6 Ways I Handle Being an Exhausted Mom

Mom Exhaustion

Feeling exhausted? ME TOO!

At this point of motherhood, it seems I should walk around with caution tape. That would give everyone around me a warning before they talked to or interacted with me.

Maybe I could wear a sign:

WARNING, WARNING, WARNING!!!

DO NOT GO INTO THIS CONVERSATION WITH GREAT EXPECTATIONS. In fact, DIAL THOSE EXPECTATIONS BACK TO ZERO and then I might have the opportunity to impress you, or at the very least, meet your expectations. 

THE WOMAN YOU ARE ABOUT TO ENGAGE IS EXTREMELY TIRED. 

She may make conversational topic leaps that make perfect sense inside her tired brain but appear nonsensical to you. She is talked out and touched out.

SHE HAS ABOUT 1.25 mL OF “EXTRA” TO GIVE OVER THE COURSE OF A WEEK (which, chances are, she’s already doled out). 

APPROACH WITH GRACE AND CAUTION.

I am extremely blessed and thankful for my family, and wouldn’t trade them for anything. I love, love, love my husband and kids. Nonetheless, speaking truthfully, I have never felt so taxed as I have this last five-year period of my life.

Granted:

  • there are six kids running around my house,
  • all of whom I birthed,
  • one of whom I birthed in this very home, ten months ago.
  • We homeschool
  • and have moved five times (once transatlantic) in the last five years.

You may be thinking, “Duh, Captain Obvious. Of course you’re taxed!”

I can identify with Sally Clarkson‘s description,

I was living a life of ideals that most of my old friends didn’t believe in and few understood, so often loneliness and lack of support were my companions.”

Though I often feel alone and unsupported, I’m not really alone. I think this is a particular “flash point” for homeschooling moms, stay-home-moms, moms of little ones, and anyone who goes about life with non-stop responsibilities without the “release” valve regularly being pushed.

BEING “ALWAYS ON” AFFECTS ME IN THESE 6 WAYS

Unlike virtually every other job a person encounters in life, we moms almost never have a time when we’re “off-duty.”

Because I’m always “on,” many of these are true about me:

  1. I’m not acting like “myself” lately. Or, at least not the “self” I’ve always known. Even though I’m an extrovert, I *act* like an introvert at times when I’m out in public. (Not always, but often.  Especially for a pretty strong extrovert like me, it surprises me how little I sometimes connect when I’m out in public.)
  2. I don’t feel like talking. My mom and I discovered this recently. She’s an introvert, currently on medical leave from her job. Consequently, she gets oodles of time by herself, and so she’s quite talkative right now. I, on the other hand, have a house full of people around me, virtually all the time, who talk to me all day long… and I’m acting introverted much of the time. We both get so much of what is our typical “need” met that we currently gravitate toward the opposite of our normal inclinations, in order to balance out our lives.  I have had to choose to be comfortable in my own “skin,” even when it feels different than it used to, to be ME.
  3. It takes me a while to warm up in a crowd. Whereas I used to jump into social events ready to engage, it takes me a good 30-60 minutes after leaving our full-of-life home to mentally shift to engaging with others, and even then I often do a shoddy job of social interaction.  I am growing to accept this about myself, for this season.
  4. My conversations are a mess. When I *do* manage to sneak in an adult conversation, I often get home and find as I reanalyze the conversation that I completely misunderstood someone’s meaning, or that the comment I made was unrelated to the topic at hand but somehow in my brain it made sense at the time. Sometimes I make jokes that don’t make any sense. I don’t want to overstate this as if I’m some mumbling idiot, but more often than I used to, I find that my mouth has fumbled through a conversation and I realize it after the fact.
  5. I am having to ask forgiveness from people way more often than I used to. My brain is more tired, and my body is more tired. I don’t know if it’s that I’m sinning more, or more aware of my sin… but either way, I am being regularly humbled. That stings, but I know that this too is for my good.
  6. I forget to do things that used to be natural to me, in relationship. For example, I forget to follow-up about something going on in a friend’s life. In fact, sometimes my plate is so full I completely forget about an event/situation in someone else’s life. (Two weeks ago, I forgot that a friend’s dad had had a stroke until after I’d spoken to her at church. *Headslap!*) Grace, grace… I need it so badly.

