Well, it happened again… Rebekah was rear-ended (again). The last car accident was 16 months ago. My wife, mom to four kids, is still recovering from that first one when… WHAM!! If this isn’t the definition of a life incident that contributes to depleted mother syndrome, I’m not sure what is.
This time, all four of our kids were in the car with my wife. It happened during the morning drop-off trip to summer camps.
Rebekah was at a full stop in traffic. The other driver simply slammed into the back of the car. No breaks, nothing! Just wasn’t paying attention.
I wish I could say, “No one was hurt,” but that isn’t true. Some hurts aren’t physical. Some don’t show up on an MRI, an X-Ray, CT, or in Physical Therapy.
BTW, after drop off, Rebekah was headed to, of all places, PT. She is still working on the physical recovery from when she was rear-ended 16 months ago in the same car (luckily, only two of our kids were with her then).
So, here is why I am posting this:
I’ve learned a thing or two since the last accident in how to support my overwhelmed working mom and wife of 20+ years better. This is another experience where demands on mom have increased while her limited resources are reduced – the definition of depleted mother syndrome.
Rarely do I get ‘do-overs’ in life.
This feels like a chance to ‘do-over’ and ‘do better.’ It is also a real-world teaching moment.
The car accident is real, and I thought it could be a useful and concrete example.
The externality of a car accident can also be replaced with any other life event that is sudden and traumatic.
It can be symbolic of being sick, a tragedy in the family, losing a job, a minor injury, kids going to a new school, a pandemic, or just one more life change that inevitably hits us out of nowhere.
The point is, depleted mother syndrome isn’t caused by any one thing, it is a little of everything, added up, over time. I hope that this post can be useful to both husbands and wives for how to explain mom burnout and depleted mother syndrome to a husband using a real-world example.
As a husband, I thrive on ‘doing.’ So, as I’m helping Rebekah and the kids, I’m also attempting to capture what is occurring in our lives.
I get to step into my guy mode of ‘doing stuff’ while appreciating Mom in the process. I spoke to a friend about this, and she suggested a car accident is a perfect example to put into real-life context ‘depleted mom syndrome.’ Here are some takeaways I’ll dive into
- Don’t judge, don’t compare, Just. Don’t.
- Childbirth affects physical and emotional changes in your wife for the rest of her life.
- Even a 20-mile-hour ‘minor’ accident can have devastating effects, short-term and long-term.
- She needs me to respond emotionally before I respond rationally.
- Learn her body language and act on what you see.
- Be prepared for setbacks, and give her time.
Before diving in, let me ask the men reading this if you ever dreamt of restoring a vintage car when you were younger. I did. My dad was a bit of a car guy. He worked on Triumph TR6s. For me, it would be a 1967 fastback Mustang GTA 2+2 if I had the time and money.
My father’s Triumph was a finicky car. Sometimes it would start, often not. He always needed a specialty tool or had to order British parts that were expensive, hard to find, and had long lead times to arrive. He loved the challenge. He was always patient. He spent more than he probably should have spent repairing and restoring the car.
Fun and true story: once, while driving to a party with my mom, a wheel fell off when slowly turning a corner because a connecting rod sheered off. My parents were fine. I remember the tow truck, Dad in a suit, and Mom in a dress returning home before the party even started. The front fender was banged up, and the wheel still had the break drum attached.
The two-seater didn’t age well with a family of four. It leaked oil all over the garage, took up space, and hardly ran in the end. It hardly ran at the beginning and in the middle. I can tell you my dad loved that car until the day he sold it simply because it was what it was.
Men, how is it we can be patient with a finicky car, tolerate its faults, and buy whatever specialty part or tool is needed and yet we don’t always treat our wives with the same care, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness?
I have five takeaways from this car anecdote:
- We must tend to our spouses better than an inanimate object like a car. Question: Is it possible that you exhibit better care for an object than you demonstrate for the living person who shares your bed?
