Being an attorney and a mother can be extremely difficult. Finding work-life balance may seem impossible and mother’s may begin to feel guilty for working as much as they do. Continue to read on some tips that can help next time the working mom guilt sets in.
Tag Archive for: Motherhood
Join CARE Counseling and My Talk’s Mom Show as we work to connect Minneapolis Mom’s to Mental Health and Counseling Resources. Special guests this week on The Mom Show includes staff members Shannon Henry and Heidi Bausch as they discuss the concepts of grief and loss.
New research demonstrates parental burnout has serious consequences.
Parents Admitting to Burnout: That’s New
New research published in Clinical Psychological Science suggests that parental burnout can have serious consequences. In two longitudinal studies, 918 and 822 participants were analyzed, respectively. The studies involved the completion of three online surveys per year.
Results indicated that parental burnout has much more severe implications than were previously thought. Burnout was associated with escape ideation—the fantasy of simply leaving parenting and all its stressors—as well as with neglectful behavior and a “violence” category that included verbal and psychological aggression (e.g., threats or insults) and physical aggression (spanking or slapping) directed at children.
The truly remarkable result of this study is that parents responded honestly at all. In earlier research on this topic, the researchers grappled with whether parents would ever respond honestly to questions related to burnout, and whether the construct has any validity if no one will admit to it. It’s human nature to avoid responding honestly to questions that make you look bad, even anonymously! We call this the impression management bias.
What is Burnout?
As defined by the study, burnout is an exhaustion syndrome, characterized by feeling overwhelmed, physical and emotional exhaustion, emotional distancing from one’s children, and a sense of being an ineffective parent. Freudenberger (1974) first coined the term in reference to staff workers. Proccacini and Kiefaver wrote about it in 1984, and then the concept kind of disappeared. Until recently, however, parental burnout hasn’t been systematically studied. I think that’s because the entire concept is taboo.
The thing is, parents aren’t supposed to be able to burn out! We are taught, both explicitly and implicitly, that parenting is so rewarding, fulfilling and wonderful that one smile from a beloved child will instantly fulfill a parent, that the task is so joyful that the occasional difficulties (Meltdowns! Dirty diapers. 2 AM wakeup calls. Dirty diapers at 2AM!) are barely noticed. That’s just plain untrue, and it’s a myth that can harm parents.
Imagine working for this kind of boss: The demands seem to exceed the capacity to satisfy them, and the standard for success is always shifting, with high stakes and a lot of emotional pressure, and no real standard for success. Tasks with no end-date, where the finish line is always shifting, and tasks you can’t escape – those are the perfect conditions for burnout. Teachers experience it. Entrepreneurs experience it. And parents definitely experience it, but they haven’t been able to talk about it.
Oh sure, parents can talk about how work-life balance burns them out, we can talk about the gender gap regarding the mental load of running a home and parenting kids, we can talk about how being a working parent is stressful. But until recently, we haven’t been able to talk about how parenting itself can burn the parent out.
It’s not accidental that burnout makes us think of a depleted battery. When we’ve burned through all of our emotional fuel, there’s no more left. We all know the “supposed to-s” and the “should-s”. Parents are “supposed to” love the act of parenting so much, it recharges them on its own. Parents “shouldn’t” mind being woken up at 2AM, coming late to work, being passed over for promotion because of split priorities, or being the target of teenage angst.
You Can’t Give What You Don’t Have:
It’s true. Our kids rely on us and are frequently helpless. The parenting relationship is crucial to children’s psychological development. Attachment, or the lack thereof, can be damaging. That’s why it’s so threatening to even consider the possibility that parents can burn out. But if we can’t think about it, we can’t do anything to address it.
The thing is, we can’t give what we don’t have. If we’re disconnected from ourselves, we can’t give attachment, love, and nurturing. If we’re under stress, we can’t always respond with patience and model compassionate caring in the face of challenges. Since we are the parents, it’s up to us to know when that’s happening, when burnout is reaching critical levels, and what to do about it.
