Burn Out, then Fade Away

My world is shrinking. I used to be able to relate to other people. I used to be able to muster sympathy. I used to be able to care for my kids without snapping at every little defiance. But right now I can’t.

I’m burned out. I’m burned out on taking care of the kids. I’m burned out on being a mom in general. When I used to hear “Mommy?” I felt needed and ready to tackle any challenge Rose had for me. Now when I hear it, I wish I could leave. Just leave, and go somewhere where there are no kids, and not have to answer her at all.

How did I get here? I should have seen it coming. For one thing, I haven’t had any time off since three hours in May, when I left the kids with Matt so I could see a movie. For another, potty training efforts went down the toilet. Rose was doing so well, and I thought she’d be fully trained before long and then she lost interest. We tried to force her by making her wear panties instead of pull ups. That led to “accidents.” They weren’t all deliberate but no matter what, I’d wind up cleaning a puddle of pee somewhere in the house every day, sometimes twice a day.

Being up to my wrists in urine all the time took its toll but Rose wasn’t finished with me yet. Her tantrums became more frequent and spectacular. She’d have at least one tantrum a day, during which she’d scream like a howler monkey, destroy whatever room she was in, and get violent with me or her baby brother.

So every day I had to clean up pee at least once and deal with one or more huge tantrums. To top it off, many of those tantrums were triggered by a refusal to nap – a battle we’d have at least three times a week – so I got no down time. I don’t get down time with them unless they both sleep at the same time. Rose has a regular naptime but Christian’s naps are unpredictable.

I did get some time without them. Rose went to camp four days a week and to a babysitter on the morning on the fifth day. Christian spent some of his mornings at the sitter’s, while Rose was in school. So I did have my mornings without the kids. But mornings were occupied by work, so they definitely weren’t “mom time.“

I am extremely grateful that I had mornings without the kids. I am. But then I feel guilty. How can I burn out when I get a four-hour reprieve from mothering every day? And further, I spend that time doing work that I love. How can I complain? It makes me feel worse because in my mind, I’m not entitled to what I’m feeling.

Part of the problem is that I rarely interact in the grownup world, and when I do, it’s with other moms, our kids are there and we all talk about them. So my whole existence outside of work revolves around children. Of course I get sick of it. I could get sick of pistachio ice cream if it was all I ate every day for months on end.

So not only am I burned out, I feel guilty for it. And this week it got worse.

Matt had a death in the family. It was the third one this year, and it was sudden and tragic. The deceased played a big role in Matt’s young life. Shocked, Matt mourned. He wanted to go to the funeral. He bought plane tickets we cannot afford to fly in and out in two days, so as not to leave me with the kids for too long.

I want to sympathize. I mean, my God, he is suffering a great loss. I want to help him through this. I want to mourn properly. But I can’t. Because I’m feeling so bad myself that my world has shrunk, all I can do is try to navigate my way out of my own feelings. And it makes me feel horrible. I’m his wife. I’m his best friend. I’m supposed to offer him comfort and support. But it’s like I’m in a plastic bag. You know, the kind that says “keep out of reach of children.” I am in the bag and trying to breathe and each breath sucks the bag closer and closer to my face, making my world smaller and smaller, threatening to suffocate me.

So here I am, suffocating. Matt left today and I’m spending two days alone with the kids – a Friday and a Saturday. I honestly don’t know if I’ll make it through. If I do, Matt has promised to give me some time off Sunday. For now, I’ve got a plan. Gym tonight, because they have babysitting. Gym tomorrow morning, same reason. McDonald’s PlayPlace after that. Hopefully naps. Then a party with the Parrot Heads. It’s easier to take them out of the house than to be bored and gloomy at home. Plus some of the Parrot Heads will give them some attention. Plus there’s alcohol there. Can’t go wrong with alcohol.

If I make it, I’ll need a new plan. Just like I plan for the kids’ needs, I must plan for my own. I can’t let this happen again. I need to schedule some days off. I need to use my mother’s day gift – one night at a bed and breakfast. I need to find ways to move in the grownup world.

I’m not going to let this happen again. I let it go too long and I am burned out at the worst possible time. There’s no good time to fail as a parent or spouse, but some times are worse than others and this time is particularly bad. I have to get back some of myself. Until I do that, I won’t have any of myself to give.

2 comments on “Burn Out, then Fade Away

  1. Maria, Thank you for this week’s post. While your story is unique to you, it universal. You are not alone. I cried as I read it – and I am well on the other side of this now, with a 10 and 8 year old (You’ll be happy to know they are both potty trained, and also good friends to each other!). I cried because I was in that same place, so happy with my personal choices, yet so deeply tired. I daydreamed (daily, for awhile) about hopping in the car and driving… to be alone with my thoughts… for many miles… without kids napping in the backseat! Mothers, women, need to say these things out loud. We need to support each other. Whether we are home full time, work full time, or somewhere in between, we need to accept that we are all doing our best in the moment, mothering, and trying to (or dreaming of!) being true to ourselves at the same time. Your writing makes a difference. Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. The grownup world? That place sounds nice. I want to go there someday. ;> The random, unexpected breaks from parenting are what really refresh me. When it’s scheduled, somehow it doesn’t feel so refreshing, the clock is ticking, 1’21” before I have to be back, etc.

    I keep seeing comments around the internet about how, for lots of different reasons, American mothers are relatively isolated. You’re smart to keep up the social stuff when your reserves are low.

    I’ll email you in a bit.

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