PREOCCUPIED, CONSTANTLY: WHEN THE MIND IS FULL

Years ago, a mentor of mine– a busy mom with a large family– shared that a woman she’d gone to church with for a decade approached her and this was the conversation that followed
  • “Have I done something to offend you?”  
  • My friend shook her head, and answered, “No… Why?  Have I acted offended to you?”
  • The woman looked down, unsure but clearly wounded, “For years I have passed you in the halls and you always have a glassy look in your eyes, looking down as you walk, like you’re deliberately avoiding looking at me.  What have I done?”

My friend (a busy mom with a large family) explained,

“I’m so sorry! I can’t believe it’s gone on this long and you’ve thought I was avoiding you. When you see me running back and forth, glassy-eyed, to the nursery or to go make copies for my husband or whatever, I am mentally running through the things I have to do, the kid I need to pick up, the diaper bag I forgot in the car, the conversation I had with my preteen on the way here, the fact that I only put mascara on one eye, or whatever.

I have absolutely not one thing against you. It just makes me sad that it took this long for me to clear it up.”

I think back to that sometimes, and it gives me comfort. She is a godly, loving woman, and she fumbled things sometimes, too.
Sometimes we all have times where we are off our game. She was in a season.  I am in a season too.  Seasons are for a time, and then they pass and give way to something new.
6 Ways I Handle Being an EXHAUSTED MOM // jessconnell.com
HOW I HANDLE IT IN THE HERE AND NOW

Well, obviously I don’t always handle it super-well. I’m not coming to you as a soul care guru who has 100% mastered the art of social interaction whilst feeling weary and overwhelmed.

I still feel mentally preoccupied, physically touched-out, and emotionally like I have nothing much to offer, a good portion of the time.

I’m still me in my head and heart, but I’m afraid that if I was to evaluate myself objectively, watching a camera reel of my social interactions with others, I would probably see a lot of holes and weird spots, and what I see most likely wouldn’t resemble much of the woman I am in my heart and head.

Come to think of it, wrapping myself in caution tape as a visual cue to everyone I meet might not be THAT bad of an idea.

Barring that, here are 6 ways I handle being an exhausted mom:
  1. STAY IN SCRIPTURE. When I’m regularly in scripture, I am spiritually refueling my tank. God is faithful to teach us what we need for a given time in our lives. So even if I feel physically or emotionally depleted, when I discipline myself to read God’s Word, my spiritual tank is full and I’m better able to walk in the Spirit.
  2. ADJUST MY EXPECTATIONS. I need to regularly remind myself of this (temporary) new normal. Before I go to an event, particularly if it’s one I’ve been looking forward to, I have to dial back my expectations of myself. I used to be able to go to a church fellowship, for example, and successfully touch base with a lot of people, and walk away recharged. Now, I’m more likely to get one conversation in, and later realize I said or did something awkward. Or sometimes I get to the end of the event and realize I only interacted at surface level and wish I would have gone deeper. If I have lofty expectations of myself, I’ll walk away disappointed that I didn’t get to connect with people, when in reality, I probably did the best I could in the moment.
  3. MY HUSBAND URGES ME TO CARE FOR ME. I’m thankful that Doug encourages me to do the things that will recharge (and not deplete) me. For example, before I head out the door to enjoy time with friends, he’ll say, “Sit by someone like ______, ______, or ______ (suggesting close friends)– take advantage of this time with them.  Have a good time!” I so appreciate those reminders because sometimes the mental fog really doesn’t let me “go there” until after the fact.
  4. OCCASIONALLY, I REMIND OTHERS ABOUT THIS MOM-EXHAUSTION-REALITY. I have been known to say things like, “I’m sorry, but I’m not very good for having a real conversation while my kids are running around on Sunday morning.  You’re welcome to come by and chat during their naptime from 2-4 sometime this week.”  Or if I feel eyes on me as I’m glazing over, walking to the nursery, I’ll meet their gaze and say, “Oh! I’m in my own little world. Sorry about that! How are you?”
  5. ASK FOR TIME WHEN I NEED IT. Sally Clarkson has said, “Be assertive and tell your husband your needs. He is there to do life with you.” YES!!! I’m thankful for a husband who tries to care for me. Still, he’s not a mind-reader. We both have to work extra for me to get some time “off,” but it’s worth it, so we’re learning to plan for it.
  6. USE RECHARGE OPPORTUNITIES WISELY.  When Doug makes a point to give me some time to myself, or when the opportunity comes to get together with friends, I try to be extremely selective about what I “spend” myself on. I have less “extra” to spend than I used to have, so I have to be much more thoughtful about where it will go. Lord willing, the day will come when the kids will be out of the house and I’ll have more than ample opportunity for regular times “out and about” with friends. But right now, when I have a few free hours, I need to only do those things that will really recharge me, or in some way contribute to my emotional/spiritual/physical health. This requires that I carefully evaluate my choices so that I don’t expend energy in unhelpful, depleting ways.
IN THE COMMENTS, PLEASE SHARE:
  • Have you ever felt this way?
  • How do you find ways to recharge during these busy, tired days of always-on mothering?