Neurodiverse Children and Burnout:
The problem is particularly severe when parenting a challenging child. In my practice, I treat parents and families of children with psychological diagnoses. When you’re parenting a child whose presenting problem is anxiety, OCD, ADHD, depression or an Autism Spectrum Disorder, the potential for burnout is so much higher. (For more on parenting a neurodiverse child, click here.)
The world misunderstands challenging children, and it’s up to us to explain them to everyone. Simple tasks, like getting our kids on the school-bus, to brush their teeth, or to eat dinner become massive jobs requiring Herculean effort. Homework time with kids isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. Try doing homework with a child who erases every letter that isn’t shaped perfectly, or who can’t stick to a task for more than three minutes straight. Then multiply a few siblings, who just have the neurotypical struggles and life demands. Add in some soccer practice, maybe a boss asking for some at-home work and throw in a toothache for good measure. For some people, this would be a nightmare. For others, it’s just called “Tuesday.”
Self-Care IS Child Care:
So many times, when I’m teaching parenting classes, I ask the participants what their self-care was that week. I get responses like this:
Self-care? Who has time for that? I am so consumed dealing with my son. Besides, he needs so much. How can I justify taking time away from something he needs, just to pursue something I like?
Based on this research, I ask parents how often they have escape fantasies, and all agree that they fantasize about their parenting load being lightened. Because this is an interactive class, we’ve already all spoken about the times that stress has led to less-than-optimal parenting strategies, like yelling, or a harsh consequence. (To learn about strategies to predict child behavior, click here. To learn more about using science to inform parenting, click here. To learn more about effective parenting strategies, click here.)
I point to the cell phones recharging on my power bank.
Every parent in this room has a cell phone currently recharging on that power bank. Just like we all know that the cell phones need to be recharged, so do we. When our batteries deplete, we have to refill them.
Personally, I ask myself each week about certain “banks” that need to be filled. Before others can recharge from me, I need to fill up my banks.
I tell my own children when my “cuddle bank” is empty, and I want them to come to me to help refill theirs. I have a “play” bank, a “nurturing food” bank, and “engaging/interesting pursuits” bank, a “sleep” bank, and an “unscheduled time” bank. When one of these banks is running low, I’ve learned to refill it. Let’s not call that self-care. Let’s call that the highest form of child-care – being present. Ironically, it’s that sense of a present parent, that connection, and that attachment, that is associated with the healthiest outcomes. The scariest finding in the research above – burnout prevents parents from being emotionally present with their children. (To learn more about being present and using mindfulness in parenting, click here.)
In 1953, child psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott spoke about being a “good enough” mother. Ironically, in the pursuit of being a “perfect” parent, we tend to burn ourselves out. Social media, with all the images of bento box lunches, Pintrest boards of “fun” braided hairstyles, and moms who brew their own homemade keffir don’t help. Let’s not be “perfect,” or even “great.” Let’s serve peanut butter and jelly for dinner, but have the energy for a cuddle! Let’s be real, because we can burn ourselves out on the path to ideal.
As soon as her baby was born, Anna felt a change. Something wasn’t right. She feared for her baby’s safety to an extreme degree. She would sit awake, staring at her baby through the night, terrified something would go wrong, and her daughter would die. After feeding, Anna wouldn’t allow herself to leave her baby’s side for even a moment, worrying something would happen in her absence.
As her daughter grew older, Anna felt intense anxiety that she was doing everything wrong: she hadn’t read to her daughter enough, she hadn’t cleaned up enough, she hadn’t completed enough puzzles with her child. Like many mothers, Anna held it together at work and with friends—the people who saw her every day didn’t know anything was wrong. But on the inside, she was bubbling over with anxiety.
One day, she found herself screaming into a pillow for release, and she knew then she needed help. As supervisor of the Northwestern Medical Center (NMC) Birthing Center in Vermont, Anna was in a knowledgeable position—she knew where to reach out for help.
Is What I’m Feeling Normal?
Feelings of depression, compulsion or anxiety do not mean a woman is a bad mother; they also do not mean she doesn’t love her baby. Many expectant mothers imagine motherhood will be fulfilling and uplifting. But when the baby is born, they may not feel that way at all. Mothers may experience depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A mother may experience PTSD as a result of a real or perceived trauma during delivery or following delivery. This can happen due to a feeling of powerlessness or a lack of support during delivery, an unplanned C-section or a newborn going to intensive care. Postpartum Support International (PSI) estimates around 9% of women experience PTSD following childbirth.