- Someone modeled most of the behavior you exhibit today – whether you know this or not doesn’t make it less true. Question: are you consciously choosing to continue those behaviors, or are you automatically stepping through each motion?
- Our lives are the cumulative wear and tear of each day and each event. Are you investing heavily and continually in restorative activities, or are you destined to deteriorate?
- We can recover from most catastrophic events. But they forever change us, no matter how deep the repair goes. Are you aware of those catastrophic events, and do you match the level of response to the level of the event, or are you imbalanced?
- Sometimes, a point is reached where external forces and circumstances exceed our abilities (In engineering, this is called ‘tolerance’ – like when a wheel sheers off). When that happens, we must recognize the movement for what it is and decide how to proceed. If you recognize the moment and decide not to act, that inaction is still a decision.
Don’t judge, don’t compare. Just. Don’t.
I was chatting with a family member two days after the accident when I mentioned that Rebekah had been rear-ended. Again.
His first response was: “Well, was it the other driver’s fault, or is there a pattern here with your driver?”
Oof – not the nicest comment. And at the same time, I can relate instantly without becoming upset or condemning his judgment. I say this because I was right there with him – the same thoughts flashed in my mind when I got the text from my daughter that there’d been an accident.
Let’s forgive ourselves for the reptilian brains we have. We all have first thoughts. We don’t control our first thoughts – they are reactions. What makes humans evolved creatures from the rest of the animal kingdom is the ability to choose what to do with those first instincts, knee-jerk reactions, or reflexes.
Do you act on them? Do you speak them out loud or is there a filter?
Can you choose to let them pass and then flex into our higher-order thinking brains?
I try not to act on my first thoughts. It is a practiced skill.
I’ve been practicing for years and still don’t get it right.
What I’ve learned is that my first thoughts are pre-conditioned and reflexive. I no longer condemn myself because I don’t control my pre-conditioned response because someone or something, somewhere, planted those thoughts when I didn’t know any better. (TV, my parents, something I read or heard something, etc.)
Revisit my brother for a second: of course, my brother would have the same thought I did. We were raised in the same home by the same parents. Many of our responses are pre-conditioned by our upbringing.
Today, because I now know better, here is what I do: I note my first thought, file it away and forgive myself for the instinctual judgment, if needed. I take a breath and then think about what I’m about to say or do in that next moment. Finally, I ask myself, will the following words out of my mouth, or my subsequent actions, diminish or enhance my relationships, experience, or circumstance?
I invite you to attempt some version of this practice the next time your reptilian brain kicks in. You know it because you start to have an emotional reaction – it might be anger, sadness, worry. For me, I get frustrated. Sometimes, I simply say out loud, “I’m having a reaction right now. I need a minute before I respond.” It works wonders in my relationship with my wife.
Here is the key to this car accident circumstance (and just about any circumstance): It wasn’t her fault. She is reacting just like I am reacting. We are all reacting to what happens to us and around us.
It is natural to have a reaction. And we can forgive ourselves for our initial reaction without judgment. Instead, study it and seek to understand your initial responses. Then, pause and choose how you want to show up. A supporting and loving man shows up how he chooses to show up, not how his reptilian brain dictates. A supporting man integrates his initial reactions, owns those feelings, and then raises his standards and does better.
With my brother, I paused. Let him say his piece. I explained calmly that she was rear-ended at a full stop. I reminded him without shaming him that he rear-ended someone in the past year and how he felt about that situation (embarrassed, angry, shame), and how he’d want others to speak to him.
I asked him to be considerate about what he says in mixed company.
I make every attempt to be a safe person for him to be himself while also striving to provide perspective. I want to continue to be a safe person for him to speak his mind while shaping his understanding of depleted mother syndrome.
Childbirth affects physical and emotional changes in your wife for the rest of her life.
I’ve known my wife since we were both 15. Back then, she used to wear a Betty Boop shirt under Guess overalls (one strap fastened) and those LA Gear hightops with double laces. She was adorable. I’m sure you can imagine it.
