Mama Bear: What Makes Moms Amazing?

I’m Jeff Schadt, the founder of Revive Family and we’re going to begin this year by encouraging moms. In today’s busy, hectic world, where moms are working outside the home more often and the pace of kids’ activities has increased, moms find themselves facing more pressure than ever That is why, if you’re a dad who regularly listens to the radio program or podcast, I’d encourage you to stay tuned in.

(This series is also available as a podcast click here to listen)

In so many ways a happy mom leads to a happy home.

Preparing for the radio program really opened my eyes to some things that I think will be very helpful to you, your wives and your families.

Moms in our society are amazing. They’re strong, they’re caring, and the research points to how essential they are for our kids and our families.  They protect, care, nurture, and work crazy long hours, which is why I’m calling this series “Mama Bear: What Makes Moms Amazing?”

Or more simply “Amazing Moms!”

In this series, we’re going to look at several different topics.

  1. The risk of amazing moms being able to do it all.
  2. The stress and isolation that many moms experience and what research says can help lighten their load.
  3. What amazing moms can do to raise happy, caring kids without losing themselves.

One thing was really clear as I looked at the research; moms are under a tremendous amount of pressure because of how much time it takes to both work and serve their kids and families. The amount of time moms spend on work and their families is truly staggering.

One article is titled, “This Is Why You’re Tired”, Motherhood is Equivalent to Working 2.5 jobs. A study released by Welch’s looked at 2000 American moms whose kids were between the ages of 5 and 12 and found that moms work an average of 98 hours per week. According to this study, the average mom gets going around 6:23 in the morning and her work doesn’t stop until 8:31 PM, which for many moms sounds like a really good day. This 14 hour workday is daunting, yet, the study also showed that for many mothers parenthood is worth the extra time spent; it gives them a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

Contributing to moms’ long days is the increase in both the average number of hours worked and the hours spent caring for kids each week. “The average time in the workforce has increased per week from nine to 25 hours and from 10 to 14 hours in caring for kids.” Then if you add all the shopping, activities, cooking, etc., moms can quickly find themselves at the 98 hour work week, which is why so many moms report being tired, stressed out or literally exhausted.

Two things move moms to invest more and more of their time

As I prepared for the blog and podcast, two things really stuck out to me that drive the increase in the number of hours, both in the workforce and indirect childcare activities.

  • Societal pressure
  • Moms are hard on themselves and each other

Moms believe they need to be super moms. In fact, research showed that moms can be pretty harsh with each other; they can be judgmental toward those who do things differently. This leads to a type of parental arms race of motherhood where moms seek to be more engaged, more involved, and do a better job. They don’t want to be seen in a negative light.

This is potentially the most damaging form of stress, the stress we put on ourselves to do more, to be better, to be perfect. This can be motivated by feelings that we’re not good enough, we’re falling short or feeling guilty for not doing more. This is just exhausting especially for a mom who’s spending so much time exerting emotional energy, wanting to be a nurturing, caring mom for her kids.

An article by the American Psychological Association, “Being Super Mom Stressing You Out?”, pointed out that in a 2010 survey, women were more likely to report physical and emotional symptoms of stress than men.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • 41% of women reported having a recent headache versus 30% of men.
  • 44% of women versus 15% of men had recently felt like they could cry.
  • 32% of women versus 21% reported having upset stomachs and indigestion in the past month.
  • The study also found that 31% of women versus 21% of men reported eating as a way of managing stress.

Speaking with moms around the country, and working with their families and kids who are struggling, I often see them trapped in this “supermom” mindset. They devote everything in their lives to their kids. They feel great pressure to raise amazing kids, to provide the love, care, input, activities and insights that will lead to successful, happy, caring kids who won’t get off track.

Why? One of a mama bear’s biggest instincts is to protect her kids from harm.

This can lead to an incredible amount of stress and guilt for not doing more. It often leads to an endless treadmill that results in both isolation and a sense of loneliness.