If you are experiencing anxiety, flashbacks or nightmares, you are not alone and it is not your fault.
What Should I Do If I Have These Feelings?
There are screening tools to help find troubling feelings. The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) is a 10-question screening tool that asks mothers to consider their feelings over the week leading up to the test. In the NMC Birthing Center, the EPDS is conducted after delivery, within the two or three days that a new mother stays in the hospital, two weeks after delivery and six weeks postpartum.
“[These feelings] can be easy to brush off,” Anna says. “But it’s okay to say, ‘Something isn’t right. I’m not okay.’” When a mother doessay this, nurses might follow up with questions like: “Can you tell me more about that? What does it feel like?” Nurses can help attach vocabulary and understanding to certain feelings. A mother experiencing these unsettling and frightening feelings should not push them away.
Everything can feel strange following a birth, so be gentle and honest with yourself about your feelings. If you are experiencing troubling or upsetting feelings, ask your nurse or doctor if they can help you find programs and resources. Many mental health agencies offer programs that can help, or there may be counselors in your area that can offer the right kind of support.
It can be helpful to find a solid support system that encourages open, honest communication—this can make all the difference for expectant and postpartum mothers. For Anna, talking to her family and her doctor provided her with the support she needed.
Anna hopes that by sharing her story she can help more mothers feel comfortable about expressing their feelings. Every mother is on her own journey, but she need not travel alone.
By Meredith Vaughn
If you’re a mom or dad, you’ve walked through the otherworldly time surrounding pregnancy and childbirth. The time following the birth of a child is incomparable: It brings the gift of life and the fun of seeing your family grow.
Parenthood also brings upheaval. Daily routines become irrelevant, sleep is sporadic and scarce, and guilt can take over in ways it never did before. Our old, familiar lives vanish. Like our babies, we’re born into new way of life, and it can take a while to adjust and adapt.
This happens even if all goes well. When you add in a postpartum condition, it can be debilitating. Nine years ago, I struggled as a new parent. After the traumatic birth of my first child, I developed postpartum depression (PPD).
I needed a roadmap. And with the help of other moms, a therapist and research, I pieced one together. My roadmap turned into a book about my journey called When Postpartum Packs a Punch: Fighting Back and Finding Joy. The key points on my roadmap back to wellness are these:
Mental health conditions typically don’t go away on their own—they get worse when untreated. Treatment is key, so do not wait to seek help; you are in charge of your treatment plan. A combination of psychotherapy and medication are the standard line of intervention for PPD, but it varies by person. Different forms of therapy are available, such as supportive therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Talk to your doctor about what would be best for you.
Know You’re Not Alone
Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders affect many women. While the exact prevalence is unknown, some estimates say as many as 1 million moms face it each year in the U.S. alone. Other moms can be your greatest source of strength. If you have persistent symptoms such as intrusive thoughts, sleeplessness or crying spells, reach out to someone you trust. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, contact Postpartum Support International. They have an invaluable network of women who are a phone call away. There’s no shame in seeking support.
Remember That This Isn’t A Character Flaw Or Weakness
Psychiatrist and chair of the U.K.’s Maternal Mental Health Alliance, Dr. Alain Gregoire, says: “The reality is that we are all vulnerable to mental illness. Our brains are the most complex structures in the universe and our minds are the uniquely individual products of that structure. It is not surprising then that occasionally things go wrong.” Just because you aren’t feeling well doesn’t mean you’re not meant to be a mother. It’s not a subconscious sign you don’t want your child. If your symptoms seem to be telling you this, don’t believe them.
Cling To Hope
Perinatal mood disorders can turn something already difficult—transition to motherhood—into a seemingly impossible hurdle. Just know that the symptoms don’t last forever. They’re temporary and treatable. Keep asking for help until you find the care you need. There’s an army of people who want to help you get better.
By Kristina Cowan