Overwhelmed moms confess

If one of the names you answer to is “mom,” chances are good that you live a decent portion of your life feeling overwhelmed. As if the responsibility of caring for another person’s (or people’s) every need isn’t enough, you most likely also have a house to maintain, bills to pay, perhaps a job to go to or a business to run, a blog (or two or three) to keep up, a partner to cheer on, organizations to volunteer for, classes, activities or meetings to attend or to schlep kids to, and the list goes on and on and on. If you don’t feel overwhelmed, then I call shenanigans and want to know what your secret is!

Photo courtesy of krystynana
Photo courtesy of krystynana

After reading a blurb on 5 Minutes for Mom last week announcing that a blogger who’s name I recognized – Anissa Mayhew – was on an episode of Oprah, I checked my TIVO and was happy to find the show was still there. I didn’t heed Janice’s advice to keep tissues nearby as I turned it on, but I should have. The episode was called “An Overwhelmed Mom’s Deadly Mistake” and focused on a woman named Brenda Slaby, a mom of two daughters and assistant principal who tried her best to be “supermom.” Her world came crashing down when, on a hot afternoon in August 2007, Slaby accidentally left her sleeping 2-year-old daughter in the car when she went into work. Her daughter died of heatstroke. Slaby “went from being a good role model for children, a good administrator and a good parent to being the most hated mom in America.”

I can only imagine what this mom must have gone through and continues to go through every day of her life. But as many others said on the show, this could happen to any of us. We’ve all done things (or not done things) without thinking about it. And like many moms on Oprah admitted, I’ve made my mistakes too. I’ve forgotten on a couple of occasions to buckle my daughter into her carseat. In my case and in Slaby’s case, it was a break in routine that brought about the mistake. In her case, she wasn’t the one who usually took her kids to school and daycare in the morning, but her husband had a dentist appointment which required her to do it that day and break her routine. And in my case, I didn’t buckle Ava right when I put her in her seat which I usually do, but went into the front seat to assemble a toy I’d just bought for her. Thankfully in my case Ava was fine, and in most cases these mistakes don’t prove to be anything more than a wake-up call for the parents, but they are always followed with thoughts of “what if.”

The topic of moms being overwhelmed is really nothing new. I wrote Confessions of a less than perfect mommy just three months ago when I confessed that I was having anxiety attacks from biting off more than I could chew. I just recently found myself in that place again and, thanks to a reminder from Julie at Chez Artz who said, “recent events have lead me to believe that I’m juggling so much that I’m truly at risk of serious injury,” (and boy, do I hear that!) I am forcing myself to slow down and reevaluate. But I digress.

Anissa, during her brief Oprah appearance, did a great job speaking about the unattainable bar that we’ve set for moms. She said we put pressure on ourselves to do more and be more and we lose focus of what is supposed to be the most important thing, our children. To which Oprah replied, “Yeah, being able to be present for your children,” which ironically is the theme of a blog carnival over at API Speaks this month.

The recurring theme of the show was that we as moms need. to. slow. down. Jodie at jodified designs. the blog. watched the episode of Oprah and confessed to leaving her kids in the car on several occasions. “Yes I leave the car running with the air on and yes I’m always just running in somewhere, but that’s just it. I’m always RUNNING.” She decided to share Slaby’s story on her blog “because what happened to her could have happened to any one of us. We’re all overwhelmed. Emotionally, physically, financially, mentally. Exhausted.” She encourages all moms to slow down.

Sharon at Whoa, Momma! confessed “one time while I had a break in my routine I was driving to work on autopilot and I had a momentary lapse where I was heading to work and forgot to take a turn into the neighborhood to drop off my baby at day care. I have since had terrible thoughts of ‘What if?'” Ever since that day she started putting her purse in the backseat so that she will always look in the backseat before leaving her car. She also refers to a scientific study “about how our efforts to keep kids safe has put them in the back seat where Momma is more likely to forget they are there.”

