When she famously intoned, “I vant to be alone,” iconic film star Greta Garbo could have been speaking the hearts of many facing Mother’s Day today who would prefer to trade their families’ offerings of flowers, gifts, and breakfasts in bed for just a few hours of precious solitude.
Unreasonable? Even rude, perhaps? Maybe, unless you view the holiday from the perspective of thousands of women whose days are filled with all that accompanies the parenting and professional responsibilities they shoulder daily. Although, if asked, the majority would not for a second opt out of their current lifestyle, many readily cop to the mental and physical exhaustion that comes with rest stops that are few and far between.
Perhaps it sounds disingenuous, but in the current Mom landscape. peace and quiet could be the best gifts many mothers could want precisely because they’re so hard to come by when you’re the seeming center of the universe for spouses and the primary caregiver to kids. Yes folks, parental burnout is real, and for sanity’s sake, parents need to get comfortable requesting the gift of time off.
In fact, a recent study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that up to 12% of parents suffer from “high-level” burn out, meaning they experience feelings of exhaustion, inefficacy, and detachment more than once a week. What’s more, the study notes that parental burnout is correlated with depression, addiction, and deteriorating health.
The problem can be particularly acute for mothers, who are often the primary caregivers in their families. “Motherhood today, perhaps more than ever, requires being at the center of many lives, often at the expense of self care,” says Corinne Laird, a psychotherapist and professor at Columbia University.
Professor Laird continues, “When moms feel overstretched and overwhelmed, they face both emotional and physical repercussions. When we don’t make time for ourselves and are pressed into a state of constant “doing” rather than “being,” we can become unaware of what emotions we are carrying and where they are manifesting in the body.” Laird remarks that, “Sometimes our aches and pains and exhaustion are simply unexpressed emotion.”
But it can be hard for mothers to find time for themselves. On average, women in the U.S. spend about six hours more doing household work than their male counterparts, and an additional three hours more in child care each week. For working mothers especially, this leaves little wiggle room for “me time.” According to Brigid Schulte, author of the book “Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time,” American moms get only 36 minutes of so-called free time a day — barely enough to have a proper shower and enjoy a hot cup of coffee.
Is requesting so-called “alone time” being selfish? Not in the least. Make no mistake: it’s essential. And not just for parents’ mental and physical health. Recharging our batteries also enables us to provide quality care for others. “Being alone, taking time to care for ourselves not only improves our relationship to ourselves, but allows us to return to our lives as better caretakers,” says Professor Laird.
What it boils down to is when stress boils over, even an hour of quiet can revitalize so a busy mother can feel more relaxed and certainly more patient. Whether it’s going for a jog, a solo trip to the supermarket or taking an extra-long shower (perhaps with the bathroom door locked?), one learns to capitalize on the power of solitude.
Asking to be alone — to occasionally step outside of the role of mommy — is not selfish. It’s necessary self-care. So when the family asks, request a day of rest this Mother’s Day, starting right after the deluge of homemade cards, bunches of wildflowers and breakfast in bed.
All books are available at amazon.com. Click on title for more information.
Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time
by Brigid Schulte
“Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself
by Jennifer Beall
The Last Time I Was Me
by Cathy Lamb
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