Caregiver Fatigue is a familiar term in elder care circles,
but it's not one most moms have heard of. It is what it sounds like, though. It's "when a
caregiver's emotional and physical reserves are so drained from caring for
others that it's hard to feel emotionally and physcially balanced, Caregiver
Fatigue sets in," explains Carrie Contey, Ph.D., a parenting expert and family
coach based in Austin, Texas. "In other words, caregivers can become so depleted that they have a tough time functioning."
Moms, particularly stay-at-home moms with
young children or those whose kids have special needs of any kind, are
particularly susceptible. We LOVE our kids and want to give the best of
ourselves to them, but when sleep deprivation rears its head or when life
otherwise falls way off balance, our own needs often fall far behind other
priorities. This makes exhaustion and burnout real threats to our own—and thus our
"Caregiver Fatigue most often looks like
extreme exhaustion. It can also manifest as anxiety, fear, self-doubt, sadness,
anger and guilt," Contey says. In fact, these types of feelings should be
recognized as red flags that a mom is more than simply tired. Cotney adds that "if the
caregiver is starting to hear a lot of negative self-talk, that's a clear sign
of deep fatigue and that some form of self-care is necessary."
Of course, what self-care looks like for most people may be impossible in
the context of full-time parenting. It's tough to take a few days—let alone a
few minutes—off when your very-small people depend on you for, well, absolutely
everything they need. And on top of logistical challenges, many moms face
emotional barriers to self-care, as well. "Unfortunately, there's a widespread cultural message that
says self-care is selfish," says parenting coach Suzi Lula. "Moms are led to feel guilt
and shame around the idea of caring for themselves in any meaningful way. But,
of course, they must."
Then, moms need to take action to help themselves to not just hang in there and keep the kidsalivebut to, you know, get back in the saddle and thrive.
First, moms must grant themselves permission to check in and
acknowledge their own internal states. "Mothers
can begin to attune themselves to their own 'energy tank,' says Lula. "Are
they running on full or empty?" Noticing the red flags—the negative self-talk, the irritability, feelings of resentment or frustration —is crucial. Then, moms need to take action to help
themselves to not just hang in there and keep the kids alive but to, you know, get back in the saddle and thrive.
Contey recommends "small,
medium and large fill ups depending on how dysregulated and overdone moms are."
Sometimes simply pausing, acknowledging aloud how you're feeling, and breathing
deeply – taking all of 30 seconds— is enough to lower stress levels. Other
quick fill-ups that can stave off a meltdown include stepping outside, shifting
your focus (Contey recommends pointing to and saying the names of ten objects
in the room), or, if another adult is around, making eye contact or asking for
Medium fill-ups that moms can work into their daily routines can include
showering alone, making tea, listening to music or meditating. And, of course, making regular time for the big things like calling in childcare backup to take a
date night or a nap, which can make all the difference in the world.
Contey adds, however, that "if the caregiver feels like
they are in a crisis, it's important to reach out for support from a therapist
So stay strong, super moms! And take care of yourselves, because
Caregiver Fatigue is real, and you're kind of a big deal.