Practicing self-compassion is a radical act for burned out working moms by Dr. Kelly Carter
“The agony we put ourselves through! Add to that the tendencies we have to be people-pleasers and perfectionists that make us such great employees and you get the perfect equation for a burned-out, working mom.” | Dr. Kelly Carter
We were sitting around the dinner table excitedly talking about the upcoming holiday. My four-year-old daughter leaned forward onto her elbows and eagerly asked “will I get to see Santa?”
“No, Santa comes late at night, when everyone is sleeping,” my husband explained between bites of spaghetti.
“Just like mommy!” Exclaimed my six-year-old without missing a beat.
My heart sank. Just like mommy, I thought. Coming home late at night when everyone was sleeping. As an Emergency Physician, my schedule is completely random – mornings, evenings, nights, weekends, holidays – sometimes all that in one week! I missed my fair share of ballet performances, soccer games, swim meets, and bedtime stories.
At that moment, I couldn’t imagine feeling worse about myself as a mom. Until a tooth fairy incident 6 years later, but that’s another story. Working mom guilt is real, and I was feeling it. Maybe you have, too. Do you ever think:
I’m not spending enough time with my family, I should be home more. I’m missing milestones in their lives, moments I’ll never get back. I’m not able to volunteer at school, coach the sports teams, or go on field trips like the other moms.
The agony we put ourselves through! Add to that the tendencies we have to be people-pleasers and perfectionists that make us such great employees and you get the perfect equation for a burned-out, working mom. We take on extra projects, work late, and answer phone calls and texts about work after hours. We help out our friends and our parents and still find time to potty train our children and teach them the joys of reading. Have we even talked about the housework? Yup, we’re doing that, too. Yet we’re still doubting ourselves. And also completely ignoring our own needs.
It’s time to change all that, we don’t have to be burned-out working moms.
According to the Parents at the Best Workplacessurvey there are 9.8 million women suffering from burnout and working moms were 28% more likely to experience exhaustion than fathers.
According to a Merideth + Harris Poll 63% of women feel like they’ve worked an entire day handling all of their family’s needs before they even get to the office in the morning. And nearly half of them (48%) said their burnout was so extreme it was keeping them up at night.
We can start with self-compassion.
Self-compassion is being as kind to ourselves for our own mistakes, flaws, and failures as we would be to a dear friend. According to Kristin Neff, Ph.D. one of the leading experts on self-compassion, there are three elements of self-compassion.
1. Self-kindness – being kind and gentle with ourselves rather than getting frustrated with and criticizing ourselves.
2. Common humanity – recognising that we are not alone in having imperfection and experiencing suffering, that mistakes and failures are part of being human.
3. Mindfulness – noticing our thoughts and emotions and being able to view our own situation with a larger perspective.
Let’s revisit our thoughts:
I’m not spending enough time with my family, I should be home more.
I’m doing the best that I can, and I am home for meaningful time with my family.
A lot of other parents are working to support their families too, and I’m sure it’s hard on them. Luckily, my kids know that I love them.
I’m missing milestones in their lives, moments I’ll never get back.
Being a mom is all-encompassing, there are so many moments that I’m a part of. Even if it wasn’t the first time he fed himself cheerios, it was the second, third, fourth, fifth..eighteenth…time that I was there for.
I’ve heard other moms say these kinds of things during lunch break at work. We all love our kids so much! When I feel bad about these things, I may be missing out on what’s going on right in front of me. I’ll focus more on being present and I won’t feel so guilty anymore.
I’m not able to volunteer at school, coach the sports teams, or go on field trips like the other moms.
I’m not like all the other moms. I’m really good at being me! We can’t all be volunteers or coaches, or president of the PTO.
We all have our own talents and ways to support our community and our children. Think of all the times I brought snacks to soccer when the other parents needed help. Besides, my child begged me not to be the coach, that gives me more time to socialize with the other parents on the sidelines and set up playdates for the kids.
As a community of moms, whether we’re working or not, let’s be kinder to ourselves. I will continue working my day/night/weekend holiday job so I can provide the family with ballet shoes, soccer fees, swimsuits, and comfortable beds to sleep in.
Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of my favorite writers. I’ll leave you with this quote:
“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Dr. Kelly Carter is an Emergency Physician and Certified Life Coach with a passion for helping working moms overcome burnout. She co-directs a physician wellness program, volunteers as a physician peer coach, and has an online coaching program focusing on self-care, time management, relationship building, and job satisfaction. She loves to travel, hike, camp, try new plant-based recipes, and above all, to be with her family.