Working Moms Are Not OKAY And Our Mental Health Is Suffering

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My coffee spilled in my car this morning. The entire Tervis mug. I pulled over on the side of the road, frantically trying to pick it up, but it was too late. Not only did I lose what was supposed to pass as my breakfast, but my car floor was sopping wet. I started sobbing.

Before you start thinking this is a “pity me” post, it’s not. It’s a mental health post. It’s a white flag post for working moms. And it’s a “What-in-the-hell-are-we-doing-to-ourselves?” post.

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I’m not normally the kind of person who loses her shit at spilling a cup of coffee. In fact, I think that’s the first time I’ve ever reacted to something so small with such drama. But it was only a matter of time before something pushed me over the edge.

I know working moms all have different schedules, but I bet they’re similar to mine in many ways.

I wake up at 5 a.m. every morning and get ready for work. Then I wake up the kids and make sure they get moving while my husband still sleeps. I pile my lunch bag, purse, and work bag on my shoulders and head out the door, and I’m in my classroom by 7:15 a.m.

What follows is eight hours of what I can only describe as the most exhausting job on the planet. People might laugh at that, but unless you’ve been a teacher yourself, you can’t understand.

The best way I’ve found to explain it is that it’s like being an actor putting on a performance for eight hours straight.

I pee on a bell schedule, but usually just hold it because I’m not supposed to leave the kids alone. Ever.

My room is filled with preteens who just want to stare at their laptop screens and watch YouTube, but I have to somehow make them excited about reading.

I can never let down my guard, or else they’ll go rogue. If I’m having a bad day, who cares? I have to pretend like I’m excited about reading the chapter I’ve read literally 200 times aloud.

My father AND my stepmom just died, and I have to keep smiling, helping kids with their work, keeping them from slapping hand sanitizer on each other’s faces.

I took a few days of bereavement leave – days, not weeks, because I guess people aren’t supposed to grieve – and on my first day back a student said, “I’m sorry your dad died,” and two minutes later he stuck his hands down the front of his pants and then rubbed them on another student because he thought it was funny. I shit you not.

And as working moms know, when my work day ends, a new busy part of the day begins. 

I plaster my smile to my cheeks because my daughter’s bus drops her off at my school. She comes to my classroom right as my students leave, so I immediately jump into “Mom” mode with, “Hiiiiiii Honey! How was your day?” And then listen to a half hour of stories about elementary school crushes and breakups and spelling tests while we walk out of the building and drive home.

I barely have the chance to hang up my work bag before the dog is barking at me for a treat, my teenage son is reminding me he needs a ride to work (and oh – can his friends sleep over Friday night?), and my daughter’s screaming from upstairs because she can’t find the right tights for dance class, which starts in 15 minutes.

I quickly empty the dishwasher, throw the clothes that are in the laundry on the table to fold later and start another load, find the missing tights in the pile and run them up to my daughter, realize I’ve been holding my pee for four hours and make a quick pit stop at the bathroom.

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Then it’s back to the car. Drop off my daughter at dance. Pick up my son back at home. Drive him to work in the other direction. Drive back home. Field calls from my husband wondering what I’m doing, when I’ll be home, and what we’re having for dinner. Realize I forgot to thaw the meat for the tacos.

Run in the house, defrost the meat in the microwave while talking to my mom on the phone about her medical problems and depression, and my brother about where we’re at in the process of settling my dad and stepmom’s estate. Brown the meat and cut up all of the things for tacos, throw the dirty dishes in the dishwasher. Fold the laundry on the table and set it on my son’s bed.

I leave everything for dinner out on the counter and go pick up my daughter. When we get home, I set the table. Anyone who is home comes out to eat dinner.

Dishes are cleared from the table, and I am left loading the dishwasher, putting things away, wiping the table and the counters. I fold more laundry.

Depending on the night, I practice spelling words with my daughter, or fill in forms (because there are always forms), or prep things for the next night’s dinner, or answer emails or texts as much as time allows before I go pick up my son from work.

I try to talk to my two teenage sons for a little bit each evening. But by this point I’m so, so tired, and they usually just want to play video games.

I go upstairs and help my daughter get into pjs and make sure she brushes her teeth, and usually spend a few minutes chatting with her because I’m trying so hard to be a good mom.

Meanwhile, my husband is downstairs playing video games, angry that I’m taking so long and it’s now too late to watch a TV show together.

I know he wants to have sex, because, you know, he’s a guy, and it’s been like three or four days so I’m feeling really guilty about that.

I try to explain that it’s not him – I’m just so, so tired – but he doesn’t understand.

We argue about this almost daily, but still haven’t figured out how to fix it.

Sometimes I just tell my daughter she has to go to bed on her own because I need to spend time with my husband, because the arguing just adds a level of frustration to my exhaustion that I will do anything to avoid.

So I tuck my daughter in and say goodnight. I wash my face and get into my pjs, and my husband passive-aggressively tells me “I know you don’t really want to. Forget it. We’ll just keep growing apart.”

I sadly crawl into bed by myself, take an Ambien (because even though I’m exhausted, my mind races with all of the things I didn’t get done and the guilt from people I’m letting down), along with my blood pressure, anti-anxiety, and anti-depression medications, set my alarm for 5 a.m., and curl up into a ball.

Then wait for morning to come in six hours so I can do it all again.

And I feel guilty, like everyone reading this post will think, because I should be grateful.

Grateful I have a home with a comfortable bed to wake up in. And grateful I have a steady job where I can be the breadwinner for my family.

