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Stop the yelling: How to know if you have mommy burnout, and what to do about it

Dr. Sheryl Ziegler helps us deal with the 'chronic stress of parenting.'
by Donna Freydkin / / Source: TODAY

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We’ve all been there, in one way or another.

The clock is ruthlessly counting down, you have maybe two minutes to get your kids out the door, and yet they obstinately ignore you when you ask them to brush their teeth and put on their shoes. Your stress level is inversely proportional to their listening ability. So you blow up, and say stuff you don’t mean. But it’s mean.

Or maybe the sitter cancels and you have a major work meeting, but instead of asking a friend to help out with childcare, you’re determined to be supermom and so you drag the child to the office, cross your fingers that he’s entertained with a stack of coloring books, and scramble to get that presentation up and running.

There’s no Oscar for best performance in parenting. And the drive to be perfect, to get it all done, to never complain because motherhood is, after all, billed as being unicorns and rainbows and sunbeams, can lead to “Mommy Burnout,” the name of a new book by psychologist Sheryl Ziegler.

"Mommy burnout is the emotional and physical exhaustion that you feel from the chronic stress of parenting. It’s feeling like you’re over your kid sometimes,” Ziegler told Megyn Kelly TODAY. “No matter how much sleep you get, you’re always tired. And you resent your kids sometimes, which is a tough one. You feel a reduced sense of personal accomplishment — it’s a fancy way of feeling like you’re never doing a good job. The prolonged nature to it, like there’s no end in sight.”

And it’s never-ending — as you segue from potty-training to learning to read to managing screen time. Meaning, said Ziegler, “There’s always something else. You lose your motivation and passion. Mommy burnout is not an extension of depression. You can be burned out but not be depressed.”

On the one hand, we’ve become more open about the stresses of parenthood, and how some of us took a while to bond with our newborns, while others loathed every minute of toddlerhood. But we approach those issues with gallows humor, not honesty, clarity or purpose.

Burnout isn't funny

“The message of the book is that mommy burnout is so detrimental to our physical and emotional health, that it’s not funny,” said Ziegler.

Many women don’t admit that they’re quietly suffering because they feel exposed, said Ziegler. “It’s a dirty secret. There’s a lot of vulnerability in saying without joking that I yelled at my kids, or used a bad word. What are you going to think of me if I say that? A lot of moms aren’t sure if it’s normal or not. So we crack the door with humor. Humor is step one. Now we need step two and to get help.”

And for those of us who are chronic yellers, Ziegler said it all has to do with control and feeling powerless in certain situations, like when your kids aren't listening that it's bedtime, or refusing to eat what's on their plate.

"We think the bigger and louder we get, the more control we have. Yelling is detrimental for the development of a child. Anytime you feel like you’re to yell, or you just did, you feel like you lost your sense of control or power. A tip is to be proactive. Figure out your triggers to yell," she said.

Ziegler has “impactful, real and free” steps to dealing with possible burnout. For starters, she said, stop comparing yourself to those dreamy, filtered photos you see on Instagram. “When you’re on social media and see everyone’s perfect kid, you start to feel bad about yourself. We’re perpetuating it and fueling it,” she said.

Tips for dealing with burnout

1. "We have to stop isolating ourselves and letting our relationships go. Self-care goes first, and then your marriage and friendships. Stay connected. Stop overextending to your kids and start tending to your friends. Reach out. It’s something easy and tangible to do. Get connected to your community. People move around all the time. Create your own support. Create it, or connect with it."

2. "Put yourself on a social media diet. Limit it. Be mindful about what you do, including social media. Take the time you’d spend on social media and do something for yourself. Take a walk outside, take a bath, read a book. Social media has its place."

3. "Limit your choices. You want to do what’s best for your kids. So you research every school, every team, every teacher. What’s happening is that more choices mean more stress. The sky is the limit. That’s not good for anybody."

4. "Don’t avoid intimacy with your partner. It’s not just sex. It’s about communication. Don’t expect your husband to be your girlfriend or best friend. Get those other needs met elsewhere. Make time to talk to each other. Make eye contact."

5. "For single parents — learn how to ask for help and learn how to receive the help. Single moms, they feel like the spotlight is on them. Can they actually do this? They have the extra drive to show they can do it all. Ask for help and receive it and do it guilt-free."

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