PLEASE share in the comments.  I want to hear from you!

6 Ways I Handle Being an EXHAUSTED MOM // jessconnell.com

caution tape image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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34 Responses

  1. JO says:

    Jessica, I read this when you first posted it and re-reading it I just sighed in relief that I’m not the only one. Having only half as many as you + one on the way, I feel exhausted most of the time. Actually emotionally even more so than physically from just being home so much. Yes, we are living an ideal most don’t idealize anymore nor would they want to live, but we are blessed aren’t we. That is what I have to remind myself if I feel beat down. This life is the life I want. I want to be with my kids. I want to home school my kids. I want to be a part of watching them learn, grow and figure it out. And although many days I do daydream of days that could be free to organize my pantry or decorate the kitchen nook while my kiddos joined most of the world’s children at school away from home… I would not give it up! I love your ways of handling it. Living overseas, no one notices if I act strange because I am already strange to them. They expect me to be tired because I take care of my own kids in a culture that usually has at least 3 and sometimes 5 to 7 adults crooning over one child. The isolation is hard and it does help knowing that there are more of us in the world. I so enjoyed the time we had with you when we were home last STAS, you may not even remember. You were pregnant and being pregnant I can attest to not being very aware some days. Anyway, your hospitality and willingness to be transparent blessed us good. Sending prayers your way today, knowing you are fighting the good fight. I want to fight it as well as you.

    • Jess Connell says:

      OF COURSE I REMEMBER! (Although, it did take me a minute to figure out WHO this is, as you only left your initials for me as a clue.) :)

      Thank you, friend, for your prayers… though not pregnant, I am in a difficult & trying season too. We love you guys & hope to host you every time you come home. Heck we’d love to come see you guys there, but that seems unlikely. :) Take care. We love you guys. Keep pressing on.

  2. Jen says:

    I appreciate your words so much!

    I’m an introvert and this season of life is only magnifying that for me! Moving 8 times in the last 8 years has also given another dimension to things. Homeschooling has as well…I really have no connections with local moms in my neighborhood, town, etc. I would suspect that I would have more connections if we were in the public schools. In time it hope to make connections but boy! That requires energy I don’t have!

    I am so tired right now, especially with this fifth child in the womb, and I have found it slow going on the relationship building at our current church. I’m having to “lean in” and find patience and contentment in the midst of my own limitations and circumstances. I just so appreciate your words and knowing I’m not alone in this.

    • Jess Connell says:

      Oh Jen! The MOVES! I am right there with you. We are packing up for our 11th house-move in 13 years of marriage (+ 5 temporary dwellings, each for 2+ months). The exhaustion, and slow relational growth… I understand.

      You are not alone.

