How to Be a Good Mom Even When You're Exhausted
You know the mom who is always posting dreamy pictures of her kids baking in her all-white kitchen on a Saturday morning before they head to the beach? The one with the sweet matte-pink grin whose kids have big, round eyes that peer out from a jungle of potted ferns and olive trees that look like they never miss an evening water?
I am not that mom and neither are you and neither is she. Because beneath the filtered façade, we mothers are just trying to keep our heads above water, Instagram profile excluded.
Often, I'm exhausted, for different reasons but honestly, a lot of the time I'm exhausted trying to keep up with this image that's out there of what it looks like to be a good mom. It's all I want. The problem is that when I'm exhausted I worry that I'm not doing a good job mothering my children which makes me feel more exhausted.
Recently, I realized that's probably not very healthy so I've logged out of Instagram, found a therapist and settled on the idea that sometimes ramen noodles and cereal IS WHAT'S FOR DINNER and though that may sound like giving up, I'm suddenly energized and a lot less stressed out and exhausted. I'm actually as happy as the mom with the matte-pink grin, though mine is a little chapped right now.
Still, there are times when exhaustion, no matter how deliberately you're caring for yourself, is going to happen, like during the holidays, a family emergency or at the end of a college semester. So here's what I've learned about how to handle life while still maintaining as a mom even when I'm totally exhausted.
But first, what does it even mean to be a "good mom"? I think that's different for everyone and I think the definition shifts and changes throughout each stage so I'm not going to tell you how to be a good mom. Instead, hopefully you find that no matter what you're going through in life or how tired out you're feeling whether physically or mentally, you can still enjoy motherhood where you're at without anxiety that you're somehow eternally failing your children.
When You're On Your Period
I'm going to talk about this first since the majority of (but admittedly not all) mothers are dealing with one of these on a regular basis.
When I'm having mine, I worry that I'm not being adventurous enough for my kids because by the time I've finished work and fed my kids lunch I just want to put my feet up and close my eyes, especially because sometimes my hormones cause insomnia and I don't do so great when I don't get enough sleep. My kids usually remind me that I'm not adventurous enough for them during this time of the month by constantly whining that they'd rather be anywhere in the world than right here at home and the mom guilt cuts almost as deep as the cramps.
So here's how I've learned how to handle period exhaustion with two busy kids:
- Reel in my partner or a grandma for help taking the kids to the park or on a walk to get some fresh air.
- Make sure I'm taking iron supplements to keep any anemia at bay and up my energy level.
- Keep track of my cycle so that I know when I'm about to get my period. I'll plan outings for a couple of days before so that my kids are worn out by the time I'm on it and then have fun stuff waiting for them to do at home so I don't feel pressure to be all over the place while the lining of my uterus exits my body. This also keeps me from making doctors appointments or playdates for them when I'm not feeling well.
- Make sure that I eat right away (even if it's just some yogurt) and take care of myself well in the morning so I'm not cranky.
I also utilize grocery delivery during this time. I may not feel like hassling with car seats and getting the kids across town to go to the ice cream shop but I can have ice cream and all of the toppings brought right to my front step so we can have treats at home.
Other fun things I like to do with my kids at home that don't require me to exert a lot of energy are:
- Renting a movie from Amazon. and popping some popcorn. Amazon's movies are usually $2.99-$5.99 and there's also a lot of free options too!
- Have art/craft supplies delivered so they can go wild creating while I rest.
- If the weather is nice, set up our back patio for outdoor adventures. I pull out the chalk, bubble machine, sandbox and trampoline and ask them to water my flowers while I watch from my rocking chair.
- Read pictures books on the couch.
If your kids are older, you've probably already figured out how to handle momming on your period and that just facilitating a home and atmosphere where fun can happen is the best thing you can do to ensure that your kids are set when you're not feeling so hot.
When You're Dealing with Work or School Stress
Over the past couple of years I've been both working from home and taking college classes and holy cow, talk about exhaustion!
Here's how I'm handling it with two kids at home:
- Delegate. Whether I'm delegating to my husband or to my kids, I'm learning that I can't work, go to school and care for a home and two small children without turning into The Meanest Mom Ever, so these days I make sure that my kids have what they need to do many things on their own now, whether it's brushing their teeth before bed, pulling a snack out of the pantry or feeding our family dog while I wrap up a work project in the other room. And I would confidently argue that one trait of success in motherhood is enforcing your children to take part in their share of the day's responsibilities.
- Know your limits. Because of some schedule changes happening for my extended family this school year I decided to take the fall semester off from college. I knew that if I tried to keep up at that pace with this upcoming change, I wouldn't be able to handle everything without screaming into a pillow every morning and I don't want to be like that. School will always be waiting for me but these years with my kids won't and my mental wellness is more important to me than getting that degree at a certain time.
