If being a working mom is feeling extra messy these days, know you’re not alone — and you can reduce the stress and even up your enjoyment.
Being a working mom has always had its challenges (and upsides). Then came the pandemic, and life became way more complicated.
Most of us are still dealing with school and day care closures. Our supportive circles have shrunk. And the invites that were once a quick “yes” — play dates, activities — now feel more fraught.
In short, if you’re exhausted, you’re not alone.
According to 2020 data from Maven and Great Place to Work, 9.8 million working mothers reported experiencing burnout — almost 30% more than working fathers, with higher levels among Black, Asian, and Latina moms.
For single mothers, the pandemic has been especially difficult, with research confirming it.
Whether you’re experiencing a few challenges being a working mother or you’re in full working mom burnout, you can reduce stress and even boost your joy.
Consider these 10 steps to cope with pandemic-related working mom stress.
1. Zero in on your burnout
“Burnout” is a big term. Bring it down to size by identifying where your burnout is coming from — and what solutions may help.
For example, according to Texas-based therapist and mom of two Heidi McBain, try self-reflecting:
- Is your burnout about work or home?
- Could taking time off help?
- Can you hire help, or ask someone to pitch in?
2. Request changes at work
“I’ve found I needed to make bigger ‘asks’ at work by getting coverage for important meetings and taking more time off than I normally would,” says Desiree Walden-Chastain, a practicing attorney in the Midwest with a 2-year-old and 4-year-old.
In fact, Walden-Chastain, who also holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, notes, “I shifted my mindset to ask, ‘Would this [request] be acceptable for a working dad?’ and, most often, the answer is yes.”
What changes can you request to reduce overwhelm?
3. Drop some balls
Ashley Brichter, a New York City mom, doula, and co-founder of the app Birthsmarter, suggests knowing your “glass balls” versus “rubber balls.”
Glass balls, she notes, “can’t be dropped and must be prioritized and attended to with care.” Rubber balls, however, “can be dropped or put down for a while without damage.”
To figure out which is which in your life, consider:
- What’s most important to me?
- What’s nonnegotiable?
- What can wait?
4. Adjust how you work
If your professional tasks allow for some flexibility, work in ways that are most helpful and empowering to you. For Walden-Chastain, burnout comes with anxiety around certain responsibilities.
“[I]f I ‘eat the frog’ and get the worst part of my job over with, I’m more confident and motivated to keep going,” she notes.
What energizes you to keep going?
5. Be a loving parent… to yourself
Many of us have a loud inner critic that constantly reminds us we’re falling short.
As California-based relationship coach Nancy Landrum notes, your negative self-talk might scold you like this:
- “A good mom always stops what she’s doing to play with her child.”
- “A competent mom keeps up with laundry.”
- “A smart mom plans more nutritious meals.”
- “You’re selfish for wanting to relax when there’s so much left to do.”
You can counter these thoughts with self-compassion.
“Compassion enhances our immune system, changes the way our nervous system responds to distress, and reduces the effects of stress,” says Keshawn Hughes, a mom, certified neurocoach, and speaker in Atlanta, Georgia.
Neena Lall, LCSW, MPH, a New York City-based Grouport therapist, suggests using this affirmation: “Whatever I got done today was enough.”
Being loving with yourself is also critical for your kids.
As Lall notes, “By allowing your best to be enough, you’re modeling for your children that it’s OK to be human; it is OK to set expectations for yourself, fall short of them, get up, and try again the next day. By doing this for yourself, you’re affirming for your children that they don’t have to be perfect to be loved.”
6. Know your love language
Another self-compassionate practice is caring for yourself according to your love language, notes Hughes. She shares these examples:
- If your love language is words of affirmation, ask others to encourage you with supportive words and acknowledge your accomplishments. You can also create a board with inspirational quotes.
- If your love language is physical touch, take a bath, book a massage, and use a heating pad.
