Working mothers are struggling with burnout as back-to-school approaches. Here are 4 strategies to cope.

Working mother holding daughter at desk with laptop while using cell phone.

The pandemic created a childcare crisis, and mothers bore the brunt of the burden.

Some left their jobs, while many others scaled back their careers. Their mental health declined. Roughly 9.8 million working mothers in America suffered from workplace burnout, a survey from the women’s healthcare company Maven found. Mothers were 28% more likely to experience burnout than fathers, and cases were higher among Black, Asian, and Hispanic women, the survey found.

Mental load, which refers to the invisible chores and emotional labor involved in running a household, is one of the chief culprits, experts say. Even in normal times, mothers tend to carry a greater mental load, said Caitlyn Collins, a sociology professor at Washington University in St. Louis. The pandemic added to its weight.

"The extra tasks needed to keep families afloat during COVID have tended to fall on women — which puts them at a real disadvantage," she said. "It’s stressful, it affects their well-being, and it impinges on their ability to engage in the workplace on par with men."

As the Delta variant surges and the pandemic’s second new school season gets underway, working mothers are again bracing for what’s in store. There are no easy solutions, but experts say there are concrete steps you can take to ease your burden — or at least the way you think about it — both at home and on the job.

Talk to your partner about the division of labor at home

Just because societal expectations about household work exist doesn’t mean they should be the norm in your family, said Lori Mihalich-Levin, the author of "Back to Work After Baby."

"Have a conversation with your partner about the distribution of labor in your family," she said.

She and her husband hold weekly planning meetings where they look at their professional obligations, their children’s schedules, and household demands and then divide the workload equitably.

"Every single task has three parts: conception, planning, and execution," she said, referencing the work of the author Eve Rodsky. In household-management terms, this means assessing family needs, identifying solutions to meet those needs, and implementing a strategy.

Streamline your workday

Daisy Dowling, the author of "Workparent," recommended finding ways to conserve your brainpower at work and at home. "There’s no friction-free universe, but there are ways to make your day more efficient," she said.

Start by reducing the number of decisions you need to make. Wake up and go to bed at the same time, routinize your weekly meal plans and grocery shops, and wear a "uniform," à la Barack Obama.

Dowling also suggested removing any and all time-sucks from your calendar. Bow out of extraneous meetings. Decline unnecessary commitments. Turn off the internet when you’re doing work that requires intense focus. Be ruthless about unsubscribing from email chains and newsletters that don’t interest you.

"You might say, ‘It’s just email, what’s the big deal?’ But think of yourself as a computer: Every email is a drain on your operating speed," she said.

Adopt a long-term mindset about your career

A parenting proverb is that the days are long but the years are short. It applies equally well to careers, said Rachel Montañez, an executive coach in Orlando, Florida. "One of the things I hear a lot from working mothers is that they feel like they’re coasting — they’re staying in the same role because it’s familiar, comfortable, and doesn’t require a lot of energy," she said.

It’s understandable why some women feel this way while raising a family, but some say they feel they aren’t meeting their potential. As a result, they feel a special type of "mom guilt" about not being a good enough employee while also not spending more time with their children.

Montañez recommended reframing your approach. "You may not always be gunning for that next promotion but can be using your talents to develop new skills, cultivate relationships, and mentor others," she said.

Don’t cope by coasting; instead, embrace the here and now of your job. "Strive to be in a place where you feel fulfilled and that you’re flourishing," she added.

Put yourself and your kids first, and ask for flexibility from your boss

Finally, try not to be so hard on yourself when it comes to your job performance. It’s been a long pandemic, and the end is nowhere in sight.

"Work and children aren’t meant to be equally balanced balls in the air. If you’re not putting your emotions and children first right now, everything else is on shaky ground," said Laurie Hollman, a psychoanalyst and the author of "The Busy Parent’s Guide to Managing Anxiety in Children and Teens: The Parental Intelligence Way."

Kids who don’t feel acknowledged could show behavioral changes. "Expect more sibling arguments, sarcasm, brooding, crying, and yelling," she said.

So don’t try to juggle.

Find out whether your company will allow you to work flexible hours. Request a set schedule if you have to go to work in person. Ask your manager for grace and flexibility as you navigate this uncertain time. You can be more forthcoming and direct than you might think.

"It may not ease your mental load entirely, but reminding yourself — and your employer — of your priorities helps you focus on what matters most at work and at home," Hollman said.

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Rebecca Knight August 23, 2021 at 05:48PM

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