An Eternal Flame – How to Say Hello to Mom Burn-Out

I’m a mom. I’m a feminist. I’m a therapist for women. I am a feminist mom wholeheartedly. And yet i am faced with that beautiful vulnerability of being flawed like anyone else: I am burning out.
My little flame is wavering a bit.

It is not lost on me that i am a therapist who supports new parents, especially mothers, with the transition into parenthood. And i can’t help but feel the grasp of imposter syndrome that I too am immersed in the impact of Impossible Parenting. I do all the things i suggest to others. That’s not the point – in fact, it’s much bigger than me and what i can do for myself. As i grapple with parenting my children in real life, and in public, i feel a self-imposed burn of pressure to be Mary Poppins perfect – what kind of model am i to others if i too am struggling to keep my kids’ (and my) shit together at the Grocery store? Ugh – the pressure can be too much, and then i seek out my self-compassionate voice and breathe a bit better. I love the lists of ways to heal from mom burn-out, but those are band-aid solutions and not touching on the root of the problem.

I chose to be a parent, i wanted kids and i love the idea of the matrescence rite of passage. And yet, part of me wonders if this is all it is?

I love my life. I really do. This isn’t a passive aggressive way to try to get a message to my partner. (though this open letter to dads is great!). I also recognize my vast privilege as a white cis gendered woman who is able-bodied and partnered to a cis man who i love and have a healthy relationship with, where both of us have permanent work.

And yet…

I’m so tired. And irritable. And cranky. For a while, I thought it was work overload then I wondering if I’m not practicing what i preach with work/life balance. So i read some books, slowed down some evenings, met up with friends here and there, did less work after-work hours. And still…i was crabby.

I love the work of Esther Perel that reminds us how we put on our good work pants for work, only to take them off when we get home. Then proceed to show our own family our more authentic and messy side. Like I should still be wearing my nice pants all day, or at least notice how i present my good side only at work.

At first, i thought ‘oh oh’ I’m not being so kind to my family and felt self-critical of my own internalized want to have it all at the same time. I was sad with myself for putting work first, and being tired by the end of the day, when my kids needed me. And then i realized, “huh, what is playing a role in me feeling this way.’ Surely it’s not just my own doing.

I think I’m more right about that side of the coin.

A few weeks ago, i had to point out to my beloved dependents that people come to see me on purpose to help them when they are sad or stuck with a hard feeling and decision. And yet, my kids will yell over me to keep arguing with each other. For a while, i would be ashamed that I could not be able to help them de-escalate or regulate their feelings – that’s what i do ALL DAY long at work after all. I realized then and there that maybe i am better at helping others who want to be supported, and that my kids need me in a different way.

Sure, i know they need me to model self-soothing behaviour and emotion regulation. Sure I have the tools – i even make a real toolbox for them.

I’ve begun to resent weekends. Sure, i practice what i preach – i take time for myself in the evening and don’t always do the dishes, unpack lunch bags, put stuff away. Sometimes i watch a show by myself or write articles like this one… And feel guilty about it. The idea of a mini mom vacation sounds decadent and yet i know it’s just a band-aid solution.

I do live from a family-centred place and attachment theory is my jam. I get hugs and love from my family, even a thank-you and I’m sorry sometimes. I don’t want to be worshipped per say, but to be more appreciated and noticed would be great. What i need is less work and chores and tasks and requests and and and..

I love all the articles on social media that remind us of the mental load of mother’s work (and yes it’s quite gendered still, and also still seen under the umbrella of women’s work). I’m glad we are acknowledging this burden and current iteration of sexist division of labour. Motherhood is still tasked by the same glass ceiling that we feminists fought for some many years ago. I wish i could turn off the brain thinking part of the mental load of mothering. Yes, it’s a verb now too.

For instance, here’s a run-down of some things that i carry in a given week:

* I once woke up in middle of night to pack a swimsuit for my kid’s class – i went to bed knowing i forgot something!
* I keep the health cards even though I now hate the sight of blood (and I learned that after my son fell off a tree into a river on a vacation and needed stitches – that i wanted to get him but my partner’s didn’t think were necessary)
* On that note, i wake up through the night whenever my kids move, or cough, or cry out
* i am a sous-chef that knows my son only likes raw veggies and tomato soup and my daughter hates the idea of sandwiches
* I have to get the rascals out of bed while he makes lunches – yes I’m grateful he makes lunches because it’s a yucky job, but what’s easier?
* I know exactly how to pour their juice in the morning so that one is not jealous that the other got more to juice (not to drink it mind you, but you know “fairness”)
* I coordinate playdates for the weekends that I work or it’s not my turn to take a day off for a PA Day
* I know what their favourite socks are and where to find them
* I know when they have homework, or class trips, or birthday parties and send in the forms and RSVPs
* I book childcare for the 4-times-a-year date nights
* I know when the birthdays are of their friends!
* I feel guilty when i am at work on a Saturday or can’t make it to them if the school calls mid-day
* I know when the tooth fairy is going to visit and save the coin for that night
* I have forgotten twice and felt so shitty

There is no such thing about a maternal instinct. You read that right – there is NOT one but rather we are taught and learn how to be moms. Who reading this has babysat at a young age, or was taught how to mend socks and buttons, or what is best for a sore tummy since you were a child yourself? Yes i do know that men of my generation may have learned this too, but are they doing all the other things too? Do they stay up thinking about all this too? When we list what we do and thing about, especially during that 3rd shift of labour in a day, do our partners say “i took out the trash, or changed the litter box.” Yes thank you sweet lover, but do you also wake up worrying about your kid’s strained friendships or start planning their birthday party 2 months ahead of time?

