Like juggling chainsaws


Motherhood Stress by Deborah Shaw Lewis

I have read this a couple of times now, and dip back into it from time to time to remind myself that I do, in fact, have a right to wonder things such as:

“Why am I waking with panic? “

“Why am I so tired?”

“Why is my hair falling out/going grey so quickly/ __________? (here insert any other random stress-related physical symptom)”

The concept of actually comparing the job of motherhood to the many studies done on workplace stress is very helpful to looking objectively at the genuinely stressful role of motherhood.  I am always in awe of the real wonder-women in my life and how they can be keeping a smile on their face in the midst of the pressures on mothers today.

Deborah Shaw Lewis makes the point well that if this were paid employment, it would be amongst those with the highest rates of burnout, workplace pressure, and stress-related illness.  Typically, the jobs with the most stress are those with: unpredictability (too much novelty and uncertainty), lack of control, complexity of the job, no clear guidelines or measures of success, frustrations, time pressure, significance of the job,  poor accountability, inadequate job training, unrealistic expectations, unclear priorities, inadequate or negative feedback & low pay and status.

“It’s easy for mothers to feel their work isn’t valued.  The combination of the positive feedback mother’s don’t get and the negative feedback we do receive can have a potentially devastating impact on self-esteem.  Study after study shows a direct relationship between self-esteem and job stress.  When a person’s self-esteem plummets, the stress level in any job goes up.”

“A mother’s job is demanding.  The nature of the work requires both the managerial skills of a corporate executive and the sweat of a day-labourer.  The demands are at once physically exhausting, unrelentingly constant, monotonously repetitious, often overwhelmingly and incredibly varied.  It all adds up to hard, stressful work.”

In addition to the more obvious stressors, a number of hidden stressors are identified, which include (but are not limited to) :  driving with children (distractions/fear of breaking down/ time pressure to get to your destination/ getting all the kids in the car on time etc.), noise (most noises mean some responsibility for something or someone, whether it is the click of the washing machine or even the absence of noise when your kids are playing which probably means they are wreaking quiet havoc somewhere), waiting (also translated as time out of your control, be it at medical appointments, in traffic, at the checkout, or for slow toddlers), relationship responsibility (women usually assume more responsibility for relationships than men do, whether it is remembering birthdays or caring for relatives), financial responsibility ( most women are responsible for the purchasing decisions on a weekly basis in their homes), entertaining ( having people in your home when you are worried about how not presentable it is), little guilts (like having done photo books for the first two kids and hardly having a printed photo of subsequent ones, or not feeling like a good enough cook, or not feeding your family all organic sustainably sourced non processed whole foods  etc. etc.), phobias (unrealistic fears or unrecognised avoidance patterns can add significant stress to existing anxiety), life events ( pregnancy, moving house, medical conditions, change in your husband’s work, celebrating Christmas, change in schools etc.  all add stress to the existing tension), spouse stress ( if your husband is stressed, you will feel it too and this comes on top of the other stressors), family variables (your particular family will have its own stressors that are unique due to your family situation), wanting it all now (our culture is so geared to discontent it can be a huge pressure to live simply as a mother in the midst of it).

At one point, motherhood is compared to juggling chainsaws, with each child adding another chainsaw to the existing number.  Whether you are juggling one or 8, it is still a dangerous job and fraught with anxiety.

In addition to identifying stressors, some good tips are given for managing stress.  It’s not rocket science but it can be a major achievement for a mother to do these simple things each day:

  1. Go to bed!  You need a regular bedtime, and enough sleep for you to function.  How much is enough?  “According to Dr Merrill M.Mitler of the Association of Sleep Disorders Centres, ‘Each person has a genetically determined sleep requirement.  As far as we know, this doesn’t change during adulthood and can’t be reduced by practice’…In other words, the demands of motherhood don’t lessen any mother’s need for sleep – which means if we hope to maintain our health and sanity while successfully coping with all the stress in our lives, we’re going to have to get however much sleep our bodies need.”
  2. Eat regularly.  Don’t forget to feed yourself nourishing food.  Your body needs good fuel to do all that work.  “Poor nutrition can actually create stress.  And good nutrition can improve a person’s resistance to the negative effects of stress – whatever the causes… A body under stress uses more vitamins.”
  3. Exercise.  “Exercise produces more energy than it consumes…Exercise also increases a person’s sense of control by providing a means of moderating stress levels.  It uses up excess adrenalin produced during stress.  And exercise can also act as a healthy distraction from pressures that are building up… Taking care of yourself physically needs to be a high priority if you have any hope for surviving motherhood stress.
  4. Find ways to nourish your mind. Whether it is a night out with friends, a 5 minute reprieve or a once a month op-shop session alone, or blogging find something that is nourishing to your mind.
  5. Nourish your soul.  Use all the tools the Church provides us with.  Practice forgiveness as a means of freedom from stress.  Set clear boundaries.  Pray.
  6. Get support – from your husband, family, friends.  Wherever and whenever it comes, take it!  “The most helpful thing I ever found in dealing with my stress as a mother was my friendship with other mothers.  I wish as a young mother I had taken more time to develop friendships.  I don’t know why I didn’t.  Maybe I was just too wrapped up in the newness and the stress of young children.  But I didn’t learn until later how important such friendships are.”  And don’t forget your husbands, but we need to name our need, “Getting stress support from husbands, just like getting it from friends, requires a mother to admit her feelings of stress openly and honestly, and ask for help.”

I can attest to all of the above being very helpful in managing stress, although I have a long way to go.  The first three I have really been an abysmal failure at for many years, but have improved since having more of a structured program to follow.   I have also been blessed with a group of supportive mums who have made a huge difference to my stress levels.  This was not always the case.  It took years and hard work to build up a support network.  If you can tap into one you know of, do it.  I can’t emphasise highly enough how important this has been, not just for me but my whole family.

If you are doing the above and are still uber-stressed, or if you can’t even see your way past the pile of dishes on the sink, you’re not alone.  You may need more than these simple basics, and that’s normal and ok too.  You may need to see your doctor, and/or a counsellor that is supportive of your faith.  I have done so, and it has helped enormously during those times when even getting out of bed was a struggle.

Whatever your situation, there is help to be found, so be sure to seek it out.



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