It was a regular afternoon. I had a huge pile of laundry that needed to be folded. Dinner was not ready. I was too tired to even think about what to have for dinner. Probably takeout, I thought.
Groceries were still pending. I had a hectic week at work with lots of assignments due.
At least the kids were playing by themselves. Hubby had some extra work to finish as well. No sitters were available. Also the kids went to daycare during the week so I was already feeling guilty to send them anywhere.
I could see toys lying all over the floor as I was walking from one room to another. And just as I decided to take care of the toys a bit later, ouch… I stepped on a lego piece! Its an 11 on a pain scale of 1 to 10!!
I threw whatever clothes I had in my hand on the floor, lost my calm, spelled out a few curse words and thought to myself:
“When are the chores going to end? Will I be ever able to breathe? Why do I end up having to choose between chores all day long? Where is this village that was supposed to help me raise my children that everyone keeps talking about?? I need a freaking vacation.. Well, wait! I just came back from it and am exhausted already!
And the socks? The f…ING socks!! I spent all morning trying to find one matching pair each for both boys to get them ready for preschool and it seemed like a struggle. Why on earth do socks disappear from the washing machine like that??
I had a meeting next day that I needed to work on. I decided to order takeout.
Why had I suddenly fallen apart and felt this huge overwhelm of responsibilities that I wanted to run away from? (Shit! Did I say run away? Am I supposed to say such things? Am I not a good enough mother?)
Wasn’t I supposed to love my children so much that I couldn’t live without them even for a second? Then why do I have thoughts of running away from them??
The fact is, I do. I do love my children and my family a lot.
Wasn’t I supposed to be able to take care of my family and balance while still being able to do the numerous things in life that I liked and enjoyed, just like all the other high achievers out there (read the single, or married without kids friends I have)? In fact, I consider myself extremely ambitious.
But then this overwhelm?
I have been a full-time working mom, a stay-at-home mom, a work-from-home mom, a part-time working mom but no matter what my work–life situation has been, I found myself in a constant state of overwhelm.
It usually crept up when I was all alone in the house going from one chore to another.
The voice inside me said million different things, sometimes all at the same time:
- “You are supposed to have a clean, clutter free house. It is your responsibility.”
- “Your kitchen should look and smell perfectly delicious. You cannot order meals from a restaurant.”
- “Just quality time isn’t enough. Quantity is important. You’re just not being a good mom by choosing yourself first and going to work away from home like that. They are small kids. They need you. And you have not enrolled them in enough activities so maybe you don’t love them enough. “
- “Stop playing! Your work is important. You have to be the next vice president before 40 and you are not even able to keep up with your schedule. Finish that project right now.”
- “You have not met any friends in the last month. You ought to call these 10 people for lunch and prep the meals yourself.”
- “What is going to be this year’s birthday theme for child N. You need to go on Pinterest right now before you are too late planning and ordering.”
To be frank, the mental chatter seemed never ending and extremely exhausting.
I am just very thankful for my mommy group because I could bring up such topics and voice my issues and see if anyone else felt the same way or if I was the only one with such crazy thoughts.
After I posted the question, everyone reached out saying, “Hey, you are not the only one! I feel the same way too.” All of them were in different work-life situations. But they all felt the same overwhelm in their lives. We were all showing symptoms of Mommy Overwhelm
We each have a way to deal with our overwhelm. Some drink wine. Some cry away in their closets. Workaholics like me try to work harder. I also find respite in something else like mindless TV shows
I love wine but due to a weak digestive system (TMI alert) and history of alcoholism in the family, I can only indulge in and drink my sorrows away in small quantities. Crying has always been an option in the past, but there is only so much a person can cry.
As a process engineer, I looked for solutions beyond the temporary band-aid. I thought to myself:
- My husband or kids never demanded a cleaner house from me. In fact we have someone that helps us with house cleaning twice a month.
- No one ever gave me 100 lashes for not cooking dinner. I can order dinner whenever I want.
- My husband has always been extremely supportive in whatever decisions I make.
- People at work were very supportive. In fact, I was working with a very understanding team.
As I dug this problem deeper by trying to understand it and by talking to other moms, I figured out that I was beating myself up for not achieving the idealistic expectations that I had put on myself. I was creating my own self-imposed guilt
Self-imposed guilt and the resulting overwhelm is probably the number one reason why moms are unhappy. If only there was a way to silence this inner voice of distress and calm things down drastically.
This thought inspired my quest to try out different things to manage my guilt. While I am still working on the figuring out the root cause of mommy guilt, here is a 6 step process that has worked for me in the recent past for effectively reducing my overwhelm:
- Write down everything that is overwhelming at this point
- Strike off the points that are not under my direct control, such as kids not eating food. I can only prepare healthy food, I cannot force them to eat it. (My Indian upbringing makes me force them sometimes but my adoption of US culture makes me nervous that someone is going to call 911 and tell the cops that I forced my kids to eat veggies at dinner!)
- For everything that is under my control, I add due dates to these items to complete them. For example, I give myself usually a week or two to complete items depending on what I think is the right amount of time for them.
- For the one or two things that I can do right away and cross off, I do them. It gives me an instant sense of accomplishment.
- For the few things on the list that I know I am overwhelmed about and are under my control but I’ll not get to them until later in the year or are not that important at all, I strike through and decide to delete from my “list”. If they are not important at the moment or even at a later time, they are not important to fret over.
- Is there something on the list that I can delegate? If yes, then I add it to someone else’s list. Yes, I have decided to ask for help.
I think this process has given me a greater sense of calm. I can now take kids to the park without thinking of cooking dinner. I can cook dinner without thinking of the laundry that needs to be done. I can work on my projects without thinking of the grocery list. With this approach, I feel I can breathe better these days and keep my mind more focused on the tasks at hand.
Have you been battling overwhelm lately? What is the number one thing that is troubling you as a mother? What one step have you taken to fix this issue? What was the outcome? I would love to hear your comments.
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