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Mom Burnout: Causes, Warning Signs, Prevention, and How to Deal with It

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Mom burnout title image showing busy and stress out moms and their kids.

Burnout is an all-too-common experience that many mothers experience when their emotional and mental reserves have dried up. It’s that pesky feeling of “I can’t do this anymore” or the deep frustration when one stressful situation after another stacks up, pushing a mother’s patience over the edge. Mom burnout can result in depression, anxiety, and feeling “checked out” from parenting and even life.

If you’ve ever found yourself constantly yelling, “For the last time, sit in your chair and eat your dinner!” or something similar, you might have a sense of what mom burnout feels like. While occasionally losing your patience with a child doesn’t necessarily mean you’re burnt out, if this is a regular occurrence it could mean that it is.

So what is mom burnout, how do you tell if you’re experiencing it, and then what do you do to fix it? Let’s dive into these questions so you can get back to feeling at peace and confident in your parenting once again.

What is Mom Burnout?

Mothers in western society have a big long list of expectations for how they’re “supposed” to perform motherhood. As the last part of the twentieth century wrapped up and more women started to have careers as well, their list got even longer.

Now moms are expected to have a thriving career, a couple of well-behaved children, a clean, classy home, and the ability to run their whole lives with finesse. Anything less is seen as a failure and mothers beat themselves up for not meeting or exceeding social expectations.

This can have profound negative side effects on both the mother and her family, as was found in this study on mother burnout.

Moms often work all day, then come home to run kids around to various activities, clean the house, make dinner, do laundry, help with homework, clean some more, keep their kids engaged with the family, and then get everyone tucked into bed for the night.

Then they wake up the next morning to do it all over again.

Their lives are overscheduled, often with a focus on meeting others’ needs instead of their own. If they do have a little time for themselves, they tend to feel guilty if they aren’t being productive. Rest and relaxation is a foreign concept for many mothers.

We all know that a hectic life like that leads straight to burnout. But it can be hard for moms to know how to prevent it, if what they’re experiencing is truly burnout, and what to do if it does happen.

What Causes Mom Burnout?

Car steering wheel covered in reminder sticky notes for a mother.

While not every mother is living in the same circumstance, just about every mom has had a taste of burnout at one point or another in their parenting journey. Generally speaking, mom burnout is caused by mothers who just have way too much on their plates and not enough time for self-care.

Being a mom is a full time job with high demands. Some mothers live in circumstances that are higher stress than others, but all moms have to deal with challenging kids, middle-of-the-night sleep interruptions, and worrying about how their kids are developing.

Working mothers have to juggle the demands of their jobs and then flip the switch when they come home to also juggle the demands of their families. They might spend the evening simultaneously worrying about a big project at work while also being concerned about their child’s performance at school.

If they’re in a high stress career like, nursing or teaching, the chances of burnout may increase.

One 2019 survey found that of the 35 million working moms in the US, about 9.8 million of them were struggling with burnout. The study also found that working mothers are 28% more likely to experience burnout than working fathers are. The risk for burnout was even higher among Black, Asian, and Latino mothers.

Single moms have the added stress of being the only caregiver in the home, which means they rarely get a break from parenting. Without help from others with their kids, they are “on” as the protector, nurturer, and childcare provider 24/7—very stressful!

Homeschooling or very involved moms can also have a lot on their plates as they are constantly with their children and hold the full responsibility for helping them learn to become the people they hope they will be. They may not get a lot of time away from home and their identities might get too intertwined with their role as a mother, leading to struggle for some.

It’s important to differentiate between true burnout and common everyday stressors. Life is full of stress and, normally, we can handle it even if it’s hard sometimes. Burnout is repeated stress for a long period of time that feels like it is too much to handle. Eventually the tolerance for all that stress breaks, leading to the experience of burnout.

Warning Signs of Mom Burnout

A hand holding out a warning sign with an exclamation point.

Every mother is unique and will experience burnout in different ways. That said, there are a set of common signs and symptoms that you can look for to determine whether you’re currently experiencing burnout or not.

By paying attention to these signs in the early stages, you can help to avoid the more serious effects of chronic burnout. It’s important to pay attention and get help early!

Emotional Signs

  • Feeling depression or lingering sadness.
  • Not feeling like you want to participate in social gatherings or moms groups.
  • Feeling avoidant toward activities you used to enjoy doing.
  • Not having much patience with your kids on a regular basis.
  • Feeling emotionally “tapped out” and not wanting to engage.
  • Feeling numb or jaded.
  • Not energized by projects and activities that used to make you happy.
  • Feeling desperate for some peace and quiet.

Physical Signs

  • Chronic exhaustion even when you’ve had enough sleep.
  • Overeating or undereating.
  • Struggling with sleep issues or insomnia.
  • Headaches or migraines.
  • Increased sense of pain and tension in the body.
  • Drinking way too much caffeine to “get going”.
  • Winding down your day with alcohol just to cope.

