Burnout is a state of emotional exhaustion. A mother feels burned out when she has been out of balance for too long. With so much energy draining out of her, she reaches a point where she feels she has nothing left to give. Yet baby continues to need mom, and mom needs to go on coping. Moms can become unhappy, angry, and most of all tired. This can often lead to questioning mom’s ability to care for baby and blaming herself for not enjoying motherhood.
Women who are the most highly motivated to be good mothers are most at risk for burnout. You have to be committed to parenting and working hard at it in order to burn out. Mother burnout can be one of the side effects of attachment parenting, especially in families where there is a high-need baby.
Burnout happens when mothers, father and babies get out of balance and stay out of balance for too long. The problem is usually not with attachment parenting itself. We believe that there is a law of demand and supply in attachment parenting. The baby may be demanding, but responding to the baby’s needs helps parents get the energy and resources they need to survive and thrive. Loving and connecting with your own baby can be a source of emotional healing for parents whose relationship with their own parents wasn’t a close one. However, a number of factors can tip the attachment balance toward burnout, such as a high-need baby, an unsupportive environment, mother’s or father’s personal challenges, outside pressures, or unrealistic expectations for parenting.
We once gave a talk in Australia and used the term “immersion mothering” instead of attachment parenting. A wise grandmother in the audience later reminded us that “immersion” means getting in over your head. We dropped that term.
Modern mothers are expected to do it all: keep a perfect house, raise intelligent and creative children, provide their husbands with companionship and sex, and have a stimulating life of their own on the job or elsewhere. A new mother who tries to live up to this image of Supermom is headed for trouble. Learning how to be your baby’s mother is a more-than-full-time job. When too many other demands are placed on a mother, giving her more to do and less time to care for herself, she is in danger of burnout.
Feeling tired is unavoidable when you’re a new parent, and there will be days when you wonder if you’re cut out for mothering.
Burnout, however, is not an inevitable part of mothering. Here are some tips on surviving and thriving as a mother while avoiding burnout.
Do what you can to get your relationship with your baby off to a good start.
Being separated from your baby after birth or struggling with breastfeeding problems makes it more difficult to get a good start at parenting. If you are reading this before your baby is born, take time now to make careful plans for the birth and the first days of your baby’s life. Take a good childbirth class and attend La Leche League meetings to learn about breastfeeding. (Two excellent resources for preparing for your baby’s birth are our Birth Book and Pregnancy Book Click on each book for more information and to order) If you are reading this after your baby is born and still feeling the emotional after-effects of a less-than-ideal start with your baby, it’s time to let go. Tell yourself that you did the best you could at the time with the information you had. Then concentrate on the attachment that you are now building with your baby.
Ignore negative advisers.
Lots of people will tell you how to parent your baby, and their insistence that what you are doing is wrong can undermine your self-confidence. Don’t argue with them. Don’t spend a lot of time thinking about their advice. Remind yourself that you have good reasons for choosing the attachment parenting path and that you are the expert on your baby.
Get Dad involved.
I have never seen a case of mother burnout in a family where the father is actively involved in parenting and in caring for the new mother. Some dads are good at this right from the start. Others need encouragement. Mother can help their husbands by stating clearly and calmly what their own needs are. Men can’t guess what it is women want from them, because most men are not as intuitive about other people’s needs as women are. Whether it’s dishes in the sink or a crying baby that needs attention, mothers have to ask. If a mother has trouble asking, it’s a red flag that some counseling in needed. She may have a severe tendency toward perfectionism, thinking she’s the only one who can do things right. Or, if she’s struggling with depression after the birth, she may be having trouble communicating her needs.
Don’t hover when Dad is caring for baby.
Dad has to learn on his own how to soothe baby’s cries and play with a happy baby. If you Mom is there, supervising every burp, pat and tickle, Dad won’t learn to be a confident baby tender. Use this opportunity to take time for yourself. Go for a walk, do some shipping, or read a book in a far corner of the house. Dad and baby will be fine.
Father and Mother must work together to meet the baby’s and the family’s needs. This is especially true when they have a baby with a difficult temperament or special needs. If Mother is doing all the childcare, Father can become very hesitant about handling the fussy baby. If all of Mother’s energy goes to the baby, Dad may resent being left out in the cold. He may immerse himself in work or other commitments outside the family. Mom then burns out, and the marriage gets shaky, and the baby’s relationship with both his parents is at risk.