Mother burnout? Just why do so many women complain that being a mum is so hard these days?

Generations have done it over and over. We have more facilities, conveniences, appliances, choices and flexibility at our disposal than at any other point in history. Our other halves are generally way more supportive than our own fathers will have ever been. Yet somehow, being a mum appears to be harder than ever before. All you need to do is take a look at the forums full of women, and eves-drop into some of those shared moments over a cuppa where exactly that is being expressed.

Whether you’re a full time mum or working mum, whichever way you spin it – and I have sat on both sides – the consensus is it just all feels a lot harder and more complicated than in years gone by. To my mind, proof of that is in the rise of one child families.

But how can this possibly be? We no longer need to wash cloth diapers all day long, or do the dishes a bazillion times over…yet somehow so many mums I know feel totally overwhelmed with motherhood…at least for the first year. Are we all just utterly spoilt? Or is there something else afoot?

I say something has shifted and I cite the following 5 reasons as somewhat of an explanation:

  1. A flurry of experts inundating us with their tried and tested methods for pretty much everything related to parenting – from sleep routines, to diet, how much TV they can or can’t watch and everything else in-between…there is far too much emphasis and anxiety over “doing it right”. It’s do this, don’t do that, with conflicting views abound. It’s an information minefield out there, as we try to navigate our best path through. There’s something to be said for that old adage – ignorance is bliss.
  2. We have far greater expectations on ourselves that ever before. We want to be perfect and everything we do to be perfect. We want to be the perfect mother, partner, lover, friend, employee, entrepreneur and it’s just not possible to be the perfect everything, or possibly anything, all at once. Or even at all!
  3. Families are not the surrounding network they once used to be – broken families and geographically disparate families mean that once upon a time, there was an extended family there to help bring up children…grandparents, aunts, uncles and so on. Now, for most people I know, the emphasis is very much on the nuclear family.
  4. Which leads me onto my next point. The failing network of the extended family and our relatively new found career-mindedness leads us to lean on childcare providers, most of whom charge an extortionate amount to care for our children on a daily basis. With little other option, we have become intrinsically reliant on this industry, making being a mum much more of a financial, guilt-wracked burden than ever before.
  5. Parenting is much more involved that it used to be. These days we are expected to craft, teach, be hands-on and ensure the right amount of exercise (cue obesity fear!) all the way throughout the day, leaving little time for anything else. Once upon a time, kids were left to just get on with it, bumble around outside or plonked in front of the TV – now the day has to be filled with enriching activities facilitated by yourself.

What other factors do you think is contributing to this general state of woe? To chime in and share your view…

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26 comments

  1. Number 5 was the culprit for me when my son was first born (and still is sometimes). From Facebook brags to Pinterest, as moms and women we feel the need to outdo one another. If your neighbor is Susie Homemaker or your friend is Crafty mommy, and you aren’t either one of those, then you feel like you’re not doing enough as a mom. As women nowadays, we are expected to do it all. If we can’t, we feel useless.
    A friend of mine once said this in response to a discipline question.

    “I am more of an old school parent. I don’t tap dance. I don’t feel personally responsible for my child’s entertainment. So, for the most they come up with things to do themselves. If they have a project they want to do and are having trouble, I will help them. If they ask to play a board game, I will play with them. I don’t feel stressed out or feel like a manager and they don’t act out because they get to manage themselves. I have never heard them say they are bored or act out because they are bored. What upsets them the most is when they make a bad choice and I tell them I am disappointed. Sorry if this is rambling but I do think this micromanaged, let’s make every day magical type parenting is stressing both kids and parents out. Kids don’t have enough free time to use their brains and discover how to be humans.”

    I think if we just stopped trying to be Susie Homemaker, Crafty mommy, Betty Crocker, etc all at once, then maybe we’d be less stressed.

  2. I think two other things that make it so challenging are:
    1) There are far too many choices. From formula to cereal or even shampoos and pacifiers, just standing at the baby aisle can make your head spin. It takes 30 minutes just to choose a pacifier. Not only do you choose between brands, you have to choose between all their styles, colors, materials, and now their environmental stance. It can drive a person nuts! I swear, I can hardly make a choice unless it’s between a maximum of three things.

    2) I think there are far too many distractions. From Twitter to Facebook, email and blogging, television and texting, SOMETHING is always fighting for my attention. Throw several kids on that and it’s incredibly hard to complete household tasks, which leads to work piling up and the feeling of being overwhelmed. In that area, I think technology hasn’t done us many favors.

    I liked your list a lot. Being a mom is certainly a challenge. Especially, like you said, when you aren’t surrounded by a slew of helpful family members.

    -mom of seven

  3. I agree with all the points of ask the things that contribute to making motherhood harder but not necessarily the premise that it’s harder now per se – I’m pretty sure my mother doesn’t think I have it harder than she did! Although we don’t have the extended family that was also not the case 30 odd years ago but we do have far more playgroups to go to, and greater emphasis on sharing and networking with other mothers. our voices are louder, we have the internet to share further and wider.

    • I think it really depends on your own situation…for some people they may have a better network, for others they may be more isolated. Everyone’s experience of motherhood is different and so for every person who thinks it’s harder, is someone who doesn’t..but there is certainly a lot of talk about it!!

  4. It would be absolutely fascinating to read what generations past would have been discussing in blogs and forums had they had them. It’s extraordinary to think how our children are going to have an unprecedented access to their parents’ experiences of parenthood because it’s been so recorded. I wonder how it will affect them as they become parents? I find my parents have really only flashes of memory to share of their experience with babies and young children because our memory is so rubbish with poor sleep. Perhaps we will be better able to impart our experience to them because we can refer back more easily through the data record? Will they want to know?!

