When it comes to endurance, mums can keep jogging on the treadmill of chores, childcare, work and errands indefinitely.
There’s no one else to do it – our other halves might pull their weight but they don’t have a clue what the kids should wear to nursery in the morning or where the bleach is kept – and so we soldier on.
But eventually we will all falter and stumble. We might still be plodding away, but our head is gone. We can’t focus on anything else, because every speck of energy we have is going on getting through the essentials off the day.
Those essentials include making sure the kids leave the house without looking feral, because we can handle us looking like we were dragged through a hedge backwards but we don’t want anyone thinking our kids aren’t well looked after.
There is also getting the washing done, for similar reasons to the one above.
Another essential is making sure the kids get enough sleep. This one is particularly tricky, because most children actively resist sleep. When you’re tired and it’s all you can think about doing yourself, this is a particularly cruel aspect of parenting.
Plus, of course, the children need feeding, because we fear that one missed, or substandard, meal will lead to the NSPCC, police and social services piling through door within the hour.
Though interestingly feeding ourselves often gets lost amid all of this, despite that fact that if we starve first everyone else will be starving next.
It’s amazing how long an individual can keep going despite feeling utterly mentally drained. It’s incredible how a supposedly empty cup can just about trickle out enough fuel for us to keep ticking over.
This is about more than just physical tiredness, which is bad enough on its own.
This is about mental exhaustion.
The type of exhaustion where you can just about focus on monotonous tasks that you can do half asleep, such as organising toast, changing nappies, or reading the same story for the 176th time.
Mums are vulnerable to mental exhaustion because of the monotony, but also because they give and give and give, without taking anything back for themselves.
We skip meals, lose sleep, go to the playground when all we want to do is collapse on the sofa.
When you write it all and see it in black and white it sounds like torture, but this is all normal.
It’s a mama’s lot in life. When you have small children, you have to be less selfish – in fact you can’t be selfish at all. This is the gig we signed up for, and while we might complain about it endlessly, of course we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than with our babies.
But sometimes we need to take a huge step back.
When you are trapped in the heart of the deep dark forest of overwhelm, it is impossible to see the wood for the trees.
So as hard as it might be, you need to step back. Find a way to step back from the situation and give yourself some breathing space and distance.
It was me a few days ago.
I’d had a nightmare run of it where one or both girls had been ill and off nursery. I had a ton of work to do, the washing pile was scaring me, bags and boxes littered nearly every spare inch of floor and the fridge was inexplicably always empty, despite me visiting the supermarket daily.
Neither of my kids would leave me alone. They chased after me like chirping little goslings chasing their mother. Both wanted to be held, constantly. I couldn’t even cook dinner without them sitting at my feet and crying.
Even in the evening when they were in bed, I looked around the house with horror at the mess. The mountain of clean clothes to be folded and put away, plus the bathroom sink caked in dried toothpaste, splashes of my foundation and goodness knows what else.
I needed to get away, to have some distance, because the overwhelm was making me moody, tired, fed up and, frankly, pissed off.
I went out for dinner and a film with my dad. Just a few hours away, in a different environment, no huge deal.
But wow did it make a big difference to my mental state the day after.
I’ve found similar success with even small things like getting out to the shops on my own for a few hours, or kicking everyone else out of the house so that I can do what I want to it without my chirping flock of geese clucking after me.
So, my advice?
Don’t just keep going on the treadmill. Yes, you can do it. Of course you can. You’re a woman, you’re the strongest species on the planet.
But stop competing with yourself. Get off of the treadmill, somehow, and do something you love. However simple that might be.
Even better, make time to do that thing every week. You will be amazed at how much of a difference it can make.