Recently I read an article on BuzzFeed about how millennials are the burnout generation. It was a long article that talked at length about the changes to modern life that makes living life as a millennial so difficult and overwhelming.
Modernity has made life easier but also more complicated as it’s filled with mundane, small tasks that take up our time; tasks that we become so consumed with doing, thinking that they are part of the bigger picture, but in the end don’t get us much closer to our ultimate goal. We continue to add things to our checklist, and things do get done. But the checklist never ends because more tasks are constantly added.
Motherhood is a such a checklist. There is another part of the article that talked about a mother going through the motions with her kids at Christmas time. She described her day as an endless checklist of Christmas related activities for the sake of the kids but said she felt no joy doing them. This part resonated with me so much, except instead of a Christmas checklist, it’s life itself.
As a mother in 2019, I am part of a generation of mothers who talk about how hard it is but are immediately shut down by our elders with phrases of “You have it easy!” “Things are so much easier for you kids these days” etc. There is no sympathy in our plight and we are often told we are entitled. We live in a modern world where everything is available to us and everything has become so easy. So why is it still so difficult?
One reason is that darn checklist. The mental one that is running through my head daily as I go through the motions of taking care of my daughter. What’s more, it isn’t just one checklist. It’s MULTIPLE.
There’s the household checklist of chores and errands. There’s the running grocery checklist of things needed. There’s the physical checklist for my daughter, which revolves all around her eating and everything I do with her during the day (changing her diaper and clothes, bathing her, brushing her teeth, etc). But then there are these other checklists, for example the educational checklist (I need to teach her the ABCs, but she still doesn’t know her colours or numbers or ANYTHING else!), the spiritual checklist (am I raising a good Muslim? How do I make sure she knows and loves God?), the motor development checklist (does she know how to throw a ball? Or how about running or hopping?). And on and on and on. (Oh and did I mention the self-care checklist? Make sure I brushed my teeth/showered/changed/look like a human being, eat healthy, exercise, lose the baby weight, and be a functioning member of society).
Some of these items get checked off on a daily, or rather hourly, basis (diaper changed, check; teeth brushed, check, etc) but there are other checklists and questions that linger in my mind from one day to another. They are deeper issues, more about my daughter’s spiritual, emotional, and mental development and they aren’t as easily checked off. They are things we work on over days and weeks and months.
With this many things to think about on a daily basis, it’s no wonder more and more mothers feel burnt out. While modern life has made things easier for us, it’s also made things more difficult. Part of this had to do with the mental load that mothers bear. (Check out this definition of the mental load here.)
The sheer amount of new information and research that is being presented on a daily basis is crazy. There is information on how much your kid should weigh, how much milk they should consume, how often they should nurse, how many diapers they should soil, the milestones they should achieve by which age, the food that is unsafe and unsafe for them to eat, how many veggies they should consume, how much screen time they should get vs how much time they should spend outside, how much time they should spend in directed play vs independent play, and on and on and on. There is so much information and research out there on how to parent, and it can overwhelming to keep up with it all.
Each day we are presented with new and different facts, facts that make our head spin when we try to fathom how to change our parenting philosophy around them. For example, in the almost 2 years since I became a mom, I have heard nothing about screen time except that it is bad for kids’ developing brains and should be avoided completely until age 2. The other day I came across a new article that suddenly said that there is no evidence that screen time has a negative effect. Um, sorry what?
We are living in a time of such rapid change that it’s impossible to keep up. So at the end of the day, as a mom, you just have to decide where you lie on the fence and stick to your decisions.
But modern inventions have made things more difficult for mothers. Namely the phone. The phone is a great tool when you consider how you can tell your husband what an awful day you’re having or check in on all your friends who seem like AMAZING mothers who never yell at their kids. But then it’s the thing you use to pay bills, take pictures, respond to messages from your husband, mom, brother, friend, etc, do your banking and online shopping, and browse on. If you’re not careful, you can get caught up in the world of the phone and actually forget about the child that’s tugging on your pants.
And that’s because there is no time to unplug. Workers complain about this when they go from work to home, but mothers are in a similar boat. Their house is their work and they never get to leave. And when they do leave, their phone is their tether to the house.
Because your whole life is on your phone (grocery list, calendar of appointments and important dates, pictures of your kid(s), etc) there is never a time when you can actually unplug from it all. You are constantly attached to that device because it’s so hard to function without it as you try to organize and manage the kingdom that is your home.
And that’s why, when people ask me if I’m enjoying motherhood, I don’t know what to say. Am I enjoying running around like a chicken with my head cut off? Not particularly. Am I enjoying not sleeping every night? No, I’d love to sleep some more. Am I enjoying the feeling of always being behind and never catching up? No. Not at all.
My daughter was born 2 years ago and I have felt this constant need to go go go. Yes, I only have the 1 kid. And yes, she’s still so little. But there is still this need to stick to a schedule and a routine for her. So that as I’m doing flash cards in the morning with her, I’m thinking and trying to plan her activity for that day. And when I’m doing the activities with her, I’m thinking about what her lunch is and when to stop so she has enough time to eat. I’m constantly thinking of the next thing and it’s exhausting. There is no enjoyment in it. I am simply going through the motions of being a mother, but am I even a good one?
There are some that love to tell me that I have inflicted these schedules and deadlines on myself, which is partly true. But how else are you to cope when your mom friends send you lists of things that your kid needs to know before Kindergarten?
Yes my daughter is not even 2 yet, but Kindergarten isn’t that far away, especially when I realise she knows NONE OF THIS STUFF and I am made to feel like I am behind. So very, very behind since I started ‘late’. I didn’t even know I was supposed to start teaching my kid the alphabet when she was barely able to keep her milk from spitting up. If I knew, I would have started in the womb!
So right now I’m like the Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, looking at my clock, and going “I’m late! I’m late! So very, very late!”
I think back to my own childhood and remember a time of peace and contentment. My mom had a full-time job but I don’t think I ever felt rushed. But I wonder if my daughter feels the same kind of contentment when I’m constantly rushing her and telling her to hurry up so we can move onto the next thing in the schedule. It makes me sad to think that even though I’m at home with her, I’m not 100% with her.
Being a mom, whether you’re a millennial or not, is tough. Mom guilt is real and it’s so hard to try to reconcile the image of perfect mom in your head with the mom you actually are. All of these checklists and schedules and routines are our way of trying to give our kids the very best, and be the best, even though we are overwhelmed and exhausted. But do they need all of it? Or are we, imperfect and flawed, just as we are, enough?
I’m a millennial mom and I’m still trying to figure it all out.
Thanks for reading,