  3. Cathy says:

    Yes, yes, yes! I remember reading this before at some point and relating even then. As an introvert, being at home with five children daily (four of whom are extroverts) can be overwhelming and mentally exhausting. And when the opportunity arises to do something that might once have sounded fun, it now sounds too tiring. One thing we have started doing that helps somewhat is him staying home with the kiddos on Sunday afternoons while I go to a nearby coffee shop for a couple of hours of quiet, good coffee, my planner and journal, and sometimes a good book. My soul goes “ahhhh”. :)

  4. Jenny says:

    Hi, this resonated with me! Recently I was thinking about how socially awkward I have become, and how nervous I was before a particular situation where I would be in a large group of people that I had never met before. After chatting with my husband about it, I realised that I rarely circulate with new/different circles of people, and how I need to do a bit more of it now that my kids are getting that little bit older and it is actually possible. It was healthy, and refreshing to meet new people, and helped me out of my somewhat narrow little world. I have five boys 10yrs, 8yrs, 5yrs and twin 4yrs, and existed very much in the ‘daze’ of pregnancy and breast-feeding for about 9 of those years – and it is still so very busy! We don’t home-school (for various reasons), but I am regularly quite overwhelmed with how many different appointments, tasks and things that need to be prioritised in my head!

    It is very true that keeping in the word refreshes, calms and refocuses in the crazy world that is motherhood! Thanks for your post, and the reminder to be less critical of interactions, and to get back in the word regularly – especially during our long summer holidays down here in Australia when the house is an extra kind of chaos!

  5. Tara says:

    I thank you for this post. I just asked my husband yesterday, “How is it possible for me to have gone from being such an extrovert to such an introvert over the course of our marriage?” With eight kids in the house, the need for balance makes sense to me. I find it even more difficult now that I have teens, as well as toddlers. There is no longer that predictable nightly down time there used to be. I find my teens “come alive” and want my attention just about the time the rest of the kids fall asleep. I know it’s important to engage with them and I do, but sometimes I tell them I’m off duty and retreat. 😉

  6. Lauren says:

    Yes, ma’am! I’ll probably be sharing this on my Facebook page as a reminder to my friends, family, and church family why I am the way I am! I too, am a former extrovert. I actually thought that it was ministry that had changed me, but having five children in less than eight years and homeschooling them, I’m sure is a major factor! And I’m such a homebody now too! It’s not just that I don’t converse as easily any longer, I just love the ease of being at home, keeping my kids on a routine, and actually being there to cook meals and stay on top of the housework. God, however, requires me to break out of my comfort zone to minister to the needs of others. You are not alone! I’ve been reading you for years, and I’ll continue doing so on your new site – love it!

    • Jess Connell says:

      Lauren:

      “I actually thought that it was ministry that had changed me, but having five children in less than eight years and homeschooling them, I’m sure is a major factor! And I’m such a homebody now too! It’s not just that I don’t converse as easily any longer, I just love the ease of being at home”

      Yes! It’s hard (impossible?) to separate out parts of our lives and sort out, “OK, that part affected me this way, and this part did this in my heart…” when it was all happening at the same time.

      Thanks for adding your thoughts.

  7. Jen says:

    Goodness, you took the words right out of my head! You are not alone and neither am I!!

  8. San-Marie says:

    I stil feel like this and do not know how to fix it. Together with this feeling I recently walked out of a very destructive relationship, thus going through a divorce too. Like you I sometimes just want to tell people to stay away from me (I told my son the other day after I broke a plate bowl and my perfume bottle by accident that he maybe should not be bumping into me, I don’t want to hurt him). I permanently feel absentminded and pre occupied, I will remember something important just to forget it in the next 5 min. No point in trying to make lists, because by the time I have something to make the list I can’t remember. I get so frustrated with myself and even my children. Sometimes I feel I should just crawl back to bed and stay there. Thank you very much for your article, sometimes I wonder how the supermom type does it.

  9. Kate says:

    Jess, I’ve just stumbled across this post and I wanted to thank you. I am a stay-at-home mum to two little boys and I have never, ever felt so not “myself”. I desperately want to enjoy this time with my beautiful boys but I am struggling. I value your reminder that this time is a season. I think that may be my mantra as I try to appreciate the good in this stage without grieving too much for what I’m missing (cohesive thought processes, sleep, time to sew and peace and quiet).
    Thank you,
    Kate

    • Jess Connell says:

      Kate, I also feel like those early years are a learning about MORE of who we are, but it’s in a new role, with new stresses, so it doesn’t *FEEL* like us. We are tempted to think that “who we are” is most clearly expressed when we are foot-loose and fancy-free. I think we look back to life as a late teenager or young adult when we were full of big-eyed dreams, with not a care in the world. But the truth about who we are shines the clearest when we hit times of trial and stress. Who are we relying on? Are we being refined and coming to look more like Christ? Are we growing to care for others more than ourselves? Are we (increasingly, over time) putting into practice the things we believe? Those things are actually the core of who we are.