Behavioral Signs

  • Avoiding going out in public, especially with kids.
  • No longer excited to take your kids places.
  • Hiding out away from your family.
  • Escapism and being excessively avoidant.
  • Not enjoying family adventures anymore.
  • Struggling at work or feeling like you never want to leave work.
  • Always grumpy and snapping at family members.
  • Fantasizing about running away.

Different Stages of Mom Burnout

Infographic showing the 5 stages of mom burnout.

Burnout doesn’t happen overnight. It tends to sneak up in a slow deliberate way. Often there’s an event that pushes you over the edge into burnout. Or it might be that one day you wake up and realize that you’ve been more crabby and you can feel depression coming on.

Whatever way it shows up for you, there are typically a few phases that your journey goes through before you’re squarely in burnout.

Motherhood Bliss

While motherhood is no walk in the park, most of us have times when things just feel good. We can handle the day-to-day stressors, we’re getting some alone time every day, our kids are generally cute and agreeable. This is the time when we feel like we’re doing a good job with parenting and we can handle the challenges.

Stress Overload

But then something hard happens. It could be extra responsibilities at work that are sapping up our energy. Or a child is diagnosed with a disorder or an illness. It could be any number of things that pop up and add more than enough stressors to our plates. Suddenly, we have too much stress in comparison to our daily experiences of personal fulfillment. Things feel too hard.

Chronic Stress

If these added stressors don’t let up, they become chronic over time. Now we’re constantly juggling too much stress, which eats at our resilience relatively quickly. If we’re not getting a break from the stress, we can’t reset our nervous systems for well-being. At this point, we’re at great risk for burnout.

Burnout

At this point, chronic stressors have been going on for a while and it doesn’t look like there’s any end in sight. It starts to feel hopeless, like you might not get a break from your hardships. This is the point where most mothers hit burnout. The energy that was once there just disappears, and you feel like you’ll never get back to a healthy place again.

Chronic Burnout

If burnout isn’t addressed, this can lead to chronic burnout. This is a truly unhealthy state of being that can lead to all kinds of chronic and acute diseases. It can also lead to severe depression and even suicidal thinking. It’s important to address burnout before it gets to this phase!

The Best Ways to Prevent Mommy Burnout

A mom and her baby in bed laughing and snuggling.

The biggest issue that mothers in western society face is not enough community support. Moms are expected to do it all for their children and their families. They’ve taken on multiple roles that were once done by many community members, leaving them little time to take care of themselves.

The most important thing to do to prevent mom burnout is to make yourself a priority every single day. You might not get to do everything you want to do everyday, but ensuring that you’re putting your needs at the top of your list helps you to make at least a few choices that feel nourishing.

In order to take better care of yourself, you’ll probably need to get help. This might mean asking family members to babysit your kids here and there. Or setting up homelife so you have a solid 20 minutes of uninterrupted alone time every single morning. It might involve asking your partner or spouse to chip in a little more. It also might mean relaxing your need to be in charge of everything and asking older kids to take more responsibility.

It’s important to be clear about your needs with yourself, with your children, and with your partner. By watching and listening to you, your children will learn that it’s also important for them to engage in self-care and they’ll learn to respect your need for space.

It’s also important to learn when it’s time to start saying no. It’s easy to feel like you need to say “yes” to every request that’s made of your time. But your time is precious and it deserves respect. Decide on your activity and energy giving boundaries (especially when it comes to people outside of your family), then stick with them. Don’t give in to guilt—your boundaries are important!

Decide if it’s really so important for your kids to be involved in every single activity under the sun. It’s likely they will still grow up to be amazing adults with parents that love them, even if they didn’t learn 3 foreign languages as a child. Children need as much slow time as parents do. Make downtime a priority for everyone’s well-being.

The Best Ways to Deal with Parental Burnout if You Already Have It

If you’re already dealing with burnout, it’s important to address it right away. If you don’t, your health will suffer and the well-being of your family will decline as well.

As the saying goes, if mom isn’t happy, no one is happy.

1. Get the Help You Need

It’s important to enlist the help of your family, friends, and community.

Find out if your daycare providers can offer a little more time for a while. Ask your mom to take the kids to the park once or twice a week. Do babysitting trades with other mothers so you all get alone time and a chance to take a break.

2. Let Go of Being a Perfectionist

Lower your expectations of what will get done. Make dinner and meals easy. Release yourself from guilt if your kids spend a little extra time on screens. Help your children to understand that you’re not feeling well and need lots of gentle kindness.

Let go of unrealistic expectations and practice mindfulness. You don’t have to be supermom in order to be a good mom.

3. Be a Good Example for Your Kids and Show Up for Yourself

Do whatever you need to do to ensure that you can take the time to care for yourself and heal.

Work with a therapist, life coach, or wellness coach. Find out what you need to do to turn things around for yourself. That might mean setting aside time for a date night with your partner or to spend time with your best friend or just finding some alone time to center yourself.

Prioritize your needs and mental health so you can be the warm, loving mother that you want to be. Give yourself love first.

4. Give Yourself the Gift of a Career Focused on Well-Being

If your current job or career is demanding without the flexibility and nourishment you need as a mother, it might be time to find a new career path.

