To the burned-out working mom: I see you

Sometimes it feels like "leaning in" means overload. But mama, we've got this.

Working mom burnout
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A tired, working, mom. All three of those words used in the same sentence feel so trite. So, cliché. So, true. And so insufficient. And mama, I know you feel it too. Sometimes at the end of the day when I just want 5 minutes to process, to think, evaluate, remember, feel-—all my mind and emotions can summon is this: Tired.

Most days it feels like all I have left for me is tired.

The truth is, as a working mom I don't feel like a #bossmom or #bossbabe or #momboss or whatever glamorized version of success is being told about this narrative. It's exhausting having to be "on'' all day. "On" at work. "On" at home. Always ready to spring into action, problem solve, fix things and step in when needed.

I'm not the only one who's exhausted. In last September alone, more than 860,000 women left the workforce according to an analysis by the National Women's Law Center, mostly due to the demands placed on them by the pandemic. Some have predicted this workforce exodus alone could set women back a generation. According to Jessica Calarco, a sociologist, women who are the most stressed are the ones who hold themselves to high standards both professionally and personally as parents. Because we feel like we're failing at everything all the time.

I know I do. I have trouble finding the off button or off mode. I want my home to be a sacred, restful, clean, organized cozy space. I want to plan and do activities and learn things with my kids. I care about my studies, being a good student, and making good grades and graduating and networking with other students and professors. I care about my work, building a portfolio and staying up to date on the latest marketing and digital storytelling trends. I take pride in a job well done—but I also take pride in a meal well cooked and essay well written. It's all equal.

I can't compartmentalize or prioritize career, family, home, college—it's just all there every single day demanding my time and energy. Moms so often can't talk about this because moms just do what we have to do.

And when you ask how we are and we say "good" or "tired," most likely what we're thinking is something like, "I need to sleep. I need to clean. I need a break. I'm overwhelmed. My kid needs new shoes. I have a deadline. I should schedule a doctor's appointment. I need to exercise. I should organize the toys. Donate the clothes sitting in the closet. We're out of milk. I need a haircut. I should fold the laundry." To the working mom who feels her work is never done… I see how tired you are. I am you.

Let's celebrate moms who are building careers and families at the same time. But let's not glamorize it. It's messy. I often feel like I'm in the trenches. This whole expectation for moms to parent like they don't have a job and have a job like they don't also have to be a parent is getting old. Maybe it's society's expectations, or maybe it's my own, or maybe it's both. But let's stop selling it like it's easy. We're expected to hide our noisy kids on our Zoom calls when there's no childcare or school in session, or go into work when there's a sick toddler and no one else but mom to stay home and care for them. It feels impossible most days.

The truth for most of us working moms is that something has got to go: maybe the clean home, the seasonal activities with the kids, the job that provides a little side income, the GPA. I'm trying to figure it out for myself, and the hard part of parenting in seasons like these is that it is so hard to imagine a reality that doesn't look like my present. I'd like to imagine that in the next 5,10, 15 or 30 years I'll look back, grateful for what I accomplished. That I won't see myself as a "failure" but as doing the best I could with what I had at the time. That my children, when they are older, won't resent me for the time I spent working. I hope they will see what I did and what I accomplished for them and for me because I loved them and wanted to create and build a life and career with them.

But what I'm most hopeful for, for myself and for you, dear working mom, is that we will look back on this season of our lives with love, awe, respect and gratitude for the life, career and dreams we built with our children and not in spite of them. For the way we showed up as our whole selves. The mother, the employee, the student, the _____ (fill in the blank). More than the roles we juggled, we are whole, complex women and human beings. We are working moms, but we are more, and we move mountains everyday to make a better life. If our future selves can have love, awe, respect and gratitude for our present selves, then why not start today?

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