By Njoki Chege
That fateful day, August 23, began like any other for Brenda Slaby, who went from being a role model to her children and a schoolteacher to being ‘The most hated mother in America’.
Her crime? She was in way too much of hurry. So much that she forgot her two-year-old daughter in the car for eight hours, causing the poor tot her life.
Brenda, like so many modern mothers, was in a hurry, with her to-do list unbelievably overwhelming. Trying, like many of us, to be supermum, perfect employee and great wife, she forgot to drop her two-year old daughter at the baby-sitter’s.
The girl died of heatstroke after being left in the car for nearly eight hours. Outside, temperatures had reached 38 degrees Celcius and Brenda could not forgive herself for putting her child through the painful death.
Speaking on Oprah, Brenda says the lesson she learned and wants to pass on to other mums is to slow down — to not become overwhelmed with perfection.
“I’ve learned to say a lot, ‘It just doesn’t matter,’” she says. “The house doesn’t matter, the perfect dinner doesn’t matter — the children matter.”
The Hurried Woman Syndrome is common to women aged between 25-55 with children between the ages of four and 16 years. According to www.hurriedwoman.com, avoidable stress is a major contributing factor to this syndrome.
This is the stress that often comes from a busy schedule, with children to take care of, demanding careers, appointments to attend to and projects to complete. As the website states, this stress eventually causes a chemical imbalance in the brain’s Serotonin-Dopamine system, which in turn causes fatigue, and also an increase in appetite.
As soon as fatigue checks in, women suffering this syndrome begin to lose interest in activities such as exercise and sex. The increased appetite certainly comes with increased weight and in due time, the woman becomes angry and guilty with herself. The pent-up anger in her is taken out on those around her; husband, children, parents, colleagues and friends.
The term, coined by American gynaecologist Brent Bost, occurs in a vicious cycle of fatigue, increased appetite and weight gain, which in turn causes more fatigue and anger, a low self-esteem coupled with more guilt; and the cycle continues until a woman can take it no more.
Jeniffer Karina, a motivational speaker/author and mother of three grown children, identifies with this syndrome when she was juggling three children that included a set of twins, a busy career and schoolwork.
Says Karina: “I was ‘superwoman’ for a long time until I came to a level of total frustration. There was so much to do, and so little time to do everything.”
According to Karina, such women become so overwhelmed and angry that they will take it out on people around them — more so the husbands, accusing them of not being supportive.
“When you go to the extreme, you will hurt others around you and begin to accuse others of not being there for you. Stress becomes your second name and the imbalance in your life will depress you,” she says.
When Karina realised she couldn’t do it and have it, she began to appreciate the importance of slowing down, taking a deep breath and enlisting help from all quarters.
“We decided to split duties with my husband. For instance, while he dropped the children to school in the morning, I would pick them up in the evening. That way I reduced my work load and had more time to myself,” she says.
Women, Karina believes, tend to overload and overwork themselves because they seek affirmation and want to please those around them.
“Women derive pleasure from affirmation and want to yield power around themselves by trying to do everything, with the mentality that ‘I am the only one who can do it’,” she says.
But that path, Karina notes, is a ticket to a serious burnout, and it is at this point that women will become nagging, irritable, angry and who knows, even fall asleep on the wheel because they are too tired.
Rev Linda Ochola Adolwa an executive pastor at Mavuno Church and a married mother of a four-year-old son agrees that women sometimes bite more than they can chew.
She says: “The challenge is how to continue to advance in one’s career whilst at the same time meeting the needs of young growing children.?Most women want to have both at the same time and so we juggle between the demands of our job, our home, our child or children and our spouse.”
Rev Ochola believes that women need to think critically when determining their priorities, especially when they have young children.
“Whereas I think that women have all it takes to cut it professionally, I have serious concerns on whether they should attempt to take up demanding jobs, particularly at a certain season of their families’ life. Children are young only once. My four-year-old is growing so quickly,” she notes.
According to Rev Ochola, it is only a matter of time before children expand their social world to the extent that they no longer need their mothers in the same way they did when they were young.?As she notes, what makes women try to have it all is probably the lack of assurance that professional opportunities we pass up will come our way again.?
She says: “Women ought to slow down at least for a season. Not necessarily stop working altogether since many families are not in a position to afford that, but women can find innovative ways to spend more time with their children.”
For instance, a family could choose to move closer to the woman’s work place so that her travel time is reduced and she can then spend time with her child that would have been spent commuting from the office to the house.
Other families opt to do away with help in the evenings so that a mother can be present with her child every evening and give the needed input. Still, others have chosen to go into business in such a way that they can control their schedule or even work out of their homes and be present with their children even as they work.?
Rev Ochola believes when women are present in the home, it provides the chance to catch so many of the children’s thoughts, which are expressed in their waking hours.
She says: “They have questions about how life works, the things that make them laugh or the things that make them fearful. It also provides the opportunities to provide instruction and correction in the moment, in ways only a mother can.”
Women are also advised by Karina to learn the value of delegation and splitting duties within the family.
“Do not shy fromthe idea of asking your husband to help with some of the duties,” says Karina.
“Also delegate roles and responsibilities to your children. Simple duties such as cleaning their shoes, tidying their rooms and packing their own lunches. Then you will be left with enough time to do only what is most important,” she concludes.