Repetition, Burn-out & Growth in Motherhood
Whether it’s picking up the toys for the 5,687th time before noon, re-writing that paper (again) or preparing that boring weekly report – we all hate feeling burnt out or stuck spinning our wheels.
With three little cherubs of chaos underfoot, I am in a phase of life where I live for systems and multi-tasking… it’s my way of balancing life’s responsibilities and my innate desire to do #allthethings allthetime
However, my kids are in the phase of testing the limits of these carefully crafted processes.
Recently, as I raced my baby-turning-toddler to see who would fill or empty the dryer first, I tried to channel my best mom perspective:
– Oh look at you helping!
– Thanks honey! Can you put the wet socks INSIDE the dryer? (The answer is no.)
Meanwhile I was internally trying to stop my efficiency-loving psyche from twitching by reminding myself:
– This is developmentally appropriate!
– She is discovering gravity and practicing motor skills!
– Remember that parenting book you liked- it said let them participate, even poorly, with you while they are little, and they will grow up to be perfectly behaved and helpful human beings that will save society …
(ok I might be paraphrasing that last one, but still…)
Eventually I managed to start the dryer without banishing the baby from the laundry room (Yay! 5 parenting points!)
Shortly after, we made our way to the family room where she challenged me to a rematch with the puzzles and toys.
[Heaven help me]
The truth is, cleaning the house with toddlers is like trying to brush your teeth while eating Oreos.– Common Sense
Professionally and personally I have always loathed what I call rework— any task that has to be redone as a result of lack of planning or failure to execute correctly the first time.
So trying to clean a room and having to rework the same puzzle for the 8th time in 5 minutes wasn’t ticking any boxes for me.
I decided to try to redirect her to an activity that would cause minimal destruction so I could finish my to do list…
[It was a cute idea]
…Next thing I knew, I was sitting in the middle of an even bigger mess with my child squealing with laughter while speed-crawling circles around me.
Not at all how I envisioned the situation being managed, but the moment sparked a new perspective:
For as much as we aspire to streamline our time, efforts, and results, the merits of rework aren’t all bad.
Rework is a form of repetition. And while repetition requires time, it most often results in excellence, precision, and mastery.
– We applaud it when an Olympic athlete trains to shave milliseconds off their time.
– We eagerly anticipate winning the resulting contract when the well-rehearsed project pitch is delivered well.
– We expect and enjoy mastery from professional performers, whether it’s the symphony, theatre or a live concert tour.
– We even celebrate EVERY attempt of the child learning to walk, regardless of how fleeting their balance and success.
The point is, efficiency comes AFTER mastery, which comes AFTER a whole lot of repetition.
It brought to mind a couple of books I’ve read about habits and progress – one of my favorites being Atomic Habits By James Clear. The general gist is how to master tiny, consistent behaviors that lead to remarkable results. For example:
A baby’s effort to learn to walk is initially met with seemingly very little progress – but imperceptibly, each attempt is strengthening her muscles, balance, and ability. Eventually, there will come a tipping point where all that practice clicks into place, and suddenly I will be the one chasing her, trying to keep up. (I fear it is soon!)
The whole series of events reminded me that there is a time and place to be efficient, and there is merit to be found in doing the same puzzle over, and over, and over again.
So whether it’s diapers, dishes, dreams or duties – our efforts refine us and teach them. We aren’t spinning our wheels (even if it feels like it). We are mastering Motherhood.
That said, I still won’t be folding any laundry until nap time.
3 Practical Tips to Avoid Burn-out and Overwhelm in Life and Motherhood
1. Make (realistic!) Attainable Goals.
Get back to my pre-pregnancy body and weight. One of the most common mom goals, it initially doesn’t sound too bad until, like me, someone confesses that those days were almost a decade (my oldest is almost 8) and 3 c-sections ago.
Instead of a single, hard, grandiose goal, try breaking it down into smaller, bite-sized, achievable pieces (think just starting to eat solids kinda bites):
- Drink more water
- Replace the 2 pm sugar fix with a high-protein snack
- Add one more veggie serving to lunch and dinner
You get the point. You are more likely to stick with small, simple changes that you can build on as you go. As you find consistency, those tasks will become second nature and you will be ready to add something new without the risk of losing the ground you’ve gained. Plus, hitting those mini-milestones will make you feel energized and accomplished – which will, in turn, reinforce your desire and willpower to keep going toward your ultimate desire(s).
2. Prioritize Your Priorities to Include Self-Care.
Life is busy, and try as we want, we can’t do everything all the time. Figure out the basic, most important things that keep you centered – the truly non-negotiables of your self-care.
It’s going to look different for everyone, and it may fluctuate between just 1, 3, or even more tasks. (I don’t recommend over 3-4 items – refer back to the realistic & attainable goals section if needed).
After her second kid, my sister was fighting the feelings of overwhelm postpartum. She boiled down her non-negotiables to just 3 things a day that helped her feel centered and accomplished:
- Exercise daily. Even if it was only 10 minutes of stretches and crunches, it was her time to check in with her mind and body.
- A motivational moment. Her preferred method was scripture, but it could also be an inspirational podcast, video clip, or quote. It was about resetting perspective between the day-to-day trenches of motherhood and the joy and gratitude she had for her life, family, and home.
- A cleaning rotation. With a toddler tornado and nursing baby, she was driving herself to exhaustion keeping everything tidy all the time, so she focused on deep cleaning one room a day and quick 10 min tidy-ups everywhere else.
Sure, I had other responsibilities – like keeping the kids alive and making dinner – but those were essential things never at risk of slipping through the cracks. When I got overwhelmed, I tended to stop taking care of me and that put me in a cycle of hyper focusing on everything I unrealistically felt I should be doing, but wasn’t.– Lauryn
As she found her focus and rhythm in the new family dynamics, her capacity increased and messes decreased. And if the day got crazy (’cause life still happens), she was able to shrug off the stress and adapt as she ordered pizza for dinner.
3. Veg-Out Wisely.
It is soooo easy to check out in front of the tv or start scrolling on your phone only to look up and realize it’s been way longer than you intended. While there is nothing wrong with taking a break or even the occasional Netflix marathon, too much can leave you feeling unmotivated, unproductive, and overwhelmed.
- Set a limit or timer on your phone to remind you to move on to something else (like actually going to bed on time).
- Veg-out doing something productive. Whether it’s knitting and Netflix or laundry listening to an audiobook, multi-tasking, low-attention focused activities can recharge your batteries without undermining your momentum.
Amber is a wife, mother of three, and master multi-tasker. By day she juggles motherhood, housework, volunteering, and a graphic design business. By night she rotates between cleaning, crafting, and challenging her husband to board games while binge-listening to audiobooks.
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals
Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World
How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen: A Survival Guide to Life with Children Ages 2-7