You deserve to feel financially secure, while also being able to design your work schedule to fit your needs. By becoming a Holistic Wellness Coach with the IAWP, you’ll be able to craft a career that nourishes you so you can turn around and nourish your children.

Thoughts from IAWP Graduates

Swapna Medidi IAWP Holistic Wellness Coach

“I was a stay-at-home mom looking for a new way to empower myself and my family. Becoming an IAWP Wellness Coach helped me in so many ways.

First, it honed my listening skills which impacted my relationships with everyone around me. It also helped me to transform my relationship with food and nutrition which allowed me to not only help my coaching clients, but also to help my family eat healthier. I learned how to be more mindful in my daily life. I also noticed that I increased my productivity and actually had better time management, even though I was now starting a new business.

Becoming a Holistic Wellness Coach with the IAWP’s training and support was really a total transformation for me. I went from feeling burned out to gaining momentum and confidence in my life.”

Swapna Medidi, Class of 2020 Read Swapna’s Story →
Aimee Schrank

“When I was a burned out mom I was never enough, my inner critic was out of control, and I was irritable, resentful, and often not able to show up in alignment with my values as a parent. The process of becoming a wellness coach made me aware of how out of balance my life had become in regards to my own needs.

I was able to see all the areas where I had neglected to feed and nourish my soul, and ultimately was led to take small manageable steps to make space for this nourishment that I was so desperately and so subconsciously craving.

This has been so exciting for me! One of the reasons I went into this field was to be able to stay at home with my kids while following my passion, working from home. I now run my coaching practice from home, working with clients virtually.

During my training I took on paying clients, created a program to support moms and launched my coaching practice called Redesigning Motherhood. And I just had a $10,000 month!”

Aimee Schrank, Class of 2016 Listen to Aimee’s Story →
Claire Dyson Holistic Wellness Coach

“As a mom and Stepmom to 7 boys and a girl I was always burned out. I would have no energy and struggled to balance everything I needed to do. I never found time for myself which was the most important thing. Even my relationship suffered.

Since becoming a wellness coach in training I have learned the importance of balancing—how to balance each area I was struggling in with simple add-ins that made massive transformation. Over time I have become a better wife, mother and learned how to take better self care of myself.”

Claire Dyson, IAWP Holistic Wellness Coach
Sandra Payne Holistic Wellness Coach

“With three kids and a leadership role as a nurse I felt like I was drowning. I was often a solo parent with my husband traveling and no supports that left me barely keeping my head above water. I was miserable, irritable, and had thoughts about running away. This hurts even to this day.

When I chose to pursue a wellness coaching business it was hard to step away from the secure career of nursing but what I was gifted was the opportunity to find more time and space to care for me and my family. The opportunity to achieve balance. It’s not an easy thing because old patterns die hard, but becoming a coach and working on myself has allowed me to come to a place where I feel whole, healthy, and renewed.”

Sandra Payne, IAWP Holistic Wellness Coach
Stephanie LaDuke Holistic Wellness Coach

“I was tired, irritable and not loving my job or commuting, I hated only seeing my family for a few hours each day, and didn’t like that my boss never let me leave early. The effort didn’t feel worth it. Bonus—I still had to cook, clean, and do a million other things each day. There was never enough time.

Becoming a Wellness Coach through the IAWP changed all that. The lectures, material, talks, and workshops have all offered food for thought, tips, and more, but also ways to put that information into action. I’m not saying I don’t have days, but having the tools and being able to apply them has really supported me in many areas of my life – career, family, relationships, and more.

I wouldn’t be where I am today without this training. I’m so grateful I can share it with others as a coach supporting other mothers in the postpartum community.”

Stephanie LaDuke, IAWP Holistic Wellness Coach

Summary

A happy mother enjoys her new career as a stay at home wellness coach while having a video call with her clients.

Being a mother can be an exhausting, thankless job that asks you to self sacrifice to the point of burnout. But it doesn’t need to be this way. Burnout is not the inevitable path forward as a mother. Well-being and self-care is the top priority for any mom.

If it’s time to focus on your own wellness and learn how to also teach well-being to others, you might make an excellent Holistic Wellness Coach. You’ll learn everything you need to know to prevent burnout in your own life, plus you’ll embark on a new career path in just 6 months.

We offer our students wellness coaching so they can transform their own lives before transforming the lives of their clients. We’re committed to your success, so we teach you everything you need to know about holistic health, paired with the most effective coaching skills and business-building systems.

If you’re ready to make wellness and well-being a priority in your life, take a moment for yourself and schedule a complimentary Wellness Coach Career session with a member of our team.

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About the Author

Suzanne Monroe

Suzanne Monroe is the author of Live Well Dream Big: The Ultimate Guide to Becoming Your Best Self and Living Life on Your Own Terms. She has also written and published The Holistic Cookbook & Lifestyle Guide: 12 Weeks to a Healthier, Happier You, the co-author of 101 Ways to Improve Your Health and the host of the Live Well Dream Big Podcast. Suzanne was inspired to create the IAWP Wellness Coach Training & Certification Program in collaboration with other leading health experts in order to inspire people to create meaningful careers and spread the message of wellness.

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