My husband and I are both older children from large families. As we devoted a number of years to raising younger siblings we are keenly aware that women who make the choice to nurture another human being from infancy to adulthood (and beyond) face an enormous stress load. And, without doubt that stress has significant impact on everyone in relationship with those who make the choice.
In the 1950s the customary childbearing age of mothers was between 19 and 24. Pregnancy of women 30 years or older was only seen in very large families, and even then, it was uncommon.
Since women entered the work force in larger numbers between 1960-1980, they became mothers later in life, toward the end of their 20s. Pregnancy after age 30 was considered late and even somewhat risky.
Births to women over 40 were rare and often associated with unplanned menopausal pregnancies.
Mothers in their 50s giving birth is a new phenomenon made possible by new fertilization techniques that frequently produce multiple births.
In 2006 a 62-year-old child psychiatrist became the oldest person in Britain to give birth, while a Romanian woman, Adriana Iliescu, who gave birth to a daughter at the age of 66, is believed to be the oldest woman in the world to become a mother.
Now that certainly surpasses Sophie the Countess of Wessex , who at age 42 is expecting her first child along with many other menopausal matrons.
Motherhood and Stress
Catherine Carbone Rogers is the mother of two and National President of FEMALE (Formerly Employed Mothers at the Leading Edge). Rogers points out the factors that can contribute to burnout, particularly for home-based moms.
Women who have spent time devoted to a career are accustomed to tangible rewards like promotions, bonuses, performance reviews, and verbal ‘pats on the back’ from bosses and co-workers. When you are at home with young children, you don’t get much feedback that tells you that you are doing a good job. Your ultimate performance review is years away. Without this performance evaluation, it is sometimes difficult for moms to judge the job they are doing.
The long hours of parenthood can contribute to the burnout feeling, as well. You don’t have the option of ‘leaving it at the office’. Exhaustion escalates when sleep deprivation is added to the equation.
According to a report NSF’s 2007 Sleep in America poll, which focused on the sleep habits of more than 1,000 women from 18 to 64 years old and published by the National Sleep Foundation 60 percent of the women in America don’t get enough sleep. Working mothers and single, working women are at the top of the heap for lack of REM, with 72 percent and 68 percent respectively, stating that they experience sleep problems.
Time demands: With all the care and nurturing that children require, as well as the additional demands of extra people in the household, most mothers find that there are simply not enough hours in the day to do everything that they need or would like to do.
Personal Care: Aside from avoiding illness, mothers need to eat right, exercise and get enough sleep and many moms say they come up short on all three.
Time Alone: We all need time to be alone, reflect, explore and take care of ourselves in order to be in a good position to care for others. Mothers find it difficult to make time and generate enough energy to care for themselves. Gone are personal enrichment activities and even hobbies of the pre-child days.
Protective Instincts: Children face a multitude of dangers and mothers worry about their children’s behavior and social development. Worrying about their children is an additional stress that mothers face.
Self Doubt: Because each child has unique temperament traits, needs, and quirks, and because children grow and change all the time, it’s impossible to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to mothering. That means that mothers are constantly stressed as they reevaluate what they’re doing, look for new insights and try to stay one step ahead of their kids. Hence, there’s also the fear that they’re not doing a good enough job.
Financial Demands: Caring for children is expensive whether using day care, a nanny, or surrendering a full income to stay at home. As they grow into new clothes, new activities, and eventually go off to college, each child poses a financial strain.
Relationship Demands: Mothers of young children often feel torn between meeting the needs of their little one and still having the energy for stimulating conversation, playful times and even sex with the man who helped create the baby. They find it more difficult to make time for themselves let alone, their friends and, as children grow and change, mothers become obliged to move in new directions, putting pressure on longstanding relationships. Without doubt, as mothers invest the necessary time into their relationships with their children, other relationships take a back seat.
Warning Signs: It’s important that mom’s pay attention to the following symptoms, particularly if they become overwhelming and consistent. Left unchecked, burnout can lead to a much more profound problem — depression.
- Anger, irritability, and hostility
- A sense of powerlessness or helplessness
- Fatigue, despite adequate rest
- Compromised immune system–a higher occurrence of ailments, including colds
- Increase in the use of drugs and alcohol
- Feelings of boredom
- Loss of interest in your social life
- Diminished sex drive