Just look at all the books dedicated to this – they all are geared to mommy blog readers, or mommy mojo sex fullfillment, or mama rage. And guess who reads these books and articles? Yup, moms and women. So, while I’m a glass half-full gal at the best of times, I’m not so sure this will change.

Don’t get me wrong, i read all those books and enjoy most of them. This photo is just some of the books i am reading right now, in fact. My partner has yet to finish one parenting book – but he chose a good one so I’m glad he has that under his belt. And i do love my self-identified label of mom. I even loved it was the first word of both my babies. And yes, i identify as a mother, not a parent. Go figure. I even loved it was the first word of both my babies.

And again, i will remind you that i love my partner dearly, our relationship is absolutely solid, and he is a very hands-on, active, and available dad to my our children. This is about him nor needing to change our roles, gendered or not. It is bigger than just us. I am so grateful for all my partner does. The homemade bookcases and winter tires and …

And yet…

(( written by a tired and grumpy Middle Aged perimenopausal woman ))

My Body My Choice

I’m not exactly sure when i became an activist for gender rights, but it was definitely in high school, if not earlier. I got my period earlier than the vast majority of girls in my class. I was 9 (nine!) – take that in. I was the same age as my eldest child is now. There is nothing like being in grade 5 and other girls wondering what the strange noise was coming from a bathroom stall. In fact, it was me tearing off the sticky part of my maxi pad. Talk about stigma and being embarrassed for something so normal. I also got breasts pretty early too, and of course that brought on attention from much older boys and men even. I noticed that for sure, and yet didn’t have the skills to put them in their place (the boys i mean), or more importantly, the support and guidance from others to help me with this.

So i started dating younger than i might have otherwise, and my body has been a sexual object for a long time. I remember being in middle school and walking on the beach in Florida, while on vacation. A boy i did not know came up to me and asked me point blank if i “put out.” I didn’t even know what the term meant. Luckily, it didn’t go farther than that, but the memory still stays with me.

When i was in high school, a pro-choice rally was held and i recall my mom urging me not to go. She was afraid of me being an activist in a rally and getting hurt or in trouble. While i obeyed her request (rule), i did learn more about what abortions are and what being pro-choice is for me. A friend of mine had to get one when we were in high school. I remember helping her get the phone number for a clinic in Toronto and being part of a team of teenage friends helping her navigate the system to get it done. I grew up in a smaller city 1 ½ hours from the big city and it was my job to hold on to the card with the clinic’s phone number. I still remember where i hid it.

About ten years ago, i worked at a reproductive health clinic where medical terminations of pregnancies happened. My role as a counsellor was to be a guide to people during the procedure. I literally would hold their hand and help them with breathe work, distraction tools and self-compassion. I loved this work and it brought me closer to the work i do now, so i am so grateful for what i learned there.

One thing i learned is that many of us that choose to get an abortion do it for a number of reasons. As we are our own experts, it is up to no one else to govern or decide what’s best for our bodies. And yet, we are hearing otherwise again in the news as some states are changing a sacred and human rights law that passed many moons ago.

I can only assume that people who have had to make a difficult choice are feeling triggered all over again. Some of the people i support come to help heal from the shame, remorse, and grief from making this decision. They don’t need lawmakers and politicians (mostly old white men) to make them feel worse for their decision. It was a hard decision to make, and it was their’s to do so and the right decision at the time.

Abortion is not just for rape, and yet it’s ironic that this backlash to our rights over our bodies is happening during May which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I can’t help to think of this as another form of systemic sexual abuse. While it’s not a sexual assault persay, it is a violation and abuse of someone over someone else’s body, in a sexual manner. The removal of abortion access is not about the unborn babies and fetuses – it’s about power. Just like rape is not about pleasure via sex: it is also about power.

I am now teaching both my children that they are the boss of their body. My daughter still asks who saw me naked when i delivered her earthside. Even last night, i overheard her asking my partner who saw my vagina when she was coming out, if i was naked with my consent, and if being naked was necessary. We talk about body autonomy a lot, and i still ask them if I can kiss and hug them good night.

In response to the latest backlash to women and reproductive choice, someone in my neighbourhood filled blocks and blocks of sidewalks with chalk-written slogans that remind us that we are the boss of our bodies. When walking over this simple and powerful display, i had an interesting chat with my children on what abortion is – i had to balance what it means to be pro-choice and that abortion is an absolutely acceptable and valid choice, with how to explain the process in an age-appropriate way.

My children have not yet reached puberty but they are on the near cusp of it. We have good books and chats about it a lot, and they know what it means when i have my monthly blood cycle. While i have had my period for over 30 years (*wow*), it was when i became pregnant that i really learned how my reproductive parts work, and when i can get pregnant each month. I want my children to learn how their bodies work before then. That is one way they can be truly informed when needing to give consent. Knowledge is power, right?

This upcoming Tuesday May 28 is the second annual Menstrual Hygiene Day in Toronto. I’m so excited that gender activists in the city have championed the path to lessen the stigma of menstruation and making pads and tampons accessible to all bleeders. I also love that Dr. Morgentaler, a renowned doctor who has been a forerunner in reproductive health and performing abortions for decades, received an Order of Canada for his work. Maybe we need to send invites to period party to those old white men in power to our south.

Or not, they might be party poopers.