Women mature faster than men. I’m still maturing, BTW (like a good wine, AHEM). As I type this and reflect back 30 years, my understanding of the woman I fell in love with can be symbolized by that Betty Boop shirt. Compared to today, I had a 2D cartoon image understanding of her. I say this because I now recognize that I didn’t possess the depth, maturity, or experience to see much beyond that image as a boy.
We’ve spent over two-thirds of our life together – we are 45+ years old now. I can say from experience that while she IS the woman I met and fell in love with all those years ago, she is also NOT the same woman. She is more worldly, educated, wise, and discerning.
15 years after we met and 15 years ago, our first child was born. Having kids changes everything. Birthing and raising three more kids brings more change. Navigating infertility, working a job, adulting, losing a parent, paying bills, and your dogs growing old – all of this compounding experience changes the fibers within the fabric of who you are.
I’m mixing my metaphores here: each of these experiences sow seeds for future depleted mother syndrome.
I passed a consignment shop the other day that had a sign in the window that read, “experienced clothing.” Yeah, we’re experienced.
But it is different for men and women. I’ll stick mostly to the man’s perspective here, and I’ll start with a kind of joke (such a guy thing to do, right?!?). I don’t know who to attribute this fable to; if you know the author, please tell me. Here is my version:
A pig and a chicken arranged to have breakfast together. The pig asks the chicken, “What should we have?” The chicken replies, “How about bacon and eggs?” The pig replies. “That won’t work. You might be ‘committed,’ but I’m ‘invested.’”
See, the pig is all-in on this breakfast in a permanent and life-changing way. The chicken, while deeply committed, will be on the other side of this situation, basically unscathed.
Having kids is like chickens and pigs for men and women.
Men were there for the party at the beginning and are invested through material support, money, time, energy, and a whole myriad of other ways.
Women are committed. They sacrifice their bodies to grow and nurture these incredible lives inside themselves. They are physically connected. Their bodies are linked from the very beginning.
I was shocked to learn with our twins back in 2014 that a blood draw from Mom could tell us the gender of the babies. How is this possible? The mother’s bloodstream is mixed with that of the children, and little bits of their DNA are floating around in the mother’s blood. WOW!!
Here is what I know: emotional and physical changes occur in our spouse from the moment your child is conceived. They share a connection with our children that I hope science, medicine, spirituality, energy work, and psychology can figure out and have the ability to explain to us men in hundreds of years.
For now, I simply want to draw your attention back to the fact that your overwhelmed working mom and wife is navigating a world we’ll never fully comprehend.
It is why there is a depleted mother syndrome and there isn’t a depleted father syndrome. They are pigs while we are chickens.
We can strive for a deeper sympathy and appreciate Mom for being a mom. Recognize that there is such a thing as a depleted mother syndrome that is real. One thing I can do is try to explain mom burnout to a husband with my writing and experience. What will you do?
I’m happy to have a personal conversation on any of these topics if you are interested, even with my limited experience and zero formal training. Contact me.
Even a 20-mile-hour ‘minor’ accident can have devastating effects, short-term and long-term.
About 8 years ago, I met a man at church that was deeply passionate about his faith, his family, and the work he was doing at the church running light and sound. This man is 5 to 10 years younger than me. But you won’t know it by looking at him – he carried himself like a man 10 years my senior.
This man hurt. He was in pain just talking to me after a church service.
David had been rear-ended while in his work van. Being a young, strong man who worked residential and commercial construction, he thought little of the accident back when he was close to 30 years old because ‘it wasn’t all that bad.’
Then, about two years after the accident, the disks in his spine had degenerated to the point he was in constant pain.
This is when David realized he should have seen a doctor immediately after that accident that ‘wasn’t all that bad.’
David and I connect weekly over the past few years. I imagine that after all of the surgeries, disability, years of financial hardship, and, most importantly, missed time and opportunities to engage with his family and children – not seeking full and restorative treatment immediately after the accident is David’s biggest regret.
