Article

Why are millennial moms struggling with burnout?

Feb 28, 2019

Feeling overwhelmed lately? Do small, tedious tasks seem insurmountable like a two-story tidal wave rushing upon the shore of life? Does anxiety rear its ugly head in the balancing act of work and home? If so, then you may be a millennial.

A recent article written by an older millennial like myself caught my attention the other day. The overall gist of her writing posed a general question, "How have millennials become the burnout generation?" She mentions having "errand paralysis" herself and how the mundane, simple, low-tiered tasks were often left undone. Incomplete, petty tasks led to shame as she considered how her mother would have "got them done." She attributed her lack of motivation for completing dull tasks to their high-effort, low-reward nature, much like one millennial named Tim who failed to register to vote in time because he hates to mail stuff as it "gives him anxiety."

The article goes on to address burnout among millennial women, particularly mothers who work outside of the home. They do what is called the "second shift" where women who come home from the workplace to labor as a homemaker. A recent study shows that mothers in the workplace spend just as much time taking care of their children as stay-at-home mothers did in 1975.

Anne Helen Peterson says, “One might think that when women work, the domestic labor decreases, or splits between both partners. But sociologist Judy Wajcman found that in heterosexual couples, that simply wasn't the case: Less domestic labor takes place overall, but that labor still largely falls on the woman,” (Buzzfeed News, January 5, 2019).

The article is quite lengthy, but it points to a pervasive reality: many young mothers today are burned out. Even I scratch my head at this with all our modern conveniences like grocery pickup, Amazon Prime, Instant Pots, and the like. I wonder, though, if our dilemma has to do not with what we have but what we lack as millennial moms.

What millennial moms are missing

It seems that young mothers today have endless advantages that mothers from previous generations could only dream of. Yet, studies show an increase in anxiety and depression, particularly among young women. There is a disparity between efficiency and ease, especially when it comes to modern motherhood. With all that is available to us, one would think that managing a home today is almost too easy. The truth is that the very things that are supposed to make life easier for us may very well be what is making life more of a challenge. It is not what we have that we need, but what we lack that affects how we feel as moms today.

For instance, here are just a few things that the millennial generation of moms lack that previous generations didn't:

Mothers, aunts, sisters, and other women relatives who live nearby: As more of us become transient with college and careers, we move away from home and family. If we settle down in marriage and motherhood, we find ourselves isolated and independent on the journey of motherhood. There was one instance that I had to call my husband in tears as I was trying to nurse my firstborn when she would not feed. I felt helpless and alone. My husband was at a church softball game, and he came home to just sit with me on the couch to support me even though he really could not help me. In another generation, I would have my mom, aunt, or even my grandmother nearby to call on, though I am thankful that my husband was there to offer comfort and love.

Division of labor: I am all for equal pay and fair treatment of women. We’ve moved, however, from "We can do it!" to "We can do IT ALL!" Now, we are dealing with the repercussions of Rosie the Riveter's proud declaration. Third-wave feminism heightened female activity and male passivity. Learned helplessness is rampant among millennial men. Of course, I know plenty of men who lead productive lives with maturity, respectful of women and responsible at work and home.

Short-range awareness: Our mothers had Oprah. We have Instagram. We scroll through filtered, freeze-framed images of other women "doing it all." It leaves us feeling a little less than adequate. We are overwhelmed by stories and news about everything from parenting to the latest fad diet. Not only do we have to do it all, but we must look good while doing it, preferably in a fashionable pair of yoga pants. Mothers from generations past only knew about what was going on in their personal relationships and whatever was reported on the 6 p.m. news. They could go about their day-to-day business with a short-range awareness without the long-range distractions of social media.

What can moms do to avoid burnout?

We can't change when we were born or the culture at large, but we can change how we cope in a fast, high-achieving society. Here are a few ways we, as millennial moms, can manage ourselves well in our generation:

In Luke’s gospel we find Jesus being welcomed into Martha’s home, but not into her focus. It is not that Martha needed to welcome Jesus, but that Jesus was there to welcome her to do as Mary did and sit as his feet. “But Martha was distracted by her many tasks.” Jesus said, “Martha, Martha you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:38-42).

If we get anything right as moms today, let’s get the “one thing” right of a growing relationship with Jesus. Christ has not called us to be worried and upset about “all the things,” but to trust him, remove distractions that pull us away from him, and welcome him into our homes in the best way. I have hope for us millennial moms, and I believe that our children are going to be okay. We don't have to be anxious. We can let some things go, but we can’t let go of our rest in God and in his power for us in motherhood in our generation. In this way, we will not burn out but find blessing for ourselves and for those we love. Yes, with the Spirit’s help, we can do it!

Jenna Fleming

Jenna Fleming is a former school teacher and school counselor. She holds her Bachelor of Arts in Education from St. Andrews University in North Carolina and her Masters of Education in Counseling from Texas State University. She has training in Trauma and Loss through the National... Read More