The responsibilities of being a mom are exhausting and overwhelming–and sometimes we feel like we are downright losing our minds. Here are five strategies I use to beat mom brain to keep myself happier and life running more smoothly.
At any given moment, I have approximately 5,287 things running through my mind. Things like…
- Where did I put the car keys?
- Did I change the baby’s diaper already?
- When was the last time Little Brother went to the bathroom?
- That reminds me, I need to register him for preschool.
- And I still need to get the oil changed in the car.
- Sheesh, the kitchen floor really needs to be mopped.
- I need to call my mom. It’s been too long.
- I wonder what the weather is going to be tomorrow. Maybe if it’s nice, we’ll go for a picnic.
- What should I cook for dinner tonight?
- How am I going to make it till dinner?
- I’m. SO. Tired.
And that’s just the beginning. As a mom of three boys ages five and under, I have a lot going on…in my house as well as in my mind. It’s exhausting, and I know I’m not alone. Mom brain is a very real phenomenon. With each child I bring into this world, I lose a little more of my mind. Maybe you can relate.
Don’t get me wrong–I LOVE my kids. They bring more meaning to my life than I could ever have imagined, and I don’t for a moment regret the choice to bring them into this world. Still, my love for them doesn’t change the fact that my brain just DOES. NOT. FUNCTION anymore. I don’t know whether to blame all the years of sleep deprivation or the fact that my attention is constantly divided between three little people who want my help with ALL. THE. THINGS.
Whatever the reason, I get SO many things swirling around in my head that I can’t keep up. Sometimes, that leads to problems.
Case in point
A few weeks ago I was contentedly sitting at the kitchen table enjoying a sandwich and a rare moment of peace. My three-year-old was eating his lunch nearby, and I was feeding the baby avocado (his new fave food). Everyone was happy, and I was celebrating the fact that it was Friday and in a few hours Daddy would be home to help with the kids. I commented to my toddler that it was almost “quiet time” and then we would go pick up his brother from school.
In that moment, I got a text message from my neighbor that read, “FYI, I’m with Will in the front hallway of the school.” I stared at the screen for a moment, confused. Then my muddled mommy brain made the connection, and I gasped.
“Oh, no! It’s FRIDAY!” I exclaimed to my toddler, who was thoroughly confused. “That means it’s early out day and we were supposed to pick up your brother 15 minutes ago!”
My peaceful lunch ended abruptly as I tossed everyone in the car and rushed to go pick up a very forgotten-feeling kindergartner. I felt awful, and although I considered making up an excuse for not being there, in the end I just knelt down by him, hugged him, and apologized profusely.
Thankfully, he’s also a very forgiving kindergartner.
Learning to cope with mom brain
While I still have mom brain moments like this one, I’m slowly figuring out better ways to manage the bazillion thoughts, schedules, lists and worries that come along with being “Mom.”
The mental demands of motherhood are too much for any one person to manage, and my brain can only hold so much before things start dropping off into oblivion. As my load as a mother increases with each additional child, I have to get more strategic.
Here are some of the ways I cope with “mom brain” so that I can keep life and my family running (mostly) smoothly…
5 ways to combat “mom brain”
Some people call this a “brain dump”. The basic idea is that when your thoughts are spinning round and round in your head, write them down. You can use a journal, a notebook, or even a piece of scrap paper to get them out. A computer is another viable option, but I prefer hand-writing my thoughts for this particular strategy. There is something therapeutic about actually forming the letters of the words with your own hand rather than typing on computer keys. I do have a journal I keep on my computer, but for brain dumps I use a notebook that I carry with me most of the time. Do whatever works best for you.
This strategy is especially helpful when I’m feeling overwhelmed emotionally by all the demands of motherhood. I’m a worrier by nature, so I sometimes get my mind tangled up analyzing all the ways I may or may not be failing my children on a given day.
I wonder if I’m doing too much for my kids…or too little. I wonder if I should be spending more time teaching my kids academic skills. Then I wonder if I should back off more and let them just play freely and be kids. I wonder if I should comfort them when they fall, or whether I should encourage them to brush off their scrapes and be strong. I wonder if I’m firm enough…or compassionate enough. And those thoughts go round and round…and round…until I can’t make sense of any of it anymore. I get grumpy and irritable…and that’s when I know I need to get out my notebook.
Don’t worry about writing well. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling. Just focus on getting all your thoughts out of your head. Once my thoughts are on paper, I’m able to process them, organize them, and deal with them (or let go of them) much easier.
Find someone you can confide in and use as a sounding board when you’re feeling stuck. Just like with the “write it” strategy, the goal here is to stop the downward spiral of negative thinking by getting those thoughts outside your own mind. While writing your thoughts out allows for solitary reflection, talking them out allows you the benefit of someone else’s perspective. For me, that perspective has been invaluable.
