Compassion fatigue. It’s a term talked about in the behavioral health world and describes what happens when your emotional tank runs dry. Many professions deal with this: nurses, teachers, advisers, etc. But there is another cohort who can struggle with this too: moms. (Yes, all parents and caregivers can, but Mother’s Day is Sunday and Women’s Health Week is next week, so I am focusing on moms; get off me.)
Teacher, nurse, chef, maid, financial adviser, chauffeur … moms tend to wear a plethora of hats, and unfortunately, there’s no option for PTO with this job. However I have learned (the hard way) that it is incredibly important for me to take care of myself, so that I am able to best take care of my daughter.
Have you ever spent an afternoon or weekend away from your kid (doing something for yourself) and then come home with an immense amount of patience and love for her? I recently went to Seattle and when I came home after six days, was so excited about the mundane things I usually brush off – who she played with at school, what she ate for lunch, how dirty her shoes were … I was actually engaged and truly listening. (Which is what I should be doing all the time; I know, I know, but if you’ve ever heard P try to tell a story … the kid takes seven minutes to say three sentences.)
Anyway – when we moms start to feel compassion fatigue creep in, it’s important to take action so we don’t get too drained. Here are six things to start doing today to avoid experiencing “mommy fatigue:”
- Acknowledge it – One of the things I have to consistently tell myself and tell my friends is: It’s ok to NOT be ok. Life is not perfect. Social media is a façade. And sometimes you get dealt a crappy hand. It’s ok to admit that things aren’t picture perfect all day every day. And on that note …
- Ignore perfection and unrealistic standards – Again, life is not perfect; no one is perfect. It doesn’t matter how much help you have from your partner, family, friends and neighbors, things are bound to go wrong. It’s easy to get caught up in the “Pinterest life,” but I’ve found few things to be as anxiety inducing as trying to make sure my child is eating all organic and non-GMO food, fluent in two languages by the time she’s five, participating in at least three extra circular activities and multiplying fractions by six. My Type A personality took a big ego check when my daughter was born. Within the first three months, I acknowledged that I could not do everything as a solo parent and therefore, some things would not get done. I saw a graphic once that was a triangle – the points said: happy child, clean house, your sanity. The text above said: choose two. How true that is.
- Ask for help – Easier said than done; I know. But if you don’t ask, it won’t get easier. Chances are people don’t even realize things are difficult because you don’t acknowledge it. (See number one.) And if you’re really struggling with something, talk to a professional. Therapy is likely not what you imagine it to be. It’s often solution-focused and can help get you through a tough time. May is Mental Health Month and there’s no time like the present.
- Talk to your kids – My daughter is almost four and I have always been very open about my feelings with her. When I’m incredibly angry, I tell her that I just need some personal space because I need to calm down. If I’m sad, I have no qualms about crying in front of her. I’ve found this to be incredibly beneficial for a handful of reasons, but two big ones are that 1) she now knows it’s ok to express emotions and she knows HOW to do it appropriately (She will often tell her friends at daycare to “please go away; I need some space.” Not many four-year olds have the emotional intelligence to do that.) and 2) she has developed a lot of empathy, which I believe will serve her well no matter what she chooses to do in her future.
- Change the setting – I mean the physical setting … if you’re at home, take a walk, go for a drive or just go into another room. As a solo parent, I know this can be difficult, but I take my daughter along. (Although usually not in the car … small, confined spaces tend to not help.) Even if I’m still frustrated with her, it helps to have different surroundings.
- Find the time – Most of us probably wish there were 30 hours in a day, but unfortunately, we can’t bend the time continuum, so we’re stuck with 24. It has taken me quite some time to find a balance and even then, every time I get into a routine, I feel like something happens to wipe it out. Some of the things that work for me: I’m a morning person, so I wake up at 5:30 every day (I also go to bed at 10p). I have learned to say “no thanks” to social engagements so I can go for a run or go to yoga. For real, if you see me on a week night, it’s because I really, really love you. Lastly, knowing myself has been incredibly important. I have addressed my personal barriers and come to terms with what works (and doesn’t) for me.
Make time for yourself this week. Make yourself a priority. As a health coach, some of the most common answers I hear when I ask my clients why they want to engage in health coaching are: so I can be there for my kid, so I can play at the park with my daughter, so I can live long enough to see my son graduate college. As cliché as it is, these tiny versions of ourselves really are our world. And the thing we don’t realize/always acknowledge is that we’re often theirs as well. They deserve to get us at our best. You deserve to feel your best; don’t forget that. Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms, aunts, dog moms, sisters, grandmas, teachers, neighbors and best friends who act like a second mom … especially all these AMAZING WOMEN in my life. You all make the world go ’round!