Gin & Zin

Blessed, burned out, but on the up! Interview with Amanda

Meet Amanda~

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I am creative and emotional stay-at-home mom of three incredibly energetic, spirited, smart, and happy kids.  I love cooking, knitting, reading, and seeking inspiration in everything I see.  I often feel that coffee sustains me, and I could live off of Thai food if the opportunity arose 😉 

As a family, we love spending time at home, doing lots of imagining on our 5 acres.  We also love being in nature, and so camping is the activity we do most as a family.  I have been married to my wonderful husband for almost 12 years, and we continue to grow as a couple as life evolves around us.  I was a Montessori school teacher before I decided to stay at home with my babies. While I liked teaching, I am currently playing with the idea of going back to school to pursue a Masters in counseling or becoming a health coach.      

My biggest strength now as a mom is simplicity.  It is a trait that I don’t think I ever appreciated or practiced before kids, but with three young children in our house, it feels like a necessity.  It has taken time to wake up to the need for simplicity in our lives, as we haven’t always made choices that reflect what we want in our lives.  But after realizing how important it is to our family, I really work at keeping things simple.  We don’t have a crazy hectic schedule yet; we don’t have an abundance of toys.  We edit things and obligations as needed to keep our sanity.  I appreciate and can see my children flourish with less that we are often told we “need”.  I know in a few years, there will be more obligations, but we are holding on to simplicity as long as possible, because it just feels so good! 

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playing on the property at dusk

I spend my time away from my children with things that help fill my bucket.  I love date nights with my husband, yoga, painting, reading fiction or soul-stirring non-fiction (Brene Brown, Eckhart Tolle, Elizabeth Gilbert), a nice bath, crafting (not as much as I used to), and getting together with friends when possible.  I also get one night a week to go to my Social Psychology class.  Silence is also important, as my days are very noise-filled.  Oh, and an occasional Moscow Mule 😉    

The Interview~ Burned Out…. Blessed… But on the Up!

As I mentioned, I am married and have three children.  My daughter Olivia is a tenacious, strong-willed, but good-hearted 7 year-old.  My son Max is a sensitive, endearing, yet extremely determined 3 year-old.  My youngest, Nora, is a tentative and sweet little 1 ½ year old, who is starting to really get a mind of her own (her new favorite word is no).  My husband Matt works at the VA hospital and for the National Guard, all while being an amazing dad and husband. 

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hiking family of five

What are some factors that have led to burnout?

Honestly, it started with motherhood!  My sweet Olivia was born, and she was the most amazing thing to happen to me.  Becoming a mom was so incredibly amazing, but it was nothing like I had expected.  She was a healthy baby, but very high-needs.  She was fussy and a horrible sleeper, which was unexpected.  Everyone shares the beauty of motherhood, but people are more selective about sharing the not-so-great parts, so I didn’t realize how challenging it could be.  Then, when she was 4 months old, my husband was deployed to Afghanistan for a full year.  It was hard to parent a high needs baby without a spouse or a strong support network.  It was a year of car naps for Olivia, little sleep for me, and a fair amount of crying to my husband (I am eternally grateful for the technology age we live in, because both my daughter and I got to “see” my husband through Skype).  He returned, we normalized, and decided to try for a second baby. 

We successfully got pregnant, only to miscarry at the end of the first trimester.  That was devastating for us, tough both on body and soul.  We tried again, only to miscarry two more times after that.  As someone who always wanted a larger family, it was hard accepting the idea that we may only have one child.  When we got pregnant a 4th time, we were in the middle of buying a fixer-upper house.  We had a successful pregnancy, which I am eternally grateful for.  We also successfully purchased our fixer-upper, which I am grateful for, but also sometimes feel like we bit off more than we can chew. 

I had my son in the spring, and he was such a sweet blessing after our miscarriages.  As happy as we were, it was challenging with a baby, head-strong preschooler, and a house that demanded lots of work from an already overworked husband.  During all this time, my husband, who is an amazing dad, worked a full time job, and was also in the National Guard, was gone flying once a week until midnight, one weekend every month, and two weeks every summer, on top of his full time job.  I was mom 24-7, with just the help of my husband.   

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skunk train on Mother’s Day

Shortly after my son turned one, I was pregnant again.  It was planned, but we did not expect it to happen immediately, considering my issues before.  Midway through my pregnancy, my son started have some allergic reactions, so started the health issues.  I had my second daughter, and life got even more beautiful and exhausting.  When my daughter was around 6 months old, we discovered she, too, had some food allergies, and learned to the extent of my son’s health issues.  To support them, it meant a complete overhaul of our diets.  It is for the better, but it meant no pb&j, pizza, or easy, quick foods on nights you are too tired to cook.  The anxiety of feeling solely responsible to keep my children healthy, combined with chronic sleep deprivation, made for a bad combination. 