    • That’s a very interesting point..it might make them more appreciative of us or it might have a negative impact. My mum constantly told me how difficult I was and how I drove her totally bonkers! and it actually made us closer in a way as we got old and I could really understand all that she did and went through for me. But I guess it really depends on the individual child, your relationship with them etc etc..Today we live in a world where everybody shares more than ever before, so I wonder what the next frontier will be?

  5. This is a really interesting post, and they are all really valid points.
    I also feel like hmmm what’s the word not ashamed, but I fell bad for asking for help, from my parents or other family members … like I am expected to do it all on my own as they have their own lives/jobs etc. But never once has anyone made me feel bad, it’s a judgement I am making about myself, I don’t want to ask for help in case I put someone else out, I feel like I should be doing everything myself because I am a SAHM, though again this in an internal pressure from myself, (though society in general contributes)… there is a pressure to be perfect and to do everything and it’s too much.

  6. I really love this post. I think for me I put a lot of pressure on myself and give myself expectations to be better and do more. And like you said be a million different people in being a mum! There is more pressure to be a “good mum” these days and to exceed certain expectations. Thanks so much for linking up hope to see you again tomorrow!! #MummyMonday xx

  7. Hi. My name is Ceri and I am a critical, perfectionist.
    I hold my hands up.
    One of my earliest lifelong labels was ‘independent’ .. I have been praised ‘forever’ for being an over achiever, for doing everything by myself, for never needing attention or help.
    The truth is. I do need help. I’d love some help and now I’m expecting my first child I seem to have spent the first 20ish weeks in fear that I won’t cope, that I’ll let a ball drop.
    My sensible head says. You will Ceri, and it’s fine. The world won’t end. It’s all fine. But I’m still plagued by the need to measure up.
    Half of my head worries that my house is not perfect. I don’t always want to or have the time to be the ‘perfect housewife’ . The other half say’s – you work 50 hours a week! You can’t do everything.
    Half of my head tells me I need to be a better partner. That I need to try to make an effort with my appearance, that I need to make more effort. The other half says, you are good enough. Calm the hell down.
    My point is, and sorry for the rant. We live in a time where people have access to our lives via social media, we consume it and it consumes us and for the most part it is great. But remember the filter. People always put their best selves forward. That doesn’t mean that’s all there is.
    Remember that doing everything is not needed. Ask fr help if you can. Leave the dishes if you need to. Nothing bad will happen.
    The worst pressure is the type we put on ourselves. I am testemant to this. We can stop it. It’s in our hands people.

    • That is so interesting – I’m about to publish a post on the impact of social media of our perception of parenthood so stay tuned. Good luck with number one – even if you do start out as a slightly obsessive compulsive mum trying to do everything right…the balance will eventually come into effect. Good luck!

  8. I am my own worst enemy! I try to do everything and be superwoman and mostly fail! Oh then there’s more pressure. Great post Thanks so much for linking up to #TheList x

  9. This has been really helpful to me. As a SAHM, I feel the pressure to keep them occupied with activities (as they would be if they were in childcare). As a perfectionist, I worry about doing it ‘right’. But the bit I struggle with most is having no extended family around to help out or confide in. It’s great to know I’m not the only one who actually finds this mummy-ing thing quite tough, much as I love it 🙂

  10. Agree, not as much support and too much expectation . Expectation was created we could have it all and that would be a good thing. It’s not. Not in my experience anyway.

  11. I think you make some valid points but it’s also important to note what you stated in your intro, we’re given so many conveniences and yet so many mothers nowadays whinge and wine and have breakdowns every other day, it’s ridiculous. We are biologically built to be great nurtures and raise children with ease, it’s all the modern day garbage that gets in our heads and upsets our mindset (as you’ve pointed out) and makes us believe that mothering is supposed to be harder in the 21st century ,but with so much available to assist us, it really doesn’t have to be. A lot of mothers (who I hear complain day-in-and-day-out) need a little backbone, they need to buck-up. I’m a single mother with no support system where I live (and not expensive child-support either) and yet I’ve found parenting a breeze and a true joy, not because there’s no challenges but because I’m organized, patient, and focus on my needs as well as my child’s and use what tools are available to me to assist where I can, it’s no an impossible task.

  12. Yes Talya. As you know I agree. Too much pressure to attain a non existent perfection. It is partly fueled by a capitalist culture and the pressure to give our kids everything. The upside is there is a greater awareness than there ever was about children’s emotional needs but it may be a little out of balance. A lack of support is a big one too. Great post.

  13. I think you’re right on all 5 points but I wouldn’t assume that moms of past eras didn’t find it really tough. Until relatively recently, women in the west didn’t have the freedom to imagine their lives as anything other than wives and mothers, so they accepted their lot and/or secretly wished their lives could be different. And of course there was no contraception and then limited contraception.

    But I do find it all really hard and overwhelming!!!

  14. I think all of your points are spot on. I’d also definitely second the comment that Mum’s didn’t necessarily find it easier in past generations – they just didn’t have the outlets to express that that in the way we do now.

    Society also expected women to be mothers first and foremost, and simply get on with that job. Fewer aspirations therefore (rubbish), but also less pressure to juggle 25 different balls and be brilliant at everything (awesome). Expectations of and options for mothers have definitely increased, but day to day recognition and praise for the essential yet dreary and mundane bottom wiping bits have not, so the core part of motherhood remains pretty thankless.

    Lastly I think there is always a negative bias in what people say. I have days where motherhood is easy and I honestly believe I’m doing a great job. I rarely write about those days though. I write about the melt downy nightmare ones where I feel utterly deflated by my inability to cope with my own offspring…
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