- Create a routine and schedule and then stick to it until it's not working for you anymore. Recently, I was finding myself feeling overwhelmed every single morning at the long list of things I needed to get done versus more stuff I needed to get done (like uh, make money). Then one day after yelling at my entire family it occurred to me that maybe none of that stuff was ever going to actually be done. The laundry is always going to be piling up in the hampers and there are always going to be dishes to put away ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Only took me 29 years to figure out. Now, I have a schedule up in the kitchen where everyone in the house can see it (including me) with my work hours. Whether the dishes are done or the laundry is folded, I start work when I'm supposed to (okay, give or take a few minutes) and work until I'm scheduled to stop. This keeps me from overworking while my home falls apart, or trying to make homemade breakfasts every morning while my work stagnates.
- Utilize convenience foods and stop trying to achieve perfection. On that note, I've also given up the dream of making Bob's Red Mill pancakes for my kids every morning. If I do that while yelling at them to pick up the damn Legos before I stab my foot again then I'm not really achieving my #1 priority of being a good mom. And my version of being a good mom (for myself) is to be a mom who isn't always yelling or feeling frustrated. So? Bye bye, Bob's Red Mill, you're way too much freaking work, especially when I'm trying to pair you with fresh sliced strawberries and dairy-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, happiness-free smoothies. Instead, I'm all stocked up on Target brand frozen mini-pancakes, microwave bacon and juice pouches to make feeding my kids in the morning a super quick thing. Sure, it's not Instagrammable and it's not heroic in any way but my bills don't give two shakes what my Instagram feed looks like and my kids bellies are full so hey, I'm doing something right here.
If You're in the Midst of a Family Emergency
People die, get in trouble, get divorced, get sick, lose their jobs, have breakdowns. These things happen and these things happen on their own schedule, not yours, so some of these things will inevitably happen while you're trying to raise your children.
Here's how you handle it:
- Let go of anything that isn't necessary that adds more stress to whatever situation you're dealing with.
- Prioritize what's actually necessary. Making sure that your kids eat, that they have a safe roof over their head and that their physical and mental health is prioritized is what's necessary and pretty much nothing else is. Trying to shuttle your kids back and forth to twice weekly cello lessons while also taking your dad to his dialysis several times a week? Let go of the cello lessons - you can get back to them later. Did you just leave your husband and you're having trouble finding the time and energy to clean your house? Hire a house cleaner, you're not winning any awards cleaning it yourself. Can't afford to have your house cleaned? Lower your standards and just do enough to make sure your home is safe and not adding to your stress.
- Take time out to take care of yourself. You're going to make sure your kids are taken care of. That's your instinct. But the last person you're thinking about right now is you. Stop and make a list of the things you need, whether that's a nap or a new bra and make it happen. The more you take care of yourself, the more you pump strength into yourself to be there for your children. Understand that you're important too, even in the midst of this crisis. When you realize this, you also set an example for your children of how to take healthy measures to care for oneself in a bad situation.
When You're Dealing with Depression or Anxiety
Ask for help!
This summer I realized it was time to address my Generalized Anxiety Disorder and I began talking to a therapist who is helping me to practice self-care and pinpoint my anxiety triggers so I can live a more joyful life. In doing so, I'm so much calmer and enjoying motherhood more and I can see that relief in my children.
If, like me, you're crunched for time, you can see a licensed therapist from home using a website or app like Betterhelp (which is the one I use).
Besides talking with a licensed therapist, you can (and should):
- Ask family for help. Ask someone to take the kids to the library, ask someone to cook dinner, ask someone to recommend a funny podcast or some good music. Be honest with how you're feeling, you'll probably find that you're not alone!
- Make sure you're getting enough sleep and if you're not talk to your doctor about it. Find out if melatonin would help you or if they recommend something else.
- Spend time doing things with your children that you both enjoy. Maybe it's as simple as watering the plants together, watching a silly TV show or playing with a hose in the backyard. Having personally grown up with a parent who struggled with their mental health, I don't remember the things we did together, I only remember the time we spent (or did not) spend together and if I felt like in that time, I was special to them. I remember kind words and encouragement, not exciting places or experiences. When you spend time with a child, you're telling them they're special to you. That's what counts.
Six More Things You Can Do to Be a Good Mom When You're Really Tired Out
- Call or text a friend. And make sure it's not the one who pretends to be perfect all of the time. Sometimes just stepping out of your own home and letting yourself hear about the reality of another mom's life reminds you that we're all just taking it day by day.
- Take the day off. If the weather is nice, screw everything inside and take the kids and yourself out, whether that's out to the park, out to dinner or just outside your front door and get away from the drudgery of everyday chores.
- Watch whatever show is your guilty pleasure for a couple of hours and let your kids watch some YouTube. It's fine, I promise.
- Call your mom (or your grandma or your aunt or your older cousin...) Call someone close to you who has been there, done that when it comes to motherhood. They'll talk you down from whatever unrealistic expectations you've built up for yourself.
- Cancel plans. No, really. Do it.
- Disappoint your kids. My children didn't sleep well the other night and though I had promised to take them to the beach that day, I couldn't feasibly do it on five hours of sleep so I had to disappoint them. Here we are nearly a week later and guess what? THEY'RE OKAY! And we ended up doing the beach a couple of days later. Life goes on.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Kierstin Gunsberg