  10. Katie Gray says:

    Thank you for saying everything I never want to admit! Seems like I try to do everything on my own even when I am exhausted. Thank goodness for good husbands who try to recognize this. I only have a 12 month old currently, so you truly ARE a super mom!

  11. Angelique McDowall says:

    Actually, ma’am, I don’t even have time right now to write to you, but it is like we are sisters! Well, I guess we are sisters…sisters in Christ. I also have 6 kids and home school them all…well, my oldest (17) just went off to college, but I feel your exhaustion. I haven’t moved as much as you (only once), but we have had to deal with health issues…so many of those. Anyway, I am so glad to hear that it isn’t just me…I have told my husband that I feel like I am a stranger in my own body and I am so exhausted that I feel like there are days I just can’t do anymore. I am spent…but I too have renewed myself to getting into the Word no matter what and praying for strength. I feel like I am letting my friends down, but I just don’t have time for them like I want. Problem is…I am a people pleaser, so this adds a level of guilt that is hard to deal with. I am also a perfectionist with very high expectations of myself, so this adds 6 levels of guilt. So, I am so weighed down. My father also lives with us, and he has higher expectations of me than I do….add another 10 layers of guilt when the house isn’t to his liking. Altogether, it is so hard to fight through the levels just to breathe! I am grateful for my husband who sends straws down through the levels so that I can catch a breath. He is my rock, and Jesus is my Rock. I just wish it was a little easier…and wish I could sleep. I am grateful I haven’t left a kid behind in Wal-Mart yet…think I wouldn’t live through that one. Ha ha ha. Anyway, thanks for your post…it was refreshing to know that there are others who are going through this too and that I am not losing myself…that this is normal and we all have the same thought…this too shall pass….I just have to hang on and not lose a kid in the process. :)

  12. Sherri says:

    This is a wonderful explanation of how it feels to be a busy mom! My situation is much different though. I recently got out if an abusive relationship. I am a single mom of five. I work two jobs (Head Start teacher during the week and Hertz when the kids are with their dad), plus I am at the tail end of a BS degree in Child Development online). Being really WITH my kids when they are with me, coordinating appts, helping with homework, staying in touch with teachers, etc. don’t leave a lot of breathing space. Exhausted doesn’t even begin to explain how I feel. I admire so much that you all homeschool and wish that I could. I just keep my faith in God that He guides me to keep my children on His path. Thanks for the reminder that we are not alone on our struggles to be the best moms that we can be! God bless!

  13. Rachel says:

    Thank you for writing this! I’m just coming out of exhaustion.

  14. Madelyn says:

    Have I ever felt this way? Oh my goodness yes. I am also a mom of six. I am older, and they are older…but I still experience this. I finally get out to the Bible study with dear friends I’ve been looking forward to, for example…and I can’t focus, I can’t even follow the conversation that well. And I lose my ability to be articulate. I am embarrassed.
    And many is the time I wake in the morning with a sense of embarrassment because I doubt my conversation the night before (if I was out with other people than my family). What did I say–it feels wrong now!
    I am living in a constant state of near-exhaustion in every way–physically, mentally, even emotionally. But I just keep pushing along. I know it’s not right, but I haven’t yet STOPPED and dealt with it as He would have me do. The tyranny of the urgent.

  15. Kayla Hickman says:

    I am so glad you wrote this!! I dont feel so alone! I was just thinking to myself how I need to be more balanced as a mother and then I came across this! Lol I feel exactly the same as you! I’ve been staying in the scripture and I am humbled everyday. I am no longer smart and hardly anything I say makes sense. So GLAD I’m not alone here!! I will be praying for all of us! Lol

  16. Jen says:

    Thank you for this! I am living in this season myself. Many days, I have to force myself to get out of the house amongst other adults, so as to not lose my sanity. Once out, I find myself stumbling over the “right” words, self doubting, and over analyzing. I often feel disconnected with myself and am constantly battling to keep my eyes on God and the bigger purpose. Thanks again for reminding me that we don’t walk throughout his journey alone. Parenting is sanctifying!

