I always thought that being a stay-at-home mum looked really fun and relaxing (PJs all day!), but it’s hard. The biggest complaint that I hear from other SAHMs is burnout. I experience it myself, too. Feeling like I just do-do-do for everyone else all day. Sometimes it’s as if the day is never really over. I don’t “leave” work like office-goers do; I start a second shift once my hubby and daughter are asleep. After all, that’s when I have time to push the laundry along, clean the bench tops, and plan the next day’s activities.
In the early days and even months, I was piling on way too much. I work part-time from home, so that certainly adds stress, but even if it weren’t for my freelance work, the tasks of running a home and keeping a family clothed, fed and clean are enough to make any mum reach her burnout levels. It took about a year, but with time and experience on my side, I’ve learned some proactive steps I can take to keep those feelings at bay.
1. I keep a handwritten to-do list. This might sound like extra work, but the act of taking pen to paper makes me feel calmer about the list itself, and when it’s all written in one place, I have an easier time accessing it. I also write myself (and my husband) an email most Sunday evenings with a list of what needs to happen throughout the week; the combination of both a digital and a hard copy seems to help me relax. Also, the thrill of checking off those little boxes as I accomplish tasks will never get old.
2. I’m realistic about what I can and can’t get done. For example, we rotate our clothes twice a year to save on space, and I’m all about DIY projects and room re-orgs. But I’m being gentler with myself these days when it comes to the housework and remembering that clean and organised are Number One. Over-the-top projects should happen once a month, on a calm week, and are most successful when my husband gets in on the action.
3. I take breaks. After moving house when my daughter was less than 6 months old and finding myself in a daily mess of boxes amid an unexpected sleep regression and the start of solid foods, I started to lose my mind. I soon realised that I would never be able to stop feeling so stressed about our home life if I didn’t ever get away. I began carving out a mandated weekly escape which we still enjoy: On Thursday afternoons, I pack up the baby, some snacks and toys and we take off for two hours without my mobile phone. No distractions, no piles of washing, no boxes to rearrange or social media feeds to scroll. Just the two of us and the sunshine.
4. I set boundaries. People often think that because I’m a stay-at-home mum, I’m free to hang out whenever. I used to have a lot of trouble turning down invitations and was constantly filling our calendar with play dates, mother’s group, baby classes and coffee meetups. Recently, I’ve realised that it’s totally okay to respond, “Thanks for thinking of us, but we have plans that day. Let’s look ahead to the end of the month and get something on the calendar!” I might have more “free” time than the average full-time working adult, but that doesn’t mean our schedule belongs to anyone else.
5. I make time for myself. And no, we don’t have the budget to afford tons of help. However, since about 80 percent of the housework and much of the childcare falls with me, I’ve realised that I need to allow myself some regular “me time.” I used to get inexplicably annoyed with my hubby for having this free life and the opportunity to meet up with colleagues for a beer after work or go play tennis on the weekend. One day I just said, “Screw this!” and tossed the monitor his way on a Saturday afternoon while the baby napped. I headed out and got my nails done and I never looked back. Now, I go out for dinner or a drink with a girlfriend once a month, and attend a yoga class, get that prized manicure, or do something else for myself on weekend mornings.
6. My husband and I talk about our feelings and our roles. I think as stay-at-home mums we often assume that what we’re doing is taken for granted, and it’s easy to get jealous of the working parent. Instead of letting those feelings fester, I’ve started facing them and flat-out asking my husband how he thinks we’re doing. I nearly fell over the first time we had this conversation: It had never occurred to me that he would tell me he was amazed by my parenting and could “never” do it. Of course, we both know he could. But I got a lot of satisfaction out of his praise. And now that we’re more open about our roles, he’s been able to bring to my attention that he actually wants and needs more time with our daughter. For months I thought no one wanted to give me a break, and on the other end of the couch was a guy who felt he was getting the parenting shaft. Who knew?
7. I keep a grateful heart. I may be the one who makes the beds, does the grocery shopping, organises the calendar and changes the bulk of the nappies. I might have afternoons that pass nap-free during which I end up covered in spaghetti sauce and crying inside for a shower. There will be no end to the lists, as our daughter continues to grow, tackles new activities, and one day, starts school. But I’m okay — happy, even — running the show and being responsible for most of its moving parts — as long as my partner continues to listen. I also need to take time outs and really listen to myself. At the end of the day, I know I am so blessed to be able to stay home with my daughter, and I return to that feeling of gratitude (sometimes forcibly) whenever I’m feeling stressed.
How do you prevent SAHM burnout?
More from SAHMs:
- How I Survived Being Sick for 5 Days As a SAHM
- I Didn’t Want to Be a Super Mum, So I Leaned Out
- Stop Misrepresenting What it’s Like to Be a SAHM