That decision will haunt him for the rest of his life.
And the person who hit him was only going 20 miles an hour.
So, please, if you are ever in a car accident, no matter how minor, go see a doctor and chiropractor immediately.
This is EXACTLY why you pay for car insurance – and hopefully, the other party does, too.
Just open a claim. That insurance that you pay for will cover most, if not all, of your medical. You have zero excuses except for ignorance and your ego. If you read this last sentence, ignorance is no longer your excuse to seek care. So all you have left is your ego. Get over it and go see a doctor.
So, let me ask: Where does your ego keep you from doing the right thing at the moment?
I talk to a lot of men on a regular basis. Let me suggest a few prompts from what they share with me and some of my own that is an indicator your ego is getting in the way:
- Helping out around the house, including laundry, cooking, child care, and cleaning. If you complain or have an issue about something she isn’t doing around the house – try getting up and doing it yourself consistently, for years on end, instead of complaining about it.
- Visiting her parents and being truly joyful about it. When was the last time you called her mom and dad out of the blue?
- Updating your resume and going to look for a better job. Are you whining about how badly you are treated and aren’t appreciated for your contribution? Do something about it.
- Intimately meeting her needs the way she wants them met. Perhaps try only meeting her needs for once. Try this. She’ll find it extremely sexy. A woman once told me that foreplay for women takes days and weeks. For men, it is a few minutes (maybe seconds). Laugh because it is true.
- If you have a problem with pornography, social media, gaming, or any other vice from a screen, please seek help.
- If your overwhelmed working mom and wife has ever asked you to go to counseling, alone or with her as a couple, and you haven’t. You know what to do.
- If she printed this article and handed it to you.
Where does your ego keep you from recognizing depleted mother syndrome in your spouse?
She needs me to respond emotionally before I respond rationally.
Shortly after the accident, I was making arrangements to have an estimate done on the damages. The car seems to be drivable.
While I was making arrangements, Rebekah asked me to inquire with the estimator if the car was safe to drive. She also asked me to inquire if, given two rear-ending accidents in a row if there was a possibility of compounding damages that should be looked into. Finally, she suggested that perhaps I take the car to the dealer to have it looked at.
I have no idea why I react the way I do, but my reptilian brain kicked in. My initial reaction was frustration. If I admit it and seek the root emotion, it is anger.
When I trigger in this way, I tend to head straight into ‘rational’ mode and ‘appeasement.’ I know she knows I am doing this. I also know that we don’t yet have the language in our relationship to pause and engage in constructive dialogue.
The immediate point is to recognize that my response, any response in that state of mind, isn’t and never will be constructive to our relationship.
The bigger picture consideration is that there is a whole history in our dance together that causes a response like this. And there are three people in the dance: 1. Me, 2. Her, and 3. We, as a couple.
Rebekah’s emotional needs are for safety and to feel supported and cared for by her husband. She wants to feel loved and protected. If those are her needs, that’s what I should give her. I can figure out the rational stuff, like scheduling the car, later.
And my response can wait.
So let me ask: Do you see any of this story in yourself? If so, here is what I now know that I didn’t until someone taught me: use your emotions and your reactions like a sensor. Learn to read your sensors.
We trust the temperature on our thermostat or the fuel gauge in our car – both are a type of sensor. Learn to be aware that you have a choice in noticing your emotions. Can sense them. Then you can interpret the reading. It takes practice. The result might be blunt and broad at first. For example, with a thermometer – hot and cold. Over time, you can add in finer determinations like – probably above 80. Below freezing. Finally, you can get specific. Don’t expect a specific understanding of your emotions right away. That takes practice.
It is easier to read the emotions in your partner. You can connect with her and sense her need for trust, love, caring, and acceptance. Give her that. Mirror her emotions. It is what she wants.
