Advice for every tirelessly devoted and drained mom to focus on replenishing her depleted mothering resources and making herself a top priority again.
By Colleen O’Grady
Moms are in the final stretch of the school year, working overtime to help their kids keep their “head in the game” so they can finish the school year strong. It can be exhausting steering your teen to finish end-of-the-year projects or studying for finals. It can feel like herding unruly cats.
All Mothered Out?
And this is why when May hits, moms typically feel “All Mothered Out!” Moms are pretty amazing, but they don’t have super powers. The problem is that you can give so much and get so busy that you lose yourself in the process, and when that happens, you deplete all your mothering resources.
Here’s the dilemma that many moms face: to be the best possible mother for your child, you need to access your whole, beautiful, passionate, playful, spiritual, creative, wise, spunky, reflective, and authentic self. Yet, too often, these vital aspects of your personality feel superfluous and get neglected. If this neglect continues over time, you start to lose your spark, and something inside you dies.
Think about this: why are there so many unhappy mothers? It feels like this melancholy is becoming a national epidemic. Often, I speak to groups of moms at schools, church, and different local organizations. Recently I’ve asked them if they’ve seen the movie Bad Moms. Moms will sheepishly raise their hands and admit they’ve enjoyed it. Though the storyline is ludicrous, it speaks an element of truth that hits home with moms. Moms feel weighed down by superhuman expectations to do it all and get everything right. Repeatedly, moms tell me they are exhausted with no time for themselves, and no matter how hard they push themselves they still feel like they’ve fallen short.
If you’re not relishing these mothering years, it’s not your fault. Mothers have been given the wrong messages. Disempowering parenting messages are rampant in our culture, and they affect all of us.
It’s not as if we choose these messages or beliefs—we inherit them. They are so familiar to us they feel like sacred scriptures. But they’re not. They are twisting the truth. They take us down dead-end roads. They rob us of enjoying our life. They keep us so busy and preoccupied with worry that we totally miss this precious time with our kids. I call these “Powerless Parenting Messages.”
This misunderstanding is the reason that many moms are “All Mothered Out.”
“You Should Put Yourself Last”
“You should be 100 percent committed to your family, and you should put yourself last.” This message is ingrained in mothers. We all know that a good mom is fully committed to her family, and this is a good and noble thing. Every gesture of love you give your family matters significantly, even when nobody notices. Every child and teenager who has a fully committed mother is greatly blessed, as what you do for your family is invaluable—truly!
I don’t have any problems with the statement, “You should be 100-percent committed to your family,” but I do have a problem with the part that states you “should put yourself last.”
Putting yourself last on the to-do list feels very practical. With only twenty-four hours in a day, it makes sense to prioritize the needs of your family first, right? You’re a mom, for heaven’s sake. Isn’t this what you’re supposed to do? But what I want to tell you is that doing this doesn’t work, not for you, and not for anyone in your family.
It doesn’t work because in this busy and overscheduled culture you never get through the list! Everyone else’s agenda clamors for your attention, and your needs keep getting bumped to the bottom. Let’s face it: You know things are bad when the dog gets her teeth cleaned before you do!
It’s Crucial to Pay Attention to You
If you want to be a healthy, happy mom, it’s crucial to pay attention to yourself. You can’t wait for others to give you permission. You could be waiting a very long time. You have to own it and give yourself permission, because you know your physical, emotional, and spiritual health is crucial to you and your family.
Paying attention to yourself starts with being aware of your needs. This is challenging, because as mothers we have learned to ignore them. Last week I was talking to a mom in my private practice. I asked her what she did for exercise. She said, “I go to the gym four times a week and go to yoga once a week. Then she paused and said but I haven’t done that in 3 months.”
Now, at some level, you know your needs are important. A lack of knowledge isn’t the problem; it’s the lack of awareness. And when you finally look up from your distracted life, you can’t believe how long it’s been since you had fun, saw your best friend, or had a dental appointment.
Let’s face it: Mothers are multifaceted creatures, and we need to pay attention to each aspect of our lives. This self-focus is not a luxury. Who we are, how we treat others and how we treat ourselves, has a much more profound impact on our kids than what we say. Taking care of you is the best way to positively influence your children and power your parenting.
Where would I start?
The idea may sound overwhelming. Just ease into it. A great place to start is to bring your awareness back to you.
1. Start with identifying where you have gotten off track.
- Are you getting enough sleep?
- Do you spend time with close friends?
- Do you have time alone?
2. Make a Delight list. Write out 30 things that bring you delight, like drinking your coffee on the back porch in the morning.
3. Ask yourself, “If I was kinder to myself I would____________ (take a nap, get some help, etc.).” Make a list of 10 things. Most of the time, this list is completely doable.
I would like to challenge you to the Mother’s Day Experiment. Every day in May, be mindful of keeping you on the list. Do one small (or big) thing for yourself, like reading a magazine, meditating for ten minutes, going to a yoga class, buying some fresh flowers, listening to a podcast, or getting your car washed. The point of this exercise is that you start to be attuned to what will replenish your energy and restore your heart so you can enjoy and cherish the life and family you have.
O’Grady is a licensed marriage and family therapist with over twenty-five years’ experience—and a recent survivor of her daughter’s teenage turbulence. She is also the author of Dial Down the Drama: Reducing Conflict and Reconnecting with Your Teenage Daughter.