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Defusing Burnout in Motherhood

I have always been a people pleaser. If I was asked to do something, I didn’t really take a look at my plate to determine whether or not there was space. I would just say, “Sure!” and pile it on, regardless of how many other things were already piled up. It quickly got to be too much to manage.

Most of the time when I said yes to projects it wasn’t just because I was afraid to say no, but it was also because the person asking me likely knew that it would be something that I was interested in, something that I was passionate about, or something that I knew would need to get done by someone so I would decide that it might as well be me.


Then I had children.

My last semester of my undergraduate degree in Theatre Arts Studies, I worked on seven productions while working three jobs and taking my last few classes so that I could graduate and give birth just three months after graduation. It was a lot. There were days where I would get up and leave my apartment by 7:30am and I wouldn’t be home until after midnight. I remember packing my lunches, snacks, and dinner to get me through the day and then ending up eating out of the vending machines on campus all day and thinking I was properly nourishing myself and my growing child. It’s a wonder that we made it through the full 40 weeks and that she was born healthy after the semester she had endured with me.

At this point, my husband and I had been married for less than two years and I saw him for maybe a total of 30 waking hours each week. Somehow I thought this was okay? Somehow I thought I was thriving? I started that semester assistant directing a regional premiere production on the Mainstage Season at my university. I was at my peak. Right? I look back at it now and I can realize that I was seriously burned out and running on fumes all of the time.

When I had my first child I was a stay-at-home mom and as burned out I was I couldn’t manage to do anything each day other than wake-up, keep the baby alive, and sit in the living room and watch TV. All. Day. Long. Looking back at THAT now I realize I was decompressing without even noticing it. My life had shifted substantially and it was my daughter that had unknowingly forced me to slow down. COVID shortly followed and everything shut down meaning that even if I wanted to, there were no theatres open for me to find a production to work on. Forced shutdown allowed me to decompress even further.

The next few years saw me enrolling in and completing my master’s degree, again graduating while pregnant. I re-entered the workforce a bit more slowly this time, but again found myself saying yes to every project and quickly getting burned out. This time my decompression came swiftly and harshly when I was furloughed from one of my work positions. I was suddenly a full-time stay-at-home mom again and unsure of what to do with myself everyday. This was approximately a month ago.

I have always been pretty go-go-go and unable to slow down. What I’ve learned about defusing burnout in the last few years has come primarily from my children.

  1. When my daughter is begging to turn on the TV for hours a day or play on a tablet, I remind her that it’s okay to be bored. I remind myself too. When we’re bored is when we find the most creativity within ourselves. Everyone has creativity in their body, whatever that might look like to them. I forgot how much I love to color. Coloring helps me defuse my burnout and forces me to slow down a little.

  2. During the inevitable meltdowns that come with early childhood, it’s important to look at my children in their eyes and breathe with them. Demonstrating taking deep breaths while looking them in the eyes shows them that their feelings matter, that they matter. If the doorbell is ringing, it can wait. Nothing is more important in that moment than hearing their feelings and allowing them to feel loved. When we need to slowdown, we can take those deep breaths. Even if the Slack, Teams, or other notifications are ringing we don’t have to answer right away. They can wait.

  3. “Productive” can look differently every day. Taking a nap is productive. Doing chores is productive. Watching TV is productive. Exercising is productive. Rest is just as productive as doing something else that “needs to” get done. When children rest, they grow. While adults aren’t growing the same way, we are always growing mentally and emotionally. I’ve learned to look at life a little more like things I “get to” do rather than things I “have to” do. It really helps me when I’m holding those boundaries to avoiding getting into a burnout situation again.

As we teach them, we can also learn a lot from children about holding boundaries and finding joy in the world around us. We don’t always have to be burned out. The first step is recognizing our burnout, the next is defusing it, and finally preventing future burnout. The new generations truly are something else and are bringing out the best of us, the generations before them. Hopefully they will learn now to avoid ever feeling the burnout that so many of us have suffered from before.

Mom holding childs hands and holding child in the air
Mom & child playing outside

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