Learn her body language and act on what you see
Like our sensing of emotions, we learn to turn off our conscious and intentional sensing of body language at some point in our lives. At a minimum, we ignore the signals from the very accurate and effective sensors that our eyes are, and we don’t take action on what we observe.
If you want to support your overwhelmed mom effectively, this is an invitation to turn that ability back on. It will take practice to read her body language and even more practice to interpret it properly.
It is natural that you aren’t practiced at this. During down, our senses is an adaptation that I believe all of us developed or were pushed towards at a young age.
For example, my children used to cry or fuss at every bump, scrape, and scratch. We teach our children to shake it off, be stoic, and self-soothe. Look, a crying child is not pleasant. It is natural we’d do this. Our parents taught us to self-soothe, not cry, and not express emotions.
Adults are specially adapted to numbing our pains in discomforts in ourselves. We do this at work, in relationships, and within ourselves all the time.
I’ve had to re-learn to turn back on my eyes, ears, and senses within my body. I’m still learning to do this. And I’m, admittedly, not very good at it yet.
It is important to learn her body language and act on what you see for two reasons:
- She might be hurt physically and not even know she is compensating.
- She’ll be sending you non-verbal signals and queues during a conversation that will make you better are reading her mood, her reaction, and her needs.
Regarding being hurt, I try to observe her each day. Usually, this is while we are in the kitchen prepping breakfast and packing lunches. I make the coffee and hand it to Rebekah and strive for eye contact while doing so. It is a chance to see how she is holding herself, how stiff she walks or bends. I know she is hurt. I also know she is going to PT, seeing a Chiropractor, and an ND.
Observing her physical body is my bridge to observing her body language. I’m admittedly not very good at it yet.
While some of her queues are seemingly obvious to me, I don’t possess the skills, language, or willpower to speak into what I see every time I should. This is still my gap. That knowledge alone, about my own gaps, is awareness of something to work on. At least she knows I’m making an effort.
She also knows I’m looking for the 10 signs of overwhelm and I’m gaining knowledge and speaking into depleted mother syndrome.
Be prepared for setbacks, and give her time.
One accident was enough. She wasn’t fully recovered after 16 months.
The hope here is to recover fully.
Being injured in a car accident is never acceptable. Being injured in a 2nd car accident before healing from the first is a compounding physical and emotional setback.
As we get into our mid to later 40s, I’m constantly aware of my incremental declines in fitness, mobility, flexibility, and resilience. It just takes longer to bounce back if I ever do.
I remember my dad working on that Triumph Something new would always break. It was natural to see him frustrated at the moment. Then he’d take a breath, assess, and methodologically address the next issue at hand.
The idea of ‘recovered’ to me is now more like an ideal and a continuum. There is no such thing as a fixed point in time where I can gesture with my hands and say ‘done.’
When she faces a setback, and she will, give her grace and patience. Just like she does for you. Strive towards the very best possible version of a supportive husband.
Remember, you are also modeling behavior for your kids and how they will support and receive support in a future relationship.
I’ve learned that some physical injuries can take years to fully heal.
Some injuries ‘stop’ healing, and you have to learn to accept and adapt to the new state of things.
If you are thinking days, it will likely take weeks or months.
If you are thinking months, it will likely take years.
Between the time of the origional injury and full healing, what else gets added to her plate. This is what I call overwhelm stacking. One thing piles onto the next onto the next. This is the root of depleted mother syndrome.
No one seems to take anything off our stack. Can you take something off her stack? What else can you take?
Conclusion – Depleted Mother Syndrome:
I hope this was a helpful exercise on how to explain mom burnout to a husband. Consider the lessons learned from the example of restoring a car – If you can give grace and patience to an inanimate object like a Triumph, you can do better with additional grace and patience with your overwhelmed working mom and wife who gave birth to your children.
This article is a companion to a blog on supporting overwhelmed mom, where I attempted to speak about depleted mother syndrome.
Consider also checking out Rebekah’s Survive and Thrive guide for busy moms. you can get it for free.
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