Why are mothers always so tired?

Kavita Srinivasan
Filed on March 11, 2021

My mother was very unwell when I was a child. It went on for a few years. I love her. She’s my heart. But in giving to her I had emptied myself. There is a biological reason this happens — children feel compelled to help their parents because their survival depends on their parents’ wellbeing. And so I helped. I tried. I stayed awake at night to check on her. I was only eight.

Since I had my child close to five years ago, I’m always tired. I’m spent. I’ve squandered my reserves on nurturing the person I needed nurture from. And so as the night approaches, my heart quickens, the familiar trauma of being awake and vigilant about my mother’s health, settles in. It’s in my bones. The fear has frozen my panic in time. Every night I regress and I become helpless and scared. Every time my son cried, I froze. How can I take care of him? But I did, just as I had all those years ago when I was eight. I pushed myself cruelly, without compassion, berating myself. I did not know how to be kind to me.

I’ve spent the past few years healing from this: Sitting with and nurturing my eight-year-old self, feeling her pain for days, weeks, months… and I have released a lot of the trauma. But my bones speak a language I cannot understand. Sleep is still elusive.

We’ve all done this in some form or the other. We are always tired because our bones and hearts are empty of resilience — resilience that comes from unconditional parental love. And so, it’s time to rest. It’s time to settle in the depletion, to give permission to be nothing… to rest, to rest, to rest.

I started resting about a year and a half ago. It was the effort of a lifetime. I am grateful to have been able to do it. I slept, sometimes in the middle of the day. And I judged myself… but then I stopped. We may not all have the time to pause. I no longer do; life as a parent with adult responsibilities doesn’t allow us much reprieve. It’s enough to do just this, say just this: “It’s okay to want to rest. It’s okay to not do anything. It’s okay to sleep in. It’s okay to be unproductive.” Give yourself permission to be an underachiever. Just these words are balm. But saying these words takes the effort of a lifetime. Why?

Because we haven’t been truly loved for doing nothing. We have had to work for love. The love we received was conditional. It wasn’t abundant. It was portioned and meted out based on being ‘good’. And at some point, we can’t perform anymore. We have to face the part of us that needs to be loved for doing nothing.

So, the next time you’re tired, try this:

Lie down and say, “You can be imperfect. You don’t have to work for me to love you. You’ve done more than you should ever have.”

Get into a fetal position, breathe and accept yourself when you’re nothing more than a curled up ball, paralysed with exhaustion. Begin to feel the love, as you lie safe in the only arms that can heal — yours. It’s time to rest.


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