If you have seen any working mothers, they all have one thing in common – they all are very busy as they juggle all the responsibilities on their shoulders: tasks, deadlines, projects at work and kind of the same at home, household chores, doctor’s appointments, project managing the family life and on top of it, trying to spend some quality time with the kids and hubby. It is not a surprise for anyone if most of the working mums feel burnout symptoms from time to time, they are overwhelmed, stressed out, and feeling fatigued due to the endless caregiving demands.
I remember a couple of occasions from the past years when I heard my son crying for me and I could just scream due to the frustration and exhaustion in the middle of the night, and I was just unable to respond to my son’s need at that very moment. Apart from kicking daddy out of bed occasionally to pick up the crying kid at night, what else can we do to avoid or stop burnout?
1. Invisible labour
One of the main reasons for working mothers to feel burnout symptoms at one point during motherhood is very simple, they literally have too much on their plate. Some of these tasks are part of the invisible labour that often goes unseen and unrecognised by others but still often falls into the mothers’ responsibilities to complete. Examples of invisible labour might be organising appointments and schedules, grocery shopping, cooking, loading the dishwasher or the washing machine – all might take just 5-30 minutes, but all together, those might keep mums busy for the whole afternoons, not giving them any space for quality family time or any me-time to recharge the batteries.
Coaching tip: The first step is to recognise all these typical tasks that may need just a quick dedication of time or may take longer and be conscious about how many small tasks your family needs to operate in an ideal way. When you have a more realistic picture of the workload, you can see what you could do about it.
2. Fair distribution of tasks
One possible option is to sit down with the family and see how you could distribute the tasks in a fair way that serves all members of the family. It is recommended to assign owners for the different tasks so that they are responsible under all circumstances for that task. If mummy cooks, then daddy can be cleaning up the kitchen and kids can lay the table for example. The father can be responsible for hoovering twice a week and for mopping while the mother can be responsible to load the washing machine.
Coaching tip: Don’t be afraid to involve all family members. Kids could also get some easy tasks like setting or cleaning up the table, loading the dishwasher or picking up the toys from the floor. I know that it seems to be easier to just do it quickly, but that is not leading to any improvement in the long term.
3. Assertive communication
While it sounds obvious, the execution is typically not that easy. There are two areas that you can pay attention to have a real change in your household. The first one is about communication. It is not the same effect if you burst out desperately at your kids and hubby about how they don’t help enough and you feel like the maid at your own home, or if you calmly sit down with them and you assertively explain to them how exhausted you are and how you need them to take ownership.
Coaching tip: the key to assertive communication is to explain how you feel and how the current situation impacts you emotionally and physically instead of assuming that they should all be aware of it, and involve your family members in the conversation. Ask what are their thoughts about the current set-up, how they see it and what are they ready to change, where would they be happy to take more ownership. Instead of telling them what they should do, try to make them actively participate in the planning and see what they can take over and have family agreements in place instead of expectations.
We just arrived at the second factor you could pay attention to, and that is expectations. One side of the coin is to not have any expectations and assumptions on what your family should change without having those agreements and interactive conversations in place, but the other side is about your own expectations. We, working mothers are hard-working and often somewhat perfectionists, we like to control every little detail as we feel that it is just needed to keep everything together. But with such a high level of control you won’t be able to hand over tasks to your family members, so it is worth reflecting on the fact that there might be other ways of completing a task, maybe a very different one from your idea, maybe it is not as perfect, but the world won’t fall apart, and you will have the reward, you will have less workload on you.
Coaching tip: as we are talking about high expectations towards your family members and how certain tasks should be completed, maybe you can take the time to reflect on your own perfectionism as well. What happens if from time to time you lower the standards a little bit? How do you feel about that? What are the areas of your task lists where you could let go of some items or maybe outsource them, and arrange more help? I am a big fan of outsourcing or automating all the household chores we just can: get help with having a cleaning lady coming over bi-weekly or do your grocery shopping online whenever you can.
Finally, this all is not just about having a more balanced workload distribution in place and teaching your kids how to be responsible and showing them a great example that they can benefit from when growing up and starting their own family. You also had done all these changes to create some space for yourself that you can use to avoid burnout. By implementing a routine that supports you daily to have fun, rest or do something inspiring, you have done a lot to get off the treadmill and get closer to a lifestyle that is worth living.
Coaching tip: what are the things you never have enough time for, and you always comment on them resignedly? Is it to prepare to run finally a marathon or maybe to join a painting class? Do you want to be a yoga instructor, write a book or maybe get your old bike out of the garage? Whatever it is, we are not here to accomplish endless task lists, that is not what takes it to be a good mother or give a purpose for life. It is the zest that you experience every day that will make you a patient and smiley mother and wife.