Motherhood: The Sleepless and Stressed Out Choice

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.

Menopausal Motherhood

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.

Sleep Deprivation

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.

Multiple Demands
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.

Source: Elizabeth Scott writes on the Common Causes of Stress for Mothers.

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
  • Insomnia
  • 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

Related blog posts:
Childfree: We celebrate it!
Childfree and loving it!

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  1. Becoming pregnant has been a choice for over 40 years now. So make no mistake about it I have heard — the “sacrifice and love of family” spiel from many fundamentalists, primarily, from christians. It does not score with me and this is why.

    The last thing our ailing planet needs is an increased population. “Family” in a blood relations sense is merely an extension of tribalism. Jesus rightly viewed every man and woman on earth as his family. In fact, when his own relatives tried to call him away from his ministry he rebuffed them and continued his loving and compassionate work with the “family of man”. So hearing the “sacrifice and love of family” spiel from a professed christian is mind-bending.

    The so-called love being expressed by those couples who choose to parent can be attributed to the hormonal drive to reproduce which is common to all animals and plants. Moreover, if any human cannot feel perfect, whole and complete without producing offspring then the need to create little images of themselves amounts to an expression of “self-love” – plain and simple. Also their self-perceived “incompleteness” brings into question their ability to actually do a good job of parenting young.

    IMO more profound expression of love for the planet and for the family of man, who all depend on her for life, would be to sacrifice the option of producing your own children and instead adopt and/or foster children, who have no or few prospects for a healthy, happy and productive future. That would give the adoptive parents an opportunity to raise a generation that viewed others, regardless of their skin colours, who their blood relatives may have been, and which countries of origin they may have come from to all be a part of “the family of man”.

    Also, the trouble with self-proclaimed “living sacrifices” is that they keep crawling off the altar. Those who make the choice to parent also expect society to finance them. Given the fact that we live in times when the population explosion, the love of money and the things it can buy threatens to deplete the planet’s resources past the tipping point, rather than to ensure sustainability, why is it that educated couples, who choose to breed feel that they ought to be rewarded by others for their self-indulgence?

    If all family allowances, income tax deductions and other childcare benefits provided by the state were eliminated then one could sing the sacrifice/love of family song. But under the current state of affairs, singing that old tune would mean running the risk of sounding like a braying ass.

  2. It’s a tough choice indeed. Some would probably choose a different path if they knew how stressful motherhood is. However, there’s a reason for them to sacrifice much and it’s because of their love for the whole family.

  3. Some children have stay-at-home moms and some have go-out-to-work moms. In either case, couples need to be very clear about the amount of stress it takes to parent and they need to share the responsibilities between them to prevent burnout and depression.

    It’s my experience that in many cases women alone make the decision when to become moms. Very often their husbands are not particularly agreeable to either becoming fathers at all or, they are not agreeable when it comes to the timimg.

    Pari-menopause for most women I know began between the ages of 35 and 40. And I have witnessed pari-menopausal women who demand to start families when their husbands don’t really want kids and even in cases where both husband and wife previously agreed to remain child-free. Within my circle this has caused the break-up of several relationships either prior to pregnancy or after a child is born.

    In some cases when issued the estrogen ultimatum the husbands consented to parenting although their hearts were not really in it. And believe me when I say the behaviours of some of these pari-menopausal women demading to become madonnas were deplorable.

    Some even lied about using birth control and tricked their husbands into becoming fathers. Not surprisingly when it came to helping parent the husbands so treated frequently appeared to be shirking or running away from the responsibility. Next the women became harpies dissing their husbands and accusing them of being “deadbeat” dads. In the end, the women got the kids and child support and the men got a sullied reputations and bills to pay.

    Not only that but in three cases I saw the courts award custody to unfit mothers, who were excellent office workers but who sucked when it came to parenting. Surprise! in these times when old women with desperation babies are being canonized by other moms, rather than awarding custody to loving fathers the courts were caught in a time warp.

    All is not well in the world of families. And it’s time that we all came to realize that if both partners do not embrace the parenting choice and also agree on the timing when it comes to starting a family, then the likelihood of burnout for the individuals and even disintegration of the relationship increases exponentially.

  4. Mothers do have stressful live, especially those who have several children. We can’t blame them for the work they face everyday, from parenting to house keeping.

  5. @pinkpowersuit and neel
    As you can tell from my related posts my husband and I chose to remain childfree. However, I thought that perhaps I hadn’t clearly articulated in those two earlier posts that although we celebrate the choice we made, we also respect the choices that our friends made.

    Most couples we know made the choice to have children. Most also chose to have a full-time mom in the home, rather than a part-time mom juggling work and child rearing responsibilities at the same time.

    During the years when their kids were very young, my girlfriends still struggled with burnout symptoms, even though their husbands did all they could to help relieve them of the responsibility and stress that comes with being a full-time mom. It wasn’t easy but they did succeed when it came to parenting. They raised some very remarkable and personable young people, who became an important part of our lives too.

    Most of these kids are in highschool now and they are a credit to the parenting they received. Their mom’s have returned to the work force and the kids have proved to be capable and competent on the home front. They are expected to do some cooking, laundry, house and yard work and they deliver. They are polite, resilient, resourceful and very independent.

    I’m so glad to hear that my latest post validated the choices you made. Thanks so much for commenting and for letting me know that it did. :)

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