Feeling the Burn

Danielle Archuleta of Greeley is a stay-at-home mom with a couple side hustles. She cares for her young twin boys during the day while her husband works. She says it was difficult to break out of what she considered the traditional mold of being a stay-at-home mom.

“I had the mindset of everything and everyone in the home being solely my responsibility,” Archuleta, 27, says. “And that quickly became extremely overwhelming.”

She reached a breaking point, she says, when she started to resent it all. While being a stay-at-home mom was something she’d always wanted to do, her love for the role was beginning to get overshadowed by the crushing load of housework.

Finding a good groove when it comes to household chores and responsibilities is important whether both parents work, or one stays at home.

According to a survey by Pew Research Center, more than half of married U.S. adults–with and without children–say sharing household chores is “very important” to a successful marriage.

Yet a 2020 Gallup poll of heterosexual couples found that married or partnered moms were still more likely to do most household chores, even when moms also worked full-time.

“I started to become more open with my partner about how heavy my shoulders felt,” she says. “And I simply needed him to take a few things off my plate so my main focus could be on our kids. And I started to take more pressure off myself.”

Northern Colorado family experts agree that finding what works for each couple helps families avoid burnout and resentment.

Here’s what they recommend couples prioritize for a healthy, happy family.

Danielle Archuleta with her husband, Cameron, and twin boys, Jackson and Carter.

Minimizing mom guilt

Joshua Emery, of Emery Counseling in Fort Collins, is a Licensed Professional Counselor with more than a decade of experience.

He spoke with NOCO Style about common themes that come up during his sessions with clients. One big one, he says, is mom guilt. It doesn’t matter if both parents work or if mom stays at home.

In a traditional home environment, it can be easy to underestimate how exhausting it is to be with the kids all day, he says. Moms may want a break but feel guilty asking their partner to take on the kids when they get home from work.

When the weekend rolls around, there’s often still no reprieve. Moms in particular, he says, can get so caught up in what they think they should be doing and what their family life should look like during the weekend, that they don’t make time for things they want to do.

“If I were to generalize, moms have a harder time doing self-care,” he says.

Mom guilt is often described as the inescapable, relentless feeling that you aren’t doing enough as a parent. While dads aren’t immune to these feelings, the social pressure on moms is next level.

According to Healthline, there are several ways you can work to overcome mom guilt.

1 Identify the source. Comparison is a major contributor to mom guilt. Comparing yourself to social media influencers who present a picture-perfect life is doing you no favors. Your upbringing can be an important source, too. Mom guilt may rear its ugly head if you’re trying a different parenting strategy than the one you grew up with or you have past trauma.

2 Know what’s important to your family. This can look like hammering out a family mission statement or having a solid understanding of your core values as a family. Understanding what you value as a family-be it quality time, health and wellness, creativity or something else-will help you make decisions you feel good about.

3 Have a trusted circle. While you don’t want to inundate yourself with other people’s highlight reels, you do want to surround yourself with people you consider to be valued, trusted sources of information.

For Archuleta, this looked like being honest with her partner when she felt she needed help.

“If I was starting to feel burned out, I would just ask him to make dinner that night,” she says. “I also started to give myself more grace-if the living room was a wreck and I was exhausted at the end of the night, I would just get my good night’s sleep and tackle it the next day.”

Allowing herself to ask for help and putting less pressure on herself turned things around, Archuleta says.

Take time for yourself

Whether you’re part of a dual income household or one parent stays home with the kids, Emery says it’s important to take time for yourself.

“If you’re drained from the week and you miss your friends, go and see your friends,” Emery says. “If dad doesn’t know what he’s doing with the kids–it’s OK, he’ll learn.”

However, all too often, couples can find themselves vying for freedom and fighting over who deserves to check out for a bit and recover, he says.

“When it becomes about score keeping, no one ever wins that battle,” he says. “Most likely, both parents are working hard, and they are both drained. Everyone is generally too busy. I think people take on more and more because they think they should be able to do it–because those around them seem to be doing it and don’t seem to be struggling. But they are.”

Taking time for yourself doesn’t have to be a big, extravagant event. It can be as simple as tag teaming, Emery says. Maybe one parent goes on a solo walk, and when they get back, the other takes a nap. Regardless, it should be OK to advocate for yourself and let your partner know when you need a break and encourage your partner to take one too.

Be a team

It’s important for parents to see themselves as a team, Emery says.

Part of this is resisting the urge to compare who does more or works harder. Part of it is figuring out how to split the workload in ways that make sense for the household.

“Every family is different,” Emery says. “It’s not about what you feel like you’re supposed to do–what works for you?”

There are aspects about running a household that inevitably suck. It’s good to divvy those things up and see it as a team decision, Emery says.

“Those responsibilities change when you go through different seasons of family life,” Emery says. “It’s important to have ongoing conversations about contribution and workload.”

Leave work at work

A lot of working parents struggle to be present at home, Emery says. They find themselves ruminating on what happened that day. With their wheels still spinning, it can be difficult for them to fully engage at home.

“That’s even more pronounced with working remotely,” Emery says.

The ritual of leaving the office and driving home gave people time to unwind and leave work at work. When you just shut the computer, it can be harder to leave work where it belongs.

Taking a little bit of time for yourself is especially important as more people are working remotely from home, Emery says.

So, how can we do that?

According to Harvard Business Review, there are four big steps you can take to leave work at work.

1 Define what “after hours” means for you. Whether you have a traditional but remote 9-to-5 or more flexible hours, define times you are on and off the clock. This will help you switch out of work mode and be more present with your children.

2 Build prep time into your schedule and create a to-do list. That can help reduce your anxiety and stop worrying something will fall through the cracks.

3 Create an after-hours boundary with your coworkers. This may look like asking coworkers to send an email rather than a text if a question isn’t urgent and can wait until the morning.

4 Do your work at work. Don’t wait until the kids are tucked into bed. This one sounds obvious, but many folks need the reminder.

Build family connections

Laura Whitcomb is a licensed psychotherapist and a licensed addiction counselor at NoCo Counseling and Wellness. She has a background in social work, but these days she specializes in relationships–especially those between moms and adolescent girls.

It’s easy to get caught up in the tasks of parenthood, but Whitcomb reminds parents to slow down and prioritize relationships. With organizations such as Colorado Children’s Hospital declaring a crisis in youth mental health, it’s more important than ever for parents to focus on what matters.

“So much of mental health ends up being about relationships because that is primary in all of our lives,” Whitcomb says. “We’re hardwired as humans to be connected. Without that support, we won’t survive.”

Kids these days have a reputation for being on their phones all the time. It can be easier to let them scroll and you spend time on your own phone, Whitcomb says, but it’s not better.

Whitcomb challenges parents to really get to know their kids.

“Do you know who your kids are? Do you know what they care about? What matters to them? What music they like?” Whitcomb asks. “It doesn’t matter if you disagree–you should know.”

Knowing your child helps to create a culture of safety, she says, because it puts more emphasis on character and relationships than performance and achievement.

Model healthy social behavior

Whitcomb says she talks to parents a lot about how they are modeling social emotional skills. Part of that is asking what their social lives are like.

“So many of us are happy to just be in our house,” Whitcomb says. “Relationships take effort. It’s easier to text or sit behind a screen.”

When adults isolate themselves, ignore their own needs, and turn to technology or substances to cope with stress, kids notice.

Adults often worry about keeping a clean house and presenting a nice image, Whitcomb says. She acknowledged there is a lot of cultural pressure to perform, and we typically want to impress our peers. Living up to the ideals social media presents is difficult.

But Whitcomb challenges parents again to think about