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How Society Has Turned Its Back on Mothers

Adding more tasks, even “self-care,” to your to-do list is not a panacea for burnout. In some cases, it may in fact be a recipe for a higher mental load — the invisible labor that goes along with managing a household — and even more guilt when you feel that you failed.

I often tell my patients that the true work of “self-care” is recognizing you are the only one who can give yourself permission to take back your time and energy. This may mean having hard conversations with your partner (if you have one), family members and employer about what tasks are realistic right now, and which items will have to wait (or go by the wayside).

It is not uncommon for my patients to say things like, “I should be doing more.” It’s one way that women have internalized a culture that demands they bear the brunt of caregiving while simultaneously devaluing that job.

When it comes to dealing with such widespread social betrayal, talking to yourself with kindness helps you remember that you are not to blame for this mess. For example, instead of berating yourself for ordering takeout meals three nights in a row, try saying something like, “My home feels chaotic because the world is chaotic, not because I’m a bad mom.” Remind yourself that perfection and order are not the goals — compassion and flexibility are.

Lucia Ciciolla, a researcher and assistant professor of psychology at Oklahoma State University, has found that there are four important factors that align with well-being for moms: satisfaction with friendships, authenticity, feeling seen and loved, and feeling comforted. The quality of our relationships is correlated with emotional health and satisfaction in life, Dr. Ciciolla says. Nurturing authenticity in life partnerships, friendships and family ties can lessen the intensity of burnout.

While it sometimes feels like just another burden to speak up or push for support at work, making your frustration known can help you feel better.

Dr. Kali Cyrus, a psychiatrist and assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, recommends taking the leap if you can. “The fear of hurting someone’s feelings, bothering them, or getting in trouble pales in comparison to the piece of you that is lost when you don’t do it,” she said. So take one small action at a time. That could mean suggesting that a Zoom meeting be changed to a quick phone call, or inquiring about how performance reviews will account for the demands of parenting in the pandemic.

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