Running On Empty


I see you. The one struggling with Mom Fatigue. Burnout. Your tank on empty.

Motherhood can be characterized in many ways. Exhausting is one of them. Want to know why you are tired? Because you are a mom.

Physical Exhaustion is Only the Beginning

It’s not just the physical exhaustion, although there is plenty of that. Chasing rambunctious toddlers who are full of demands, fresh from a nap with an extra spring in their step. Add in the endless laundry, cooking, and cleaning. Children running around, creating new messes. It is not uncommon for me to lock my husband and kids out of the house so I can enjoy a quiet 15 minutes in my clean house. What? It’s not like I changed the locks.    Don’t judge me.

The level of sleep deprivation, which rivals any prisoner of war camp, takes its toll on our mental and physical health. When you’re exhausted before your feet hit the floor. When even your tired is tired.

Whether you’re a rookie mom up all night with cluster feedings or a veteran mom struggling to manage family schedules and check homework, every mom needs a break. It doesn’t matter what season of motherhood you are in. Only the reasons change.

And let’s not even talk about quarantine and all it’s brought with it. Cabin fever, lack of meaningful human connection, and, dare I say, depression.

Mental Exhaustion Isn’t Far Behind

This is the kind that sneaks up on. You hardly ever see it coming. Until it’s there. Brought upon by incessant worrying, planning, organizing, decision-making, to-do lists, and endless (but never a good idea) research on WebMD. And you know what this looks like. It looks like finding the milk in the pantry, arriving home without remembering if the stoplight was red or green, or forgetting why you walked into a room. Mom brain, if you will.

Recently, I found myself frantically searching the house for my cell phone. Twenty minutes later, I found it. In the pocket of my bathrobe. Also, I was wearing the bathrobe. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It was right then, and there I knew I was on the verge, or past the edge, of exhaustion.

The invisible labor of motherhood exists just as much as the physical labor. It’s the meal planning, scheduling, remembering the tiny details of life no one else keeps track of, and the barrage of emails sitting unread in our inbox. There are many days when I just don’t want to make one more decision. The information and sensory overload destroy my focus. It all compounds to make me an emotional wreck and mental exhaustion sets in.

Sometimes I run on power naps and caffeine or maybe a wing and a prayer. And don’t be fooled by my yoga pants. There isn’t any yoga happening in my house. These are the days when the wheels on my bus have stopped going ’round and ’round. Finally, after many years, I have learned to embrace it. I’ve learned to accept that today is not the day I will be cooking a Pinterest-worthy dinner, washing a single load of laundry, or even brushing my hair. And all of that is OK! I have to give myself grace and be mindful that some days are better than others but don’t judge me by my worst day.

As moms, we are programmed to be hyper-vigilant and obsessive worriers. Prolonged states of heightened awareness are mentally draining. We organize household chaos, work outside of the home, and have less time for ourselves. Most importantly, we are running on empty. How do we fill our tank?

Asking For Help

We don’t get enough help. Maybe it’s because we don’t ask for it. And maybe when we do, what we get isn’t what we expected, and it leaves us feeling disappointed or frustrated. Admittedly, I have serious control issues when it comes to parenting. Meaning I want it done my way. I forget that my husband has a different style of parenting. His way isn’t the wrong way; it just isn’t my way. Long ago, I learned that in order to receive the help I need and want, I have to be open to receiving it in different ways. Even if he loads the dishwasher wrong.

I know what you’re thinking…we shouldn’t have to ask our spouse to “help” because they are, after all, an equal parent. Well, I don’t disagree with you. But dads aren’t moms. Bottom line. We know this to be true because kids will bypass dad in the kitchen only to ask us for a snack while we are in the bathroom.

For the most part, my household is a well-oiled machine (insert control issues) with routines. My husband often doesn’t know where to plug in to “help,” and even though he means well, we both know he can easily derail a train running smoothly on its track. Sometimes I don’t ask for help because I don’t have the time or energy required to throw him a parade for unloading the dishwasher or folding a pile of laundry. And sometimes, asking for help makes me feel like I am not a capable mother or human.

Feeling rundown can be the norm for new and veteran moms alike. But when is burn out more than normal exhaustion and when should we seek expert help?

The Moral of the Story

You can’t pour from an empty cup. It’s ok to ask for help. It’s ok to lower your expectations if it means receiving the help you need. Accept it anyway, and be grateful.  It doesn’t have to be perfect or anywhere near it.

The mom life is stressful. The mental load we carry as mothers may be invisible, but it is heavy. Raising small humans is full of joy and adventure. But it is also full of busy days and sleepless nights. Motherhood is a superpower. We sacrifice so much for the sake of our family and, often, at the expense of ourselves.

Feeling tired or worn out doesn’t make you a bad mom. Far from it! Instead, it’s a reminder to take a break for some well-deserved self-care and to recharge your batteries. You are  worthy of being at the top of your priority list.

Rest assured, you aren’t the only one feeling this way. There’s a whole Rundown Mom Club out there. We see you. We are here for you. I’ll save you a seat at our table.


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Heather Lopez
Born in Alabama (Roll Tide!), Heather moved to the Pensacola area at the young age of 7 and has called this area home ever since. She is a program coordinator for a specialty court program. Heather received a degree in Criminal Justice from the University of West Florida and has over 15 years' experience working in child welfare, law enforcement, and the local school system, and as a crime victim advocate. Married with two teenage daughters, Heather considers herself to be an organizer of chaos, leader of household misfits, and below-average gardener. When she isn’t avoiding the elliptical, cheering on a tournament or regatta, or searching for a new recipe, she enjoys traveling, sailing, camping, and finding new ways to make a positive impact on her community. Recognizing she is a constant work in progress, Heather loves connecting with others and strengthening her village - all while trying to breathe in the simple pleasures of life.



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