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camping & beach adventures

I desperately needed a break, but that didn’t feel possible.  I remember reading a quote very recently that said “It is not the load that will break you, it is how you carry the load”. Nothing in my story is earth-shatteringly difficult, but all of it over years, combined with little support and sole responsibility, I just burned out.  7 years of sleep deprivation.  7 years of almost 24-7 with very young, demanding children.  My burning out was gradual, and I was not self-aware enough to realize it was happening until I was buried too deep.  For me, burnout looked like a lack of joy in motherhood, chronic exhaustion I couldn’t overcome, and a high level of anxiety that I couldn’t get a handle on.  No daycare, no grandparents, or siblings coming to help out or just provide company.  Digging myself out has been a slow, conscious process, and one I will not take for granted.  I never realized the toll all of this took on me. 

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Mama Amanda and Nora

How do you take care of yourself now?

After hitting the point of burnout and actually realizing that this feeling isn’t normal, I started looking harder at how I can better take care of myself.  My husband was also burned out (it is hard to work two jobs, and come home and be dad), so we started looking at where we could make changes.  We had some really hard talks, but both realized that he needed to take a lesser role in the national guard job, or quit it completely if we were to really take care of ourselves.  So, he took a new position that didn’t require as much time for him, which in turn meant he was home more and less exhausted, which allowed us both to make more time for self-care.  I also started taking little moments for me when I had them. 

Before, self-care looked like a night away, which didn’t happen often.  But when I started taking 10 minutes when my husband got home to just lay on my bed and decompress, it helped.  Or taking a bath instead of vegging in front of the television at night.  Getting to yoga more regularly, getting occasional jogs in, and more evening with friends.  Also, a mindset shift needed to happen, too.  When things were too tough, I found myself in a bit of despair.  The exhaustion can be overwhelming, but reminding myself that there will be a day when I won’t have screaming babies, or toddlers throwing epic tantrums, or that I will sleep through the night, even if it feels like it is a lifetime away, it will happen.  That perspective has helped.  Meditation has helped with that, so has reading books that put life in perspective.  I have also started taking a college class, just to have a little something outside of motherhood, something to get me out of the house.  I must say, all this has become much easier now that my son is in preschool.  There is a lot more time to rest and care for myself, when there is only one little at home to care for during the day.  So, life evolves and changes, and the biggest things I have taken away from it is to pay attention to our needs, take better care of myself, and be mindful.  Someday, I would love to find a way to help other moms overcome feeling burned out and overwhelmed.

What advice would you give yourself 7 years ago?

My goodness, what advice would I give to myself 7 years ago?  Lots!  Get help early and often.  With my oldest, because she was really fussy, and I didn’t like leaving her with people because I hated the thought of her crying with someone else.  So I hardly ever left her.  As she got older, and my other children arrived, it just became the norm.  Stay-at-home moms don’t just get a babysitter to rest, right?  That was my thought.  But in hindsight, my sanity was a steep price to pay, and a happy mama is a better mama.  More help would equal more time to care for me.  Self-care, self-care, self-care!!  It is now my mantra.  If I don’t take care of myself, I cannot be good for my kids.  I needed to get out, do things, and see people (because no one tells you that being a stay-at-home mom can be incredibly lonely sometimes).  I needed to do things for me occasionally, so I could be more present for them.      

I think the biggest thing I would have done is created a bigger support system for me and my children.  The deeper into motherhood I get, the more I agree with the age-old adage of “It takes a village”.  Due to distance and circumstance, our extended family’s role in our life is wonderful, but limited.  It was not enough to off-set the chronic exhaustion and burnout that happened to me.  Knowing that now, I would have worked harder to find people that I could lean on in hard times. 

Also, I would tell myself to ditch any expectations of what my child “should be”.  I spent so much time fighting some of my children’s more difficult traits (how they didn’t sleep well and their strong-willed personalities) that it left me feeling exhausted and powerless.  I would tell myself earlier on to accept the child they are.  They are their own person, and instead of battling them, embrace them.  They don’t need fixing, they need caring and guiding.     

I see these things that I should have done, and think how much easier life would have been if I could go back in time, but really, I am grateful for my experiences that pushed me to evaluate our lives, make me go deeper in my personal development, and gave me a greater perspective to see how beautiful it is now that I am on the other side of the burn-out.  There will always be challenges and times my children drive me completely crazy, but it was going through the tough stuff that I have learned to manage the insanity and find the beauty in it, and for that, I am eternally grateful.  

Amanda! Your navigation through motherhood is described so beautifully and honestly. You’ve learned so much and your advice can resonate with the newest mom or seasoned one! What a good reminder you’ve given us.

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