Grateful I can afford dance lessons for my daughter. And grateful I have teenage sons who both go to school AND work part-time jobs. Grateful to have a husband that finds me attractive and wants to spend time with me. And especially grateful to be able to afford medication.

Am I right?

Or are there other working moms out there who feel the same way? Because this morning . . . as that coffee soaked into the floor of my car . . . for just a moment all this responsibility became too much.

It was only that moment, because I’m very, very good at moving on and doing what needs to be done. Sometimes I just wonder what the cost will be.

This post originally appeared on the author’s blog, The Blended Mess

6 COMMENTS

  1. I relate to this on another level. I am a single mom of two. My daughter is 4 and my son is 3. I am a PSW and work 6-2 full time. Today is my day off. This morning it was the smallest thing, like the coffee but for me it was dropping my car keys in the snow and not being able to find them for 5 minutes. There I am my kids running around, in the snow, not getting in the car and me crying over dropped keys.

    I think a lot of it is that I wake up, go to work take care of other people and my kids, but I don’t have time to take care of myself. When I get the chance or anytime I end of laying down and sleeping because of how depressed I am.
    Here’s my day off: Get my kiddos ready, get myself ready. Get them breakfast. Then I fight with them because they don’t want to wear hats and mitts. We live in Canada, it’s bloody cold. Finally they are dress appropriately and I get outside. They take off and run around, my son falls and lands face first in the snow, and oh he took his mitts off. So he’s screaming. My daughter is cold. She’s screaming. I’m scrambling for my keys and crying. Finally I find them. Get the car open. Get them in their car seats. Get them to school. On the way home I drop packages at post office, pick up last minute things for dinner and things we are out of, I get home to mayhem. I love with my parents because my ex husband cheated on me with my cousin and left and while some of you are thinking oh so you have help, no I take care of them too. I argue most days with my mom because she thinks I ask to much of my children… all I ask is that they dress themselves and clean up their toys that are exploded all over the house. That’s it. I don’t think that’s too much?! But “your their mother, you should be dressing them and picking up after them!” My father still works, he comes home in a mood, I’ve made spaghetti. I got get kids from school, we sit for dinner. They don’t sit. They get up and run around so here I am arguing with them to sit down and eat while contemplating Tying them to the chair with pantyhose. Just for dinner, but I don’t. My dad is complaining about how the sauce it too “tomatoey”. IT IS PASTA SAUCE! I clean up dinner, kids are playing their favourite game of , “how can we make the biggest mess”. It’s time for bed now, I fight with them to get their pjs on, they brush their teeth. I put them in bed, kids them goodnight and go to my room because I can’t even think about the mess right now. Both kids are out of bed again, I put them back. This repeats about 20x, not even kidding.
    Finally they are sleeping. I am in my bed, so tired. My head hits the pillow and I’m wide awake because my brain won’t shut up. All the thoughts, the lists and todos, the mini pity party, the emotions. The built up pain from all the things that I haven’t dealt with yet. The guilt I have in thinking, this weekend they are at their dads and looking forward to it. But missing them the moment they are not here.

    I don’t know how to cope. I don’t know how to come out of this depression that’s eating me alive. I want to be the best mom possible but I’m literally in survival mode. I’m not living. I don’t want to damage my kids by being this way. They deserve better than what they are getting. I think back to before my life shattered and how different I was. To what a great mom I was. And I just cry. So I reached out to my doctor. I did the hard thing. And get told that I can’t get an appointment with a therapist for 9-12 months…. WHAT THE AF!?!? I need help now. Not only am I failing in my eyes, but the system is failing me too.

    I finally fall sleep around 4 am. I work at 6. I got to work on an hour of terrible sleep and do it all again.

    Mamas, we are under appreciated, over worked and doing the best we can. We get judged by society for the choices we make. We are running on fumes. We need to stick together. We are not alone, other mamas are suffering too. And in that I think we can build strength knowing that we are not alone in the daily struggle. It’s okay to not be okay. Own it and keep pushing. One day it will get better.

  2. I feel this so much!
    I work full time, have 3 kids and a house full of fur babies. My husband doesn’t work and I lost my dad a month ago.
    We are being evicted and I can’t find a place. By the time a find a place it is already gone by the time I get a chance to apply.
    Oh the video games…. I wish they was never invented.
    You are not the only one who is struggling. I just wish I had some advise to tell you.

  3. Respectfully, I would beg to differ on “grateful
    For a husband who finds me attractive”. He needs to step up his game and take upon some homework if he wants quality time with you. Dinner or dishes or laundry or atleast your daughter’s nighttime routine while you get a few minutes to yourself. Honestly, just reading your daily routine gave me anxiety, no wonder you don’t have time for anything else. Any why in earth do you need wash or fold your TEENAGE sons laundry? I’d just dump it in their bed and let them deal With it. I hate to blame anyone, especially a working mom, but you’re 100% at fault for enabling this behavior and dependency n you for everything. And you don’t have 3 but 4 kids because let’s face it your husband is a man child who can’t do any chores around the house and you’re doing the same with your son’s by not giving any work to them.

  4. Your so right. I’m a working single mom with two dogs and my mom’s caregiver who recently moved in. I am a behaviorist for the school district and just busy busy busy. I try to make time for self care and am exhausted like you. I do try rest and say no to certainty things I don’t want to do. I have my son help a lot around the house because he lives there and will be good for him when he one day lives on his own. We got Thai even on hard days . Take time for you. Make the time.

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