We Don’t Talk About Burnout – no, no, no, no
“It’s a heavy lift, with a gift so humbling.”
When people used to ask me, “How do you do so much?” I’d always respond, “I don’t have any kids.” They’d laugh, but it really wasn’t a joke.
I work full-time as an OB/GYN. I’m on the Board of Directors of local non-profit Haven Housing, which provides shelter and resources to women and women-led families in need. In addition, I’m involved in ACOG (the national organization of OB/Gyns). Before, I’d write op-eds and testify to the Minnesota House and Senate about bills important to me. I wrote and published a book about realistic expectations for the postpartum period, “Unexpected: A Postpartum Survival Guide.” Pre-pandemic, I often went to multiple events in a week for Planned Parenthood, Pro-Choice MN, Women Winning, local political figures, and whatever else interested me. I’d go to weekly trivia night with friends. My husband and I were always going out or away on the weekends. I was a runner. I went to concerts. I read books. I was feeding my passions and finding plenty of time to unwind.
Now I have a 14-month-old daughter. She is absolutely amazing, and she is my everything. My main activities are keeping her alive and loving the bejeezus out of her.
Now, of course, there’s been a world-changing pandemic at play throughout her whole life, and I can’t say with certainty how things might have been different if that weren’t the case. BUT I think the only reason I’m able to continue to be involved in Haven Housing and ACOG is that meetings have been virtual. I haven’t been writing or public speaking. I rarely even go to virtual events for the organizations I support. Our visits with friends are not as frequent. I could count the number of times I’ve been out past her bedtime on one hand (even if I lost a couple fingers). We’ve taken one vacation with her and one without her (the latter being quite emotionally difficult). I finally got back into a regular exercise routine maybe 6 weeks ago, and generally, I’m only getting a workout in once she’s sound asleep for the night. I can’t imagine planning to go to a concert. My books are decorative pieces.
I love my daughter. Being her mommy is the best, and I know what I’m doing is important. However, I’d be lying if I said I don’t experience all sorts of FOMO and worry about what parts of myself I’m no longer nurturing.
My daughter currently goes to daycare part-time at 3 days a week. For various reasons, we will be technically enrolling her for the full 5 soon. I consistently have Tuesdays off work, though, and will likely keep her home most Tuesdays. I like having those days with her, and I would feel tremendously guilty to be off having free time while she’s in daycare. I feel bad that I plan to bring her to daycare on Tuesdays after being on-call on Monday.
Many of you parents probably glossed right over that, nodding along. Yep yep, seems right; nothing out of the ordinary there. So let’s recap: I would feel GUILTY for HAVING FREE TIME even on days when I’m potentially SLEEP DEPRIVED TO EXTREME EXHAUSTION.
Why? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we build this expectation that a break from parenting isn’t necessary or that wanting one is wrong?
I recently had a weekday afternoon at home while my daughter was at daycare. I had lunch at a place I love and hadn’t been to since the beginning of the third trimester of my pregnancy. Then, I went to Target, brought my car in for routine maintenance, did a Peloton ride, took a long shower, and then painted my nails while watching the Olympics. It was fabulous. And I felt a little bit like a monster.
I’d undoubtedly improve my self-care, accomplish some routine tasks like grocery shopping with less stress, and dedicate more time to my passions if I had regular opportunities for actual free time. Rationally, I understand that and even see how all that might make me a better person and a better mom. My heart, however, tells me that any unnecessary time away from my girl is a betrayal to her, a deprivation of some sort. It tells me I’ll regret missing any moment with her. It tells me I’ll have time again for all that other stuff later. It tells me to slog through a day when I’ve already been awake for 24 hours, just hoping to nap when she naps so I can make sure she doesn’t feel like I’ve abandoned her.
I love my life, and I’m by no means on the brink of a breakdown. But we don’t talk about the downsides of depriving ourselves of time off from the 24/7 work of parenting. We don’t talk about burnout, no-no.
We need to. We need to acknowledge that you can love something or someone with your whole heart but still need and deserve time away from it or them. We need to normalize being a full human.
I hereby fully give you permission to WANT and TAKE time sans kids to savor your coffee, enjoy a bubble bath, eat a delicious meal, grab some fresh air, get lost in a good book, start up an old hobby, or do whatever else brings you joy.
Someday maybe I’ll give myself that permission too.