I am prone to anxiety, and I’ve learned over the years that when I start to feel that annoyingly familiar knot in my stomach, the worst thing I can do is to keep it to myself. The simple act of expressing my anxiety to my husband actually helps alleviate it. It helps me know I’m not alone, and I don’t have to shoulder the entire burden by myself.
Sometimes I need to talk to him about big issues I’m struggling with in raising our kids (like how to get the toddler potty-trained, how to encourage our kids to be honest, how to end the power-struggles, etc.). Sometimes I’m exhausted from a day of being Mom/CEO of the household and I need him to make the decision about something I’m too tired to figure out on my own. Sometimes I just need to talk to him about the random events of the day because I haven’t interacted with another adult that day and I’m starved for intelligent conversation. My husband jokes that I do 75% of the talking in our relationship (which is probably true), and I’m grateful he’s willing to listen while I get all the stuff out of my head so I can sleep.
Choose carefully who you’re willing to confide in. My most common confidants are my husband, my best friend, and my sisters. Each of them serves a different purpose and I’ll confide in them about different things. Whether your confidant is a spouse, friend, parent, sibling, or even a counselor…find someone you can really talk to.
Routines are key to my success in life. When you turn something into a habit, you don’t have to keep it in your brain anymore, because you do it without thinking. This is how I clean my house. I have assigned each of my daily chores a day of the week, so I don’t even have to think about when to take out the trash anymore–it always happens on Mondays (before Tuesday trash collection).
My dad always used to say, “a dull pencil is better than the sharpest mind.” Considering that I feel like my mind isn’t very sharp these days anyway, it’s definitely better to use a pencil…or a scheduling app in my phone. I have a “garbage out” reminder scheduled in my phone that goes off every Monday at 8:00 p.m. to make sure it happens. That way I don’t ever have to think about it. My phone and my routine do all the work.
I use routines in other areas of life, too. Every day I try to take a few minutes to set my priorities for the day. I divide my tasks into three categories:
- HOME: cleaning, meal planning, etc.
- BLOG: writing posts, promotion, photos to take, etc.
- OTHER: buying school clothes, working on a church lesson, etc.
Using my trusty, goes-everywhere-with-me notebook, I’ll write a couple of tasks under each category (I try to limit it to two or three in an effort to keep things reasonable) and then I keep a list on the side of other things that would be nice to get done, but that aren’t priorities that day.
By scheduling my priorities and consciously limiting the goals I try to accomplish each day, I’m able to use my time more wisely. When I remember something that needs to be done, but it doesn’t fit in the day’s schedule, I’ll add it to my “nice to do” list so that I can schedule it for a later date. When I forget to schedule out my day, I end up wasting a lot more time and feeling frustrated at how little I’m able to accomplish. But when I spend just a few minutes planning, my brain can focus on those tasks and feel good about what I’ve accomplished.
One of the downsides to being a stay-at-home mom is that I can’t leave work and go home to relax for the evening. Home is my workplace and my to-do list is always a mile long. Even if I write it down, it’s disheartening when I look down and see a list of 20 things that I need to do.
So, one thing I’m learning it that if something takes fewer than 5 minutes, do it NOW. Get it off your to do list and out of your brain. Assuming you can do it one handed, with a baby sitting on your hip. Otherwise, add it to that handy “would be nice to do” list. 🙂 Need to email your sister to ask for that recipe you’ve been meaning to try? If it’s going to take you almost as long to add it to your to-do list as it will take to just do it now, JUST DO IT (wow, now I sound like Nike…but they have a point). The sooner you can move things out of your mental “inbox” the better.
Automation is the best thing ever…okay, it’s at least in the top 10. If you don’t already have all bills possible set to “auto-pay”, what are you waiting for? I still check each month to make sure that all the bills are the amount I expected, but I don’t actually send in any payments anymore. It all happens automatically…utilities, internet, cell phone…the money gets magically transferred from my checking account to the appropriate companies on a predetermined day each month and I don’t have to think about it. Check that off your to-do list without lifting a finger. HOORAY for efficiency.
I’m still far from perfect at implementing these strategies (as evidenced by that lovely little experience where I forgot about picking up my child from school), but they really do keep me from completely losing my mind. When I clean all the overwhelming mental clutter out of my head, I am able to be more present with my family, and I enjoy my role as mother so much more.
Mom brain isn’t going away any time soon, and there will always be more THINGS to think about and do…and forget. But with these strategies in place, I can beat the mental exhaustion that comes with motherhood and find more joy in motherhood.
How do YOU fight the mental clutter of being a mom? Do you have any tried-and-true strategies to combat mom brain? I’m still learning, so I’d love to hear your ideas!