Natalie at BitchBuzz recently wrote a great post called Why Mothers Can’t Always Be Superwoman. She said, “I’ve never believed that women can have it all. I’ve rarely, if ever, seen a solid example of it and Lord knows many of us try our hardest to be and do everything, but somewhere along the line, something suffers.” She reminds us that it’s so important to take care of ourselves.

I speak to my many ‘mama friends’ and almost all are going through the same thing. We’re like zombified sheep on the trail to multitasking mecca where we expect to find nirvana and have everything slot into place. It doesn’t matter whether we’re working or not working; it’s a real challenge to get that balance of being mother, partner, employee/business owner, and ‘you’.

If any unexpected things get thrown your way, which is highly likely when you’re a parent, you can be sure you’re dropping balls in one of those areas, and the likeliest casualty is you. As women, we almost expect not to treat ourselves well, but we’ll work hard to be and do everything as a parent, partner, and worker.

She admits there’s no perfect answer, but notes, “I put too much pressure on myself, too much expectations, and don’t say ‘no’ often enough.”

I think, unfortunately in this day and age, being a mom and being overwhelmed just go hand in hand. The trick to handling it all is knowing when you need to slow down and reevaluate your priorities. Or as Janelle from Heathy Child, Healthy World told me on Twitter, “I think if you’re not an overwhelmed mom, you’re not doing your job, but when it gets real tough – stop and cuddle… and when cuddles don’t do the trick, find a dark, isolated spot and scream. It’s very cathartic. Always breathe deep.”

Posts from other overwhelmed moms:

Cross-posted on BlogHer

31 thoughts on “Overwhelmed moms confess”

  1. Fantastic post Amy!

    I too agree that these disastrous accidents could happen to any of us.

    I was so shocked to read on the Oprah message boards women condemning this mother and other mothers who have lost their children due to accidents.

    Accidents happen and every mother has made mistakes that could have lead to their children being harmed.

    When I was traveling with Olivia, I was worried about getting her car seat installed properly in the car that I actually forgot to buckle her in to it!

    Can you imagine?!? I was obsessing that the seat was secure and was so distracted by that concern, that I forgot to buckle her in! When we arrived at the airport, I realized my mistake. Thankfully disaster didn’t strike that day. But had the driver stopped suddenly, had another car hit us, my daughter could have gone flying through the window.

    But for the grace of God go I. We are just the lucky ones who fate allowed to scrape through unscathed by our own human shortcomings.

  2. well done, amy.

    may i also recommend brene brown’s “the gifts of imperfect parenting.” when we realize that we can’t “do it all” or “be perfect” and we can accept “good enough” then we give ourselves the freedom to slow down and enjoy each moment….her book is definitely worth a read (“i thought it was just me but it isn’t” and the imperfect parenting lecture cd is awesome.) she has a wonderful blog, too.

  3. Yup, I’m there too. At the same time, this is why I am so grateful that our dd brought us to attachment parenting and that she loves to nurse. I have to say that she insists that her “running” mom just slow down and do that whole mothering thing that is her #1 priority.

    Great post.

  4. I’m not sure why we all try so hard to be perfect – and think we’re all so imperfect while everyone else is perfect.

    Personally, my life has gotten so full that something had to give, and that something happens to have been sleep. I’m so freaking tired these days. I’m finding that I feel angry more than I used to and I’m thinking that it’s the sheer effort of functioning on no sleep. And yet I’m still 600 pictures behind in editing, my house is trashed, my laundry is backed up….

    Anyway, you know this. I just needed to say it 🙂

  5. Great post, Amy. You asked in your first paragraph, “If you don’t feel overwhelmed, then I call shenanigans and want to know what your secret is!”

    I’m not an overwhelmed mom. My secret is simple – KEEP IT SIMPLE. I’m not supermom, I do not overschedule, I don’t try to be perfect. Fortunately for me, there is nobody keeping score to see where I fall into play as supermom, so I can rest easy. I’m enjoying my life.

