Motherly Collective

Everyone is talking about mom burnout—as if it’s a new concept. But it’s not. What has changed, however, when talking about burnout in motherhood is that our risk for burnout is higher than ever before because of the type of lifestyle we’ve been subjected to—both during the pandemic and beyond. 

During the pandemic peak, nearly 2 million women left the workforce in order to attend to caregiving duties at home because they needed to prioritize their children. We know that the pandemic caused scarce childcare as work demands remained consistent with some employers being less flexible than others, and heterosexual households had the age-old argument of “whose work is more important?”  

In most households, fathers won the more private office space while mothers completed what they could of their work tasks while simultaneously attending to three meal times per day, boredom in between screen time, homeschooling and virtual schooling their children, and attempting to take care of themselves and maintain their romantic relationships. The pandemic revealed that women felt unseen, unheard, and unappreciated in their roles as caregiving leaders in their households and their workspaces. This all culminated in more moms feeling the effects, with 93% of mothers saying they felt burned out, at least occasionally, according to Motherly’s 2021 State of Motherhood survey. 

And it hasn’t gone away: according to 2023 State of Motherhood data, nearly half (49%) of all moms still report feeling burned out by motherhood. As the Great Resignation still continues for moms and the rate of stay at home moms has doubled in the past year, it’s hard for mothers to catch a break.

Below, we’ll dive into maternal burnout, including how to identify the signs and why it’s important to do so.

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What is mom burnout? 

Maternal burnout is a chronic state characterized by physical, mental and emotional exhaustion and occurs when ongoing stress diminishes a person’s energetic resources. Parental burnout has been categorized by four dimensions

  1. A persistent, disruptive, and overwhelming exhaustion as a parent 
  2. Comparison with a previous and better self-as-parent (feeling shame and guilt about how one used to parent)
  3. Feeling as though one can no longer stand parenting and has had enough of it
  4. Emotionally distancing from children and doing the bare minimum to get a task done

What does a burned out mom look like in real life?  

Here’s a few day-to-day symptoms to see if you’re at risk or already experiencing maternal burnout

1. Constantly tired

If you’re doing all the things you’re being told to do such as eating well, exercising, taking breaks, etc., but are still feeling constantly exhausted each time you interact with your kids, you may be experiencing burnout. 

2. Cranky or yelling (even when you don’t mean it)

Some moms yell to get their kids to do what they want, and some moms feel as though they cannot help it. The yelling happens even when they are in an OK mood otherwise, but the yelling comes out as if that’s the only way they know how to speak.  

3. Feeling “not good enough”

Mothers are subject to tons of judgment and criticism—for some reason, it’s socially acceptable to tell mothers that they are the reason their child is not a “(fill in the socially desirable trait for the child here)” type of person. How can one person be responsible for every word, thought, feeling and action that another animate-and-evolving-being takes? It is these expectations of needing to control the uncontrollable or unpredictable actions of children that is one of many reasons that mothers are feeling like they are “not good enough” at mothering. 

4. Wanting to “get out”

Do you ever wish that mothering was a paid, full-time job so you could either quit or change jobs? Many of us feel this way, especially when we don’t see an end in sight to the daily physical and emotional demands that is motherhood. You may be experiencing burnout if you dread going back to mothering responsibilities even after you’ve taken some time off. 

5. Having only negative interactions with your kids

Burnout is a tricky thing. Even when you think you’re doing your best, it makes you focus on only the negative. If you find yourself talking to your kids only to correct their bad behavior, or to keep them on task, burnout may be impacting your ability to see your daily wins in parenting and even the joys in your child’s quirks. 

Why do we need to identify mom burnout? 

Identifying burnout is important because it will help you figure out what steps to take next. It’s problematic not only for the mother who is experiencing it but also for the children who may be impacted. A mother’s burnout puts their child at risk for abuse and neglect, something that even a burned out mother does not wish upon their child. 

How do I know if I’m burned out? 

The symptoms above may be a first step in labeling your burnout. If you want to identify if you’re suffering from parental burnout, check out this quick burnout questionnaire. If you would like to receive additional support for your burnout, find a nearby therapist here.

A version of this story was originally published on Aug. 26, 2022. It has been updated.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother's journey is unique. By amplifying each mother's experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you're interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.

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