Burnout is Real and Needs to be Guarded Against

As I read all of this research and looked at the workweek of the average mom, I became concerned about moms burning out. And so I read research related to being a mother and burnout. Sure enough, there’s a fairly significant occurrence of moms’ burning out, but often they may not even realize that’s what they’re experiencing.

Burnout can take the form of exhaustion and cynicism. It is often attributed to our home life because that is where it first shows up. We devote so much of our energy to fixing problems at work and then we find ourselves out of gas at home.

Why was I so concerned about burnout when I started reading all this information about moms? I had encountered burnout myself back in the early days of forming the ministry when it was called Youth Transition Network. We built a coalition of 65 national ministries to deal with the loss of youth from the church. I found myself working in between all these organizations to bring people together, dealing with hiccups and issues. I was traveling quite a bit and then wanting to be an engaged, caring dad, I would come home and put all my energy into my wife and kids. I had nothing left for myself. I spoke with a ministry leader who had actually experienced a full burnout. He broke down in the middle of a meeting, was ushered out, and taken home by someone else. He then basically spent a year in a lazy boy having only the energy to go to his mailbox and back every day. It took him over a year to truly recover, which is why I’m asking moms who are listening to seriously consider the potential of burnout.

Burnout is defined as a physical and mental collapse caused by overwork or stress. Burnout stems from a stressful lifestyle that puts people under extreme pressure to the point that they feel exhausted, empty, and unable to cope emotionally. Sometimes called the dark side of self-sacrifice, burnout is common in those who serve others. Moms, that’s what you’re doing so much of the time. An article put out by “The Frontiers in Psychology” titled “Feeling the Pressure to be a Perfect Mom” relates to parental burnout and career ambitions. In the study that this article chronicles, the results showed that ‘feeling pressure to be a perfect mother was positively related to parental burnout.”

Apparently this self-inflicted feeling of trying to be the perfect mom leads to cognitive pressure to avoid making mistakes as a mother, as well as to higher maternal gate-keeping behaviors, which can include taking over tasks from even one’s partner. The pressure of feeling like you need to be a perfect mom can actually result in taking on more responsibilities and activities, which the study found can lead to conflict between spouses. This in turn leads to more stress and a vicious cycle which can leave moms feeling isolated, stressed out, and exhausted possibly resulting in burnout.

According to the article, parental burnout refers to the emotional exhaustion of parents, which leads to emotional distancing from their children and reduced feelings of parental accomplishment or success. It has severe consequences for parents as it increases the desire to escape, as well as suicidal thoughts. It can lead to sleep problems and addictions. Burnout has been proven to actually increase conflict with partners and their children. In some instances it leads to neglect and violent behaviors that would not be consistent with the nature or personality type of the mom.

Moms please really stop, reflect and see how you’re doing.

Are you starting to feel some of these things? Are you starting to take over more tasks from your partner?

  • Are you feeling alone and isolated?
  • Are you starting to have feelings of exhaustion, emotional exhaustion?
  • Are you distancing yourself from your kids?

These do not point to your being a bad mom, but to the fact that you might be experiencing burnout, which is something you should not ignore.

Burnout should not be Ignored

Burnout is something that needs to be looked at, admitted and directly tackled.

If you are experiencing burnout my heart goes out to you because I’ve been there and I know what it’s like. You feel overwhelmed, emotionally on edge, and like you just don’t have the energy to keep going. In fact, I remember one flight where I was thinking in my head how exhausted I was and how I just didn’t want to be on this trip. Out of the blue I blurted out some words that the people around me heard and turned around and looked at me. It was like I just can’t do this anymore.

I realized, wow, I really needed to talk to that ministry leader about burnout and what I needed to do. For me it meant going to a psychologist I knew who was a believer. He had some really great insights for me related to how I was living my life and what I wasn’t doing to recharge my batteries. Because by nature I’m actually an introvert, not an extrovert, I was being drained because I was constantly involved in extroverted activities. Then I would come home and being a ministry leader focused on kids, I would put all the energy that was left into my kids. I wasn’t doing anything for myself.

