Over my 5 years as a SAHM, Hubby and I have both wondered if I suffer from depression, and if being a SAHM is the right thing for me and for our family. A few different times, Hubby has had the courage to suggest that perhaps I should go back to work, just for the sake of my mental health.
Something about these discussions has never really sat right with me. For one thing, I never wondered about whether I had depression before I became a mother. Then and now, some anxiety, yes, but not depression – not the kind that interferes with everyday life and doesn’t respond to “cheering up” sorts of efforts. For another, I do truly want to be a SAHM and I do truly think it is the best thing for our children.
Enter the term: SAHM Burnout. This makes a lot of sense to me, and I think that understanding what burnout is and how it comes about will be very helpful to me and to my family.
I think that burnout involves symptoms of depression, but it is not necessarily the same thing as true clinical depression. I think that burnout, left unaddressed, can be detrimental and even dangerous. It can certainly leave a SAHM feeling isolated and inadequate. I do think that when burnout is properly addressed, its symptoms can be turned around in a relatively short period of time. However, burnout symptoms can rear their ugly head again if things slide back to the way they used to be.
What factors make burnout more likely to be a big issue for me?
- When the weather does not allow us to easily spend time outdoors, this can put me in a ”danger zone” pretty quickly. Where I live, the winters are long and cold, and it can take 15 minutes of concerted effort to get both of my kiddos (and myself) ready for the great outdoors. And once we’re out there, we may or may not be able to stay there very long. Summer comes with its own set of joys and challenges. Yesterday, for example, was so hot and humid that we spent a little time outdoors in the morning, and that was it for the day.
- When the kids or myself are sick.
- When I’m not getting enough sleep (this can have a variety of causes).
- When we don’t have “enough” things going on, such as preschool, Mommy & Me class, and so on.
- When we have TOO MUCH going on, and/or one particular thing starts to become a drain. A sign of this phenomenon is when you start to feel love/hate for a particular thing; for me, going to the pool has fallen into this category. On the one hand, yay! fun! water and smiles! when we go to the pool. On the other hand, all the time spent getting ready (applying sunscreen, packing food); all of the energy expended once we are there (Mark, who is 21 months old, has his own agenda at the pool, and it mainly involves wandering around every square inch of the pool complex — every DRY square inch, that is); and all of the work once we get home (baths, dinner, then bedtime, all at breakneck speed). All of these things can take their toll on me after awhile.
- Any time when I feel powerless to Get Things Done — whether those things are of a cooking and cleaning nature, or a rest & relaxation nature — because of so many interruptions and so many people (big and small) needing my time and attention. (For an interesting take on this issue, check out this Dad’s description of his week from hell.)
- When I feel like a failure at being a “good mom” (whatever that means) in spite of my efforts to not let anything slide. Today, for example, I spent the morning dashing around the house, doing some laundry and some basic cleaning; also spent a good amount of time preparing/serving/cleaning up after snacks for the kiddos and for myself. I kept glancing outside and thinking how I really “should” get the kids outside. Before I knew it, it was 11 a.m., and both kids were starving (AGAIN), so I hit the ground running in the kitchen (AGAIN) and got some lunch ready. Immediately after lunch, Mark was ready for his nap, so no more chance of a family outing in the morning; the afternoon brings its own set of opportunities (pool? park?) and challenges (me being worn out, figuring out dinner, being prepared for Mark’s post-nap demonic state). The bottom line? It is tough when, day after day, competing goals make you feel torn and unsuccessful; in this case, one goal is to Get The Kids Outside and Have Fun as a Family, while another goal is Keeping My House From Looking and Smelling Like a Pigsty, a Pigsty in Which Healthy Meals and Snacks Are Nowhere to Be Found.
- Feeling like “no one” would understand my feelings and frustrations. Over the years, I have realized that my mother, while she is a very dear and wonderful person, is not a good sounding board for me. As a result, I try not to appear too worn out or burnt when she is “watching.” With my husband, we have gone through a long process of figuring out how to make things work between us. On the one hand, it’s not fair for him to constantly listen to complaining and negativity; on the other hand, I can’t realistically put on a happy face for him day after day while I am falling apart on the inside. (I have talked with a number of other SAHMs who struggle with this very same issue.) When it comes to fellow SAHMs, it would seem that they would be perfect soulmates, but over the years I have discovered that this is not always, or even often, the case. Some SAHMs, God bless them, seem to sail through the challenges of SAHM-hood, and adding another kid or two to the brood is no big deal, not to mention the minor issues of getting dinner on the table or heading up yet another fundraiser at church or school. I have developed quite a nose to sniff out other SAHMs who love their families dearly but some days are just holding on by their teeth, and (this is key) aren’t afraid to admit it.
For me, it is therapeutic to simply list the things that contribute to burnout. What about you? What factors contribute to a state of burnout for you?