    I saw that Oprah show you mentioned and I can honestly say that I could not relate to one of those women. I’ve found balance and I’m blissed and blessed. 🙂 I hope more moms can find this too.

  6. I was thinking last night, after running, running, running…of writing a post on this very topic. And why is there all this pressure on the moms and not the dads? Why don’t dads feel the pressure to be superhuman?

  7. I always say that being a mother is the most rewarding – and the most exhausting – job I will ever know. I can go from gazing sentimentally at my boys wondering how I ever deserved to be blessed with such wonderfulness to wanting to run away screaming and pulling my hair out in 3.5 seconds flat. Sometimes it doesn’t even make sense to me.

    Thanks for the perspective.

  8. Amen, Amy. We need all mommies to talk about what they are (and are not) really doing so that we can breathe a sigh of relief and say, Oh, good! Me too!

    I have not had a hair cut in 10 months. That also means the grey has not been covered in that long.(color me ashamed) There are 1000 other things that I have not allowed myself to do for me, but despite all that sacrificing, the ‘neglect’ has run over into housekeeping, car washing, yard work, bill paying, mailing things to people, sleeping, exercising…i have given up on so many things. There was guilt, but now, i am just so relieved to have less to do that I don’t care.

    And the best part is that nothing happened! Nothing! The world just kept on turning. I could snuggle with my kids in bed until 10, or 11 or noon, wear my sarong for 2 days in a row without fear of someone noticing, have unpainted toenails while wearing flip-flops! It didn’t matter!

    I’m so glad to hear about other moms who are choosing to throw away the super mom crap and get real!

  9. I was sitting in my house thinking about thie earlier this week. I think some of the fault lies in the fact that as a society we’re so separated. I think I’d get a lot more done if I were around people. When I have a friend over, my house gets more cleaning because we can trade off watching babies. We need to get out of our little boxes of houses and be with each other.

  10. Oh, my, yes, Amy, you got it right.

    I have started so many blog posts titled “Overwhelmed” or something like it, and then not finished them even because I was too overwhelmed to do so!

    It is GREAT to know for real that being overwhelmed is NOT a sign that I am a failure as a mother or a person, but a sign that really, we are all in the same boat. Being overwhelmed MUST be a normal response.

    I once asked my 3 (!) year old to wait for a minute in the car (cool, breezy day, windows down) while I ran into a store with my 6 year old so she could pee. When I got back to the car, my 3 year old was GONE. It was the worst 5 minutes of my life.

    It turned out that she’d decided she needed to pee too, so she got herself out of the car and started off through the parking lot to find me. Well, an employee of the store saw a little kid wandering the parking lot and brought her in to help her find me. When they heard a frantic me screaming for my child in the parking lot, another employee reunited us.

    I felt like a disatrously bad mom with horrible judgement. WHAT was I thinking?

    I was thinking, it will be quick, it will be easier to get in and get out. Then we can rush off to the next thing.

    Slowing down: good advice.

  11. I was thinking the same as In the Fast Lane – how come dads don’t feel the same pressure. Probably because there are women taking care of things for them; wives, sisters, and mothers.

    I know that I can’t be supermom. I’ve decided to be content with “good enough Mom”. Trying to be perfect isn’t worth it, it’s not going to make our children turn out any better, and we only end up losing who we are in the process. I love my daughter but I love myself too.

  12. I NEVER watch Oprah but randomly turned it on the afternoon this mother was on–it has CHANGED me! I watched it just days after I left a STROLLER in a parking lot while rushing to get the baby, the bags, my purse, etc etc etc all thrown into the car to run off to my next errand. It is so hard to feel like you’re doing a “good” job as a mom if you’re not completely overwhelmed but I’ve had to make “being present” my new priority. Thank you for this post!!!

  13. That is so scary! I know of a mom who accidentally smothered her newborn to death the night she brought it home – she fell asleep with it on the couch and it slipped down and got wedged between the cushions. Ugh, it makes my stomach jump just to think about it, and I’m not even a mother.

