Working mum burnout

March 13, 2023
By Dr Zheng Zhimin, Psychiatrist

A patient recently shared with me how guilty she has been feeling as she has been losing temper more easily with her child.

Through our conversation, it was clear that guilt is pervasive in other aspects of her life – feeling that she is not doing her best at work, not being able to spend enough time with her son, and not taking care of her health due to comfort-eating. She often feels exhausted and unable to find joy in motherhood.

Truth: Modern-day women have more roles and responsibilities than ever before

A recent study by Ministry of Manpower showed that resident female employment rate rose from 54.5% in 2010 to 57.5% in 2020.

Women are not only expected to contribute to household income, but are also often expected to be the main caregiver for their children. Parenting is not just about taking care of the physical needs but also tending to emotional and developmental needs of children. Therein lies a significant amount of mental labour, which consists of daily planning, anticipating needs and executing tasks required.

A US study in 2019 showed that the bulk of parenting mental load falls squarely on mothers. 

This would mean that working mothers essentially hold 2 jobs, and many of us believe that being able to do both well is what is expected by society to be a successful mother. The pressure to be a “super mum” inevitably results in constant anxiety of whether enough is being done, and asking for help denotes weakness.

This phenomenon is also magnified through social media, where “super mums” post pictures of them bouncing back weeks after pregnancy, cook healthy organic food for their children, while maintaining a high-powered job at the same time. 

Working Mum Burnout

Burnout is defined by World Health Organization as a syndrome characterized by feelings of exhaustion and increased negativity towards one’s job. Although it is mainly occupational-related, many working mothers experience symptoms of burnout due to the multiple tasks they have to carry out on a daily basis.

Burnout may lead to higher rates of mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depressive disorders. It is often insidious in onset, and is driven by perceived expectations of productivity and self-worth.

Caring for yourself is important

Through a renewed awareness and perspective on motherhood, career and identity, it is possible to not just “survive” but also “thrive” as a working mother. Every mother is different, and it is not necessary to be a “super mum”. Being a “good-enough” mother also ensures that your child learns the essential life skills of effective stress management and self-care.

It helps to talk about it

If you would like to find out more, have a chat with me to see how we can manage it together.  

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