A little while ago, I read an article about ‘high functioning women’ and their propensity to burn out. In many ways I agreed with the article, because I know loads of women who feel that they have to do and be it all – have a successful career, be a hands-on mother, an attentive wife and a good friend with an active social life. I understand that this can be exhausting and leave one feeling spread way too thin.
What I didn’t appreciate though, was the implication that women who choose to be stay at home mothers are any less susceptible to the same feelings of burnout. Sure, we may not have to haul our weary selves to an office every day, but that’s only because our offices follow us Everywhere We Go.
I’m sure that many of the ‘Do It All’ mothers – or DIA mums – would scoff at the idea of equating being a captain of industry with being a stay at home mum (SAH mum), without realising that its no walk in the park. Even when you’re walking in the park.
In my experience, DIA mums tend to have a lot of help and support – partly because they can and do pay for it and partly because there is a general recognition that what they are doing is difficult. They even get articles written about them.
SAH mums, on the other hand, are expected to cope with limited resources and help because, after all, all they do is sit at home all day. This is unfair on so many levels. First of all, I have never met a more harried and hurried group of people than SAH moms.
Imagine, if you will, being responsible for every single aspect of your teams/employees’ lives. You need to feed, dress and bath them. You have to make sure that they know how to go to the toilet and then ensure that they actually go before disaster strikes. On top of that, you have to entertain and educate, as well as take sole responsibility for their intellectual stimulation and development. Your team will not help in making your task any easier. In fact, you will need to repeat each request for action at least 3 times.
In addition to managing all team members, you are also responsible for all office facilities. You need to manage and direct the cleaning and ground staff (should you be lucky enough to have any on the payroll). You are responsible for any and all disaster management, from equipment failures to emotional crises. You need to ensure that all buying is done, as well as manage and man the cafeteria. You are the main point of contact for client (read: family and friend) relationship management and, as such, are the PA to all team members – fielding calls, taking messages and managing their diaries.
Now imagine doing all of this while physically exhausted, because your team members don’t sleep very well and wake up at least 3 times in the middle of the night – needing you to sit with them until they fall asleep again. Or insist on climbing into your bed for a story and cuddle.
You will have a business partner who will also require attention. You may not have to ensure that he dresses himself, but you will need to make sure that all clothing and sustenance is prepared, clean and easy to find. If not, you will have to find and place it in a pre-arranged place. Then you will have to inform your partner of where that is. Repeatedly. You will need to provide emotional support to your partner. You will also have to organise relationship-building exercises with said partner on a regular basis, arranging for team members to be otherwise occupied. This will not happen as often as you or your partner would like and will sometimes leave you feeling like your connection (and reason for going into business in the first place) is a distant memory. This memory, however, will have to be enough to sustain you through the rough times such as recessions, new ventures and the arrival and induction of new team members.
If you are lucky you will have a partner who is happy to take sole responsibility for the major issues like generating revenue. If you are super lucky he will also help with minor ones such as getting team members to school on time in the morning. Despite your luck, you will feel guilty for relying on this partner for assistance because you have been trained and conditioned to believe that the minor issues do not fall into his job specification and that any requests for help indicate a failure to achieve on your part.
You will sacrifice and subvert many of your own needs in favour of the greater good of the team.
Imagine how you would feel if you did this job with no feedback or job review mechanisms in place. There will be no performance bonus, because – even though the world at large feels comfortable sitting in judgement of your performance – there is no equation to measure your results. So you never know if you are doing a good job or not. As a result, you will always have the sneaking suspicion that you are not, in fact, doing very well. You will think that team members are under-stimulated and under-educated because you can’t spend enough time reading to them/playing with them/arranging interesting and educational activities for them. You will feel that you are adversely affecting their long-term health by not feeding them the right types of food 6 times a day.
Stretch yourself and imagine that, despite doing your job to the best of your ability, you will feel guilty All The Time. You will feel guilt for not contributing to the businesses revenue. You will feel guilty for wanting to abandon your team members to the care of another so that you can go out into the workplace (and add to the businesses revenue stream). You will feel guilty because sometimes, just sometimes, you want to escape to a quiet corner and do something for and by yourself. If you do carve out time for yourself by arranging an activity for team members and your partner that doesn’t include you, the guilt will most likely quadruple.
As with anyone who isn’t receiving feedback, you will experience fear. You will fear that you are undermining the businesses goals and mission by not contributing more. You will fear failure. You will fear what will happen in the event that your partner leaves this mortal coil. You will attempt to manage this fear and guilt on your own, because the popular opinion is that SAH moms have it easy. Very few people will stand up for you and other SAH mums and try to refute this belief.
Imagine that, even though society will tell you that you do one of the most important jobs on Earth, very few will ever congratulate you on a job well done or offer to help. There will be very, very few articles about how strong/awesome/deserving of accolades you are. In fact, you will face judgement for your choices and field hurtful assumptions that you are a SAH mum because you have nothing better to do/never had much a of a career anyway/are too lazy to get a job. No-one will even consider that just as working mums sacrifice the joy of being at home with their kids, so you sacrifice the joys of working. The stimulation, the lack of boredom and repetitive routine, the interaction with other adults, the validation.
Finally, imagine how much it would piss you off to have it implied that you are not susceptible to burn out because you do not qualify for the high-functioning women’s club.