In an article by Nicole Christianson entitled “New Study Stresses the Importance of Moms Taking Breaks.” It emphasizes how vital it is for moms to take breaks. These breaks require actually getting away from the kids for chunks of restful, relaxing time, doing activities that recharge your batteries. According to Dr. Woodhouse who co-authored the study, she found that even with infants, parents need to be with their infant only 50% of the time for the infant to end up feeling secure and loved. This percentage decreases as kids grow and become toddlers and then move on to being school age.

All of the societal pressure that moms feel to be super mom can lead to inaccurate expectations for oneself, seeking to invest in special things and activities for our kids all the time. But that’s not what the research is showing even for an infant. So relax moms, you don’t have to be supermom to have kids who feel secure and loved.

Take some of that pressure off of yourself. In fact, according to the same study, many parents believe that in order to be a good parent they must respond immediately to every one of their infant’s needs. But according to Dr. Woodhouse, if you do that about half the time, it’s more than enough for your baby to feel secure.

As we get into part three of this blog series, we’ll look at some of the reasons that not spending time with your kids all the time and not responding to them right away is actually helpful and healthy for them. But I want to come back to the simple fact that taking breaks is vital for moms!

It’s absolutely essential because research is also finding that a mom’s happiness is tied directly to a family’s well being. These findings show is that ‘mom’s happiness has a particularly big impact on subsequent family life.” This is not to undermine dads whose happiness is also important, but it indicates that moms and their happiness rubs off on the family, the family culture and the kids more so than the dads’ happiness.

Moms, if you feel guilty for getting away, for taking time for yourself, for doing activities away from your kids, don’t!

It’s wild how different the morning goes

You need to feel energized, you need to feel happy for your kids’ well being. I can speak to this from personal experience with my wife in the mornings when she gets up, has slept really well and has a lot of energy; she brings that energy into the morning routine where she’s happy, she’s joking around, she’s having fun. It’s wild how different the morning goes when she’s exhausted, tired and just kind of dragging herself through the morning routine. So ask yourself, whether you’re a morning person or not, how are you doing in the morning?

Do you have energy?

Are you positive?

Do you have hope or are you feeling exhausted and having a difficult time coping with your kids?

That’s a great way to determine where you’re at on this spectrum of being the perfect mom and exhausting yourself. Burnout makes us more negative and more cynical. We begin to see things around us in a negative light. We begin to view our kids more critically.

Often when I’m working with families, I’ll find parents on the verge of burnout or in the middle of burnout. Parents can become so devoted to their work and their family that they lose themselves. They can’t even remember what makes them happy or recharges their batteries. They’ll lose the things that they did before they were married or before they had kids that brought joy and happiness into their lives, and recharged their batteries. When I’m working with a mom who has lost those things from her life, I’ll ask a number of questions like:

  • What made you happy before marriage and kids?
  • What lifted your soul?
  • What recharged your batteries?

This should tie to whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. I’m inherently an introvert, which no one believes anymore. What being an introvert means is that the things that recharge my battery are likely to be done alone. Sitting and listening to music, watching the fish tank, going fishing and working out are some of the things that recharge my batteries, but I don’t do these things in a social context. An extrovert will find more enjoyment, more recharging when they’re doing things in a social context.

The question for moms is what are those things that you once did that brought joy and happiness and recharged your emotional energy levels so that you have those reserves to call on in the context of long challenging days of being a mom?

This is where your partner, “dad” should come alongside you. He needs to understand your need for a break and encourage you to do those things that will recharge you.

Moms, you are amazing! You have incredible amounts of energy. You have a caring, compassionate, nurturing, protective nature for your kids. But if this leads to your spending too much time on your kids, too much focus on them and not enough time caring for yourself, it can lead to disaster, not just for you in terms of burnout, but for your entire family’s culture, happiness and joy.

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