The Truth About Motherhood Exhaustion

While being a mother is a valid path for many women, the reality of motherhood is undeniably exhausting—and it may not be right for every female.

| December 2014

  • Exhausted mom
    Although motherhood exhaustion is shared by most mothers at some point, it remains an unspoken phenomenon due to the overriding cultural belief in the joy and fulfillment motherhood offers women.
    Photo by Fotolia/Monkey Business
  • The Female Assumption
    Melanie Holmes sounds a call to action in "The Female Assumption" to free females from the assumption that motherhood is the ultimate expression of womanhood, instead suggesting that it is one of many fulfilling paths that can lead to a meaningful life.
    Cover courtesy Melanie Holmes

  • Exhausted mom
  • The Female Assumption

Winner of the Population Institute's 2014 Best Book Award, The Female Assumption (CreateSpace, 2014) by Melanie Holmes emphasizes the reality of motherhood over the “rose-colored motherhood glasses” that have been handed down for generations, often with the result of pressuring women into motherhood who are not prepared for it or making those who cannot have children feel that they've missed out on the experience that makes life worth living. Holmes does not deny that motherhood is a wonderful experience, but neither does she ignore the sacrifices that a woman makes when she chooses to have children. The following excerpt from chapter 1, “Recipe for Exhaustion” deals with the common-but-taboo feeling of motherhood exhaustion.

“Sometimes I think checking out would be okay. Truly, I try so hard and I get so tired. I know in my heart that I have a lot left to do in this world. I decided to have three beautiful children and I owe it to them to be strong. But I just get so tired. Why does no one see just how tired I am?”

When I wrote the above entry in my diary, I was employed full-time in a very stressful job, and married with three children. Two grown sons (one still living at home) and a 12-year-old daughter (a newly-emerging woman replete with breasts and backtalk). True to the sandwich generation, I also had an 80-year-old mother whose medical issues led to her being placed in a rehabilitation facility; and the only way she could transition back to living in her own home was if someone could spend 24/7 with her for a few weeks. Thus, I took a month off my job so that I could help her get home. I was also taking two night classes in order to finish a bachelor’s degree I’d started 20 years earlier. This meant driving 90 miles twice a week for a month in the midst of a typical Chicago winter, and arranging care for my mom while I was away.

To say that on March 28, 2010, I was thoroughly and completely exhausted is an understatement. But here’s the thing: being exhausted has been the theme of my adult life. And to what do I attribute it? The demands of everyday life while filling so many roles, the most demanding role being that of mother.

Motherhood Exhaustion Is Normal

The beautiful title of Mother brings visions of heartfelt greeting cards and the sweet giggles of babes. That life-altering, all-encompassing title reflects a role revered by many. But there I was on the date in question, daydreaming about checking out because I was so completely burned out by all the responsibilities placed upon my shoulders. Mind you, I have three good kids. I haven’t had the drama that many moms are faced with. Suffice it to say that my two sons completed high school relatively unscathed. My daughter is in high school and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for good results like those of her older brothers. Yes, all three of my kids have been “normal” kids, making “normal” mistakes, going through “normal” stages. And what I was feeling as a 48-year-old mother of three was normal too. Wait, did I just say it’s normal to dream about the quietude of death as alluded to in my journal? Actually, that is exactly what I’m saying.

I am not here to throw a pity party for myself or any other mother. When I say that I attribute my exhaustion largely to motherhood, there is a huge difference between attribution and blame. I do not blame motherhood. I am simply describing a reality. To put it bluntly, motherhood is damn hard. That’s a sentiment that won’t sell many greeting cards.

5/15/2018 10:58:03 AM

Thanks for writing this, Melanie. I'm a single mom of an 18 year old lovely young woman ready to go off to college. It has been really tough, but also very rewarding. I wouldn't change it for the world, but it has been hard at times, like jumping into the deep end of the pool--once you pop up to the surface, you'd better swim! We have been blessed to have supportive people.One thing's crucial: know when to ask for help. If you keep putting yourself second without taking care of your health, you may end up in the hospital like I did (I think having been on antibiotics to help with a sinus infection from being around toddlers set me up for a bad intestinal infection). But, I am extremely proud of my daughter. I cannot imagine a different path for me.

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