  14. I’m with Justine – when I let myself let go of self-imposed expectations I feel relieved. It’s hard because I love to do so many different, time-consuming things! Forget the chores and responsibilities – I have 17,000 interesting things that I have to shelve. Prioritizing is hard cause none of us DO have enough time. But just now, while rocking my little boy to sleep for his nap, I had the conscious thought that being able to hold him and nuzzle him while he was sleepy made it all worthwhile – and doable.

  15. I know..I am shattered. Between mental juggling of BIG issues (school problems for son), activities and fixing cars and fixing myself….

    I have not only spent a fortune this week and worry about THAT..but am just worn out from running around.

    And that isn’t even counting the day to day cleanings and launderings and so on.

    We can’t do it all…
    Not all the time.

  16. I try to keep it pretty simple, but I do still get overwhelmed at times. Worse now that I’m expecting #3, when I’d figured on being done with baby #2.

    But some men do feel this way too, or at least my husband is willing to admit it. He’s been feeling guilty about working hours that keep him from getting home until just before bedtime 3 nights a week.

  17. This is dead on. Very well said.

    No, women can’t have it all. It’s time we simplify our lives. If only for the sake of our children.

    I often wonder what sort of example this is for our children. To show them that we are the be all end all and that we never need to slow ourselves down.

    I’ve written about this before. We need to stop this insane busy-ness. It’s not worth it.

  18. This is sadly the affliction of so many women I know — particularly for me because I am the sole income-earner in my household. We all recognize it is a problem, but I need someone to help me turn it off. I find myself so “busy” that I end up snapping at my daughter unnecessarily and not spending nearly as much time with her as I should.

    It’s so hard to find a balance, even when we KNOW what the priorities should be. How do I balance blowing bubbles with my daughter with finishing a design project that will literally allow us to put food on the table or gas in the tank? And I only have one child. I can only imagine how tough it would be if I had several.

    There are moments when I want to just give up, but I know I can’t. Such is the life of the mother, I guess

  19. Wow. Yep. I’m there. I wrote a post about the horrible day I had last week…I had, in one day, a few of those “Oh my God I could have been THAT Mom on the news!” moments. I’ve slowed it down a bit this week, and wish I could slow down even more, but its just not possible. I always feel like I can do everything — at 80%. Its the 20% I forget or can’t get to that could some day be really BAD!

  20. Excellent piece. I don’t watch Oprah (gasp! I know) so I hadn’t seen or heard about that tragic story. It’s a shame I wasn’t terribly shocked by it. Seems to happen more and more nowadays. So sad. 🙁

    I’m actually one of those Moms that does her darndest (not a word, I know) to NOT be busy and overwhelmed. It wasn’t always this way, trust me. I’ve had years of experience. I guess that’s why I recognized it so immediately this time that I was B-U-S-Y and didn’t like it. I’m glad I took a step back and let that class go. It really was a step forward in my life mission to be as stress-free and joyful as possible (and thereby present and pleasant for my children & my loved ones)!

  21. i missed this episode of oprah but i’m so glad to hear about it. i remember hearing about that tragic incident, and feeling a mix of horror and compassion for that poor mother. it’s funny, i feel like the only non-overwhelmed mom out there. my baby is 14 months, i’m home with her, i am not working out of the home even part time really (and kind of not for lack of trying…just things haven’t fallen my way), and i live in a small apartment. i sometimes find myself feeling guilty/left out/lame for not being “overwhelmed” and “soooo busy.” yet despite feeling an abundance of time, i still find myself being absent minded and before i know it the baby has fallen or eaten something or gotten out of my sight.

    all this to say, it’s just a good reminder, whatever your degree of business, to be mindful and present in this journey of parenthood.

    thanks for this post.

  22. wow! There are so many thoughts going through my head. I am always putting myself into too much and feeling the pressure. Yet I still feel like I do not do enough. It is nice to know I am not alone in my feelings. I cannot imagine losing a child due to my own mistake like that. I am not sure I could live though it.

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