7. Take breathing breaks
“Breathing reconnects us with ourselves,” says Jessica LaMarre, an Arizona-based mom of three, holistic life coach, and author of “Reclaim Your Self! A Working Mom’s Healing Journey Back to HerSelf.”
Breathing “calms the vagus nerve, which moves us from the sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, or freeze) to the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest),” says LaMarre.
To practice, simply take several deep breaths throughout the day.
You can try these five deep breathing techniques to get started.
8. Channel your anxiety
When thoughts of worry and anxiety arise, our bodies produce adrenaline and cortisol, which provide a quick burst of energy, explains Hughes.
Rather than letting worry take over, channel that energy into healthy action, such as dancing or practicing progressive muscle relaxation, she says.
9. Interrupt personal triggers
Similarly, Hughes suggests knowing when your worry typically pops up and swapping it with an alternative action.
For instance, she says if you typically feel overwhelmed first thing in the morning, listen to a guided meditation as soon as you open your eyes.
The key is to create a list of helpful, healthy practices, so you’re not having to come up with ideas during a stressful moment, adds Hughes.
You can pick practices that also reconnect you to yourself, as an individual.
10. Meet your needs — even in mini sessions
Throughout the day, you can ask yourself what you need. Pressed for time? Try thinking of a smaller way to still honor that need:
- Instead of a cardio session, do jumping jacks or run around the block with your kids.
- Instead of a yoga class, try these restorative poses at home.
- Instead of hours-long quiet time, listen to a soothing song while taking deep breaths.
Avoid the trap of all-or-nothing thinking.
Even slivers of self-care can instantly boost your mood and energy.
If you’re feeling guilty about working, know that you can reduce this painful feeling.
First, understand it
LaMarre, whose feelings of guilt and shame were once constant, emphasizes acknowledging your guilt.
She suggests reflecting on these questions:
- Where do I feel guilt in my body?
- How has this guilt affected me?
- When do I first remember feeling guilty?
- Is there an image, thought, feeling, smell, or taste that comes up?
- Is this even my guilt, or was it inherited?
Refocus on the benefits
So often we focus on what work takes away from us. Consider what your job provides for you and your family. You can even make a list.
For example, Tanya Saunders, a nurse, coach, and mom to three, says maybe work allows you to:
- support your family
- be financially independent
- pursue your purpose
In most households, both caregivers need to work. So, what you do is significant.
Or, as Landrum says, “It’s not as if you can feed your kids air.”
Temper the comparisons
Most of us look to other working moms to gauge how we’re doing. But that usually just ups our guilt.
“Yes, there are some superstar moms who manage to teach their children advanced math concepts while making a three-course meal every day,” says Tejal V. Patel, a mindful parenting coach, author of “Meditation for Kids,” and mom of three.
But Patel notes, “That has no bearing on you and what you provide for your children. Look within your family and not outside of it. You’ll always find someone who does things better, but you’ll also always find someone who does things worse. And that’s just life.”
There’s no universal definition of a “good mom.” So, think about what being a good mom means to you — not anyone else.
In other words, what are your values around motherhood? What’s important to you?
For example, Saunders schedules one unique or special weekly activity with each child, like going on a lunch date or reading a new book.
Similarly, Patel suggests carving out 10 minutes of undivided time to be fully present with your kids and “enter their world.” Laugh together, discuss the highs and lows, she says. “Fully see, listen, play, and interact with them,” Patel adds.
In some cases, your concern about being a good mom may be a sign that you’d like to make a major change. As McBain notes, maybe you want to stay home, work part time, or find a fulfilling job with more flexibility.
Dig a bit and explore what you need and want to change — if anything.
Being a working mom can be exhausting — especially with extra pandemic-related challenges.
But with a bit of self-reflection and small restorative habits throughout the day, you can reduce stress and enjoy both working and parenting.
On the days that guilt arises, pause and remind yourself of everything you are providing — both the big and seemingly small.
And above all, remember that you are a person who deserves care and compassion.