If there is a mother on the planet who hasn't felt slammed by fatigue, I haven't met her. And if a mother says she hadn't ever been tired, she's clearly an alien or been drinking society's Kool-Aid -- you know, the kind that tells women that admitting they're tired is a sign of weakness.
My day starts like this: rise at 6 a.m., shower, eat breakfast, remind my high schooler to feed the dog, and, if it's Monday or Wednesday, tell my middle schooler to take his guitar to school. There are soccer practices, soccer games, back-to-school nights, state of the school nights, parent-teacher conferences, theatre productions and time spent calculating the number of hours my older son has been on his iPad for non-school work-related activities like I-don't-know-what. I drive my middle schooler to school, return home to work and take dinner out for the evening. If there's a soccer practice or game, we will eat after 8 p.m..
After all of that, if there's time, I acknowledge my husband. On a good night we fold laundry, catch up for 10 minutes or so and then flip on "The Voice." Reading is reserved for work emails, teacher correspondence, permission slips and helping my older son figure out incomprehensible high school science projects.
So, it wasn't surprising to read that a new report says mothers are more tired than fathers. In secret surveys, mothers admit the truth: we're bone-tired.
It's not that my husband isn't busy and tired too; his plate is full, but let's face it, not many male CEOs are doing the Stanford-worthy mathematical equation of putting a soccer carpool together or responding to last-minute calls when the carpool falls apart and your kid is left stranded on the field after practice.
Mothers are more tired than fathers, whether it's because we want things to be perfect, need to control situations or just feel we get the domestic job done better than fathers.
But, what did surprise me about this study is that most media outlets have been reporting that while mothers are more exhausted than fathers, they are also happier.
I nearly dropped my son's lunch when I read that. I think we have to step back a bit on this assertion. Most mothers I know aren't happy to be running around to a million soccer practices, starting dinner at 8 p.m. or answering class potluck emails at midnight. We aren't happy about folding laundry in front of "The Voice" -- heck, we aren't happy about doing the laundry or the ironing, period.
When I got home from dropping my youngest son at school, I decided to do my own survey on this topic. I asked my girlfriends.
Five "not happy" answers later, I decided to read the Pew study to see if this 'happy' was for real.
"Mothers are more likely than fathers to feel that what they are doing is highly meaningful when they are taking care of the house or engaging in leisure activities." the study says.
Whew. OK. Now I get it. Mothers aren't exhausted and happy. We're exhausted and yet... we get it... life can't be perfect. Some days, it's all good... other days, it's not. And yet, we fiercely love our children, and so our constant go-go, do-do life is meaningful.
It's meaningful to see your child go from getting bullied to being elected to the student council by his peers. It's also exhausting.
It's meaningful to clean the house for your child's high school class to come over for a party. It's also exhausting.
I'm glad the study didn't use the "happy" word. I'm concerned about making "happy" a destination; something else for mothers to achieve or a standard by which to compare ourselves. Maybe we can say we're happy when we stop weighing a meaningful life with exhaustion. Considering my survey of five moms, we have a ways to go.
"I'm way more exhausted than happy," was the unanimous sentiment among my admittedly small sample of moms.
To me, it's the exhaustion alarm that we must pay attention to. Both science and sense tell us that it's not healthy to be perpetually exhausted.
But, how can we address a mostly silent epidemic? It's time for mothers to stop saying a generic "I'm stressed" statement and instead admit we're exhausted. Once we admit it, we can address it.
Today, I'm admitting my exhaustion. Modern life is full of long to-do lists, and my journey has sent me on a mission to manage fatigue. Here's what has helped me:
1.Move. The more I move, the more energetic I feel. For me, moderate walking at least 30 minutes per day increases my energy and clears my mind. For years, I had visions of buying expensive matching running gear and training for a marathon. Problem was, I hate running. It exhausts me. If running is not your thing, pick an exercise that you love and can honestly shout "Fun!" when you do it. Then, exercise doesn't feel like another item on your to-do list.
2. Get more sleep -- and schedule it. When you're busy, items fall off your list or sink to the bottom... and sleep is often one of them. Sleep is crucial for restoration. Lack of it can alter the structure of your brain, makes it harder to loose weight, and affects your productivity. I had to learn the hard way -- through illness and anxiety issues -- that I can't keep going 24-7. Do yourself a favor and schedule a good night's sleep. That's right, give yourself a bedtime and stick to it. The body loves routine, so try to get to sleep around the same time every night and get enough sleep (at least seven hours). Your body will thank you.
3. Take naps. Ever notice how when you mention the word 'nap' to adults, everyone laughs? Well, turns out naps for adults are no joke. We're a culture living on counterfeit energies like soda and caffeine to keep going. What if we had one less coffee or soda and instead took a nap a few times per week? Research shows we'd be more productive and I suspect we'd be more content. As Dr. Rubin Naiman points out, "Rest is the counterpoint to activity."
4. Do yoga nidra meditation. This is my favorite go-to tool. Why? Because while sleep restores your body, this sleep-based meditation technique is like a super-charge deep-fatigue cleanse for the soul. Yoga nidra consciously takes you down to the deepest levels of sleep, working on both your inner and outer health. Studies show that many tools used in yoga nidra meditation -- like mindfulness meditation and breathing techniques -- trigger psychological well-being in our bodies. Plus, unlike meditation where you are being asked to sit and still your mind, in yoga nidra meditation all you do is lie (or sit) down and do nothing. You don't need to work on it, it works on you. Let's face it, fatigue is often a lot more than a full to do list. We've got anger knocking on our door, worthiness issues, and a host of other emotions and beliefs swirling inside of us. Yoga nidra is like a daily deep tune up to manage exhaustion and create an inner glow from every part of you.
There is no perfect life. But every person deserves to not be slammed by exhaustion. Address this, and your rhythm will return.