this hole that I’m digging myself into. I’m scared that I’ll be stuck scrubbing toilets until I can’t physically do the work any longer. I feel alone.

It’s hard for me to decide how much of my angst is a bad case of the pandemic blues and how much is mid-life crisis….

Whenever I’m faced with a challenge, I do what everyone else does. I scour the internet for answers. This morning, I Googled “What are moms worried about in October 2020?”.

A recent article, appropriately titled “Mothers Are the ‘Shock Absorbers’ of Our Society”, in TheNew York Times by Jessica Grose examines the increasing struggles mothers are facing during the pandemic. The article cites a recent publication from NationalWomen's Law Center, showing that four times more women than men dropped out of the labor force in September. Although the author couldn’t be certain, there is speculation that remote, online homeschooling and limited childcare availability contributed to these numbers.

And that makes sense. While my children aren’t young enough to require childcare, they still need cared for. There is also the expectation that I stay involved in their day-to-day schoolwork. I can’t meet that expectation if I’m not home.

Equally important is the need to make an income. (No kidding)

It’s no wonder that women are dropping out of the workforce at such a high rate compared to men. Support for working mothers feels inadequate. For many, the already-taxed resources that were available are tapped out from an overloaded system.

The added demands placed on women tends to go unnoticed by the masses. In this age of equality, women still end up with the lion’s share of the housework, cooking, and childcare – no matter their employment status.

And what about single mothers? In the United States, singleparent households count for one in four. Often, single mothers carry an extra load of responsibility. In the workforce, it’s easy to feel punished because you have a child. The wage gap between men and women is much smaller than the wage gap between mothers and others.

Is it possible for any working mother to be both a “good” employee and a “good” mother? Both roles have a different set of expectations.

This also begs the question of what a “good” mother looks like.

Motherhood changed. A generation or two ago, it was enough to be a custodial type mother – to know where your children are and that they are safe and fed. Now, we are expected to “do” things with them. It’s not enough to manage your children, you must spend time doing meaningful activities with them.

Motherhood is riddled with guilt from every angle. An article published in Frontiers in Psychology examines the tug and pull of motherhood in depth (see FeelingPressure to Be a Perfect Mother Relates to Parental Burnout and CareerAmbitions). The term “intensive mothering” is used to describe the “norms that prescribe mothers to be the main one responsible to take care of the children and to be fully devoted to this task, putting the children’s needs before her own”. 

Societal expectations heavily influence our beliefs of what a good mother does. The desire to achieve parental perfection can lead to what is known as “parental burnout”. This is damaging to the mother and child alike.   

Sleep is in short supply. Financial resources are limited. Our focus on our wellbeing and health is questionable, at best. Leisure and pampering are pushed aside completely. We are at a breaking point. The current motherhood/workplace structure isn’t working.

What is the solution?

There isn’t an easy answer. We are looking at a complicated problem.

It’s not just a motherhood issue. Men also have rigid expectations placed on them in the workplace and in society.

Laws are in place to allow both mothers and fathers family leave time, but a large percentage of that time is used by mothers – which often makes sense in the family dynamic.

Since the leave is often unpaid, someone needs to bring an income into the household. In the case of maternity leave, it’s usually a given that the mother will be the one to stay home with the baby.

Expectations aren’t likely to change for working mothers until the expectations are also changed for fathers. To see what this might look like, read about the strides Finland is making to encourage fathers to be equally involved with their children.

This isn’t about a shift in gender roles in the workplace. It is a reality that mothers need more time away from a traditional job than women without children or men.

We need to reframe the ways an employed parent can meet demands of the job. This isn’t to say that an employer should carry the burden of productivity loss. Instead, the employer would do well to offer penalty-free options in the ways that the employed parent can complete job requirements.

In addition, we may need to change the way that we view motherhood. Years ago, motherhood (done well) would be considered a woman’s crowning achievement. Through the fight for equal rights, motherhood became less of a respected position. It doesn’t feel adequate to “just” be a mother.

Are we losing sight of the value of motherhood? Isn't motherhood crucial to the continuation of the human race? (That sounds a bit dramatic, I know.) 

It is possible that the feminist movement overlooked a major component of being female - not the right for reproductive freedom, but the functionality of motherhood in our society. 

I wouldn’t say that women’s liberation was a bad thing. But it has occurred to me that part of the movement was a lie. We can’t have it all. At least, not all at once.

It’s extremely difficult to perform two very different, yet important jobs at the same time. Everything has a cost, and the price many women are paying is at the expense of their own health.

For some families, taking on the traditional roles of mom as stay-at-home parent and dad as provider works well. However, many families, including single parent households, can’t exercise this choice. How can society support motherhood and the right to achieve success without diminishing the importance of either role? What expectations must we change?  

Let me know in the comments if you’ve struggled with creating a balance between motherhood and career, I’d love to hear from you. All thoughts are appreciated! 

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