  17. somebody says:

    I don’t want to offend anyone but why do people keep having more kids if they are already exhausted with 1 or 2 they do have?

    • Lauren says:

      Because the fruit of the womb is a reward! They don’t stay little forever. There is a great work of sanctification that comes through all of that exhaustion!

    • Sha says:

      The same thoughts went through my head. Like, why continue to have children when you know how exhausting it is?

      I can relate. I have 4 children, and I’m so thankful for their precious lives. But, I have quite a few moments of being jealous of people who decided to be done after one or two children. I think of how much easier my life would be, how I would be more patient, and have more quality time to spend with my babies. I really think I’m suited to just have one, maybe 2.

      I’ve always loved babies and children. I always looked forward to having a large family. I also was influenced by Christian sites that said you should be open to however many children God wants to bless you with. That limiting your family size means you’re selfish and unGodly.

      I realize now that pushing yourself to the limits with taking care of multiple children doesn’t make you more Godly. In some ways it has just made me an extremely tired and crabby mom. I do need to lean in God’s word more, I know.

      But, overall, Christian women need to know that it’s ok to limit their family size if they so desire.

      I feel that children are indeed a blessing, but I honestly feel like I would have a nervous breakdown if I were to have another one any time soon.

      • Jess Connell says:

        Hi there, Sha-
        Interestingly, the comment you piggy-backed off of is one that I took a whole blog post to answer. I thought you might like to see my response to the comment, and that it might provide some fuel for thought for you. Here’s that post: http://jessconnell.com/why-have-more-kids/

        I also wanted to encourage you to stop comparing yourself to others… it sounds like you have taken on a lot of things maybe because you feel you “should” and must.” Instead, I’d love to encourage you with the idea that God has put you in exactly the right place, and that you’re not best suited to be a mom of 1 or 2. You’re best suited to be a mom of 4 because the God of all the universe, who created everything and does all things well, has ordained it to be so.

        Be encouraged. Hang in there. Yes, keep leaning in to God’s word, but also, give yourself some grace and walk in the grace that is already yours in Christ.

        Blessings,
        Jess

  18. ashley says:

    Wow. I can relate to this! I have six kids and am exhausted EVERY single day. I am very athletic and used to be incredibly energetic, but going on 5 hrs of sleep per night, homeschooling, plus keeping up with my oldest child’s new school and everyone’s sports…and the house…and meals….and yes those morning workouts…OH MY. I find it hard to keep my eyes open many mornings lately. The morning time is my “get away” time, but then I pay with the exhaustion. I never wish to talk to people because I just want to be left alone much of the time. I do feel awkward and off-kilter in conversations because my world is now so demanding and “serious” compared to many moms’ circumstances. I write everything down and am organized, but sometimes that means being up at 11:45 writing notes and getting things “gathered together” for the next day. If I don’t do it then, it won’t get done or will be done wrong. UGH. Thanks for your honesty. My husand doesn’t understand why I feel anxious about life, even though he is a great helper.

  19. Lori says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I have been wondering if I’m getting early onset of Alzheimers sometimes. I also really resonated with the “needing to apologize a lot more.” Not sure if I’m more aware, or just more sloppy.

    Thank you for sharing (from RGT).
    Dynx

  20. Pam says:

    I just came across this post while searching “fatigue large family”. The words were like I wrote them myself. My biggest issue is that I have a really short fuse. I blow up over little things and feel like I am on simmer a lot of the rest of the time. I have no patience where I used to have a lot (I think, I can’t really remember that far back). :). This makes me sad. I’m not sure how to regain it. If I get a break, it helps but only for a really short time (sometimes a matter of minutes). I am going to get some counseling, but I wondered if you might have some suggestions. I didn’t come from a big family and I don’t have great skills for managing it. My superhero name is “disorganized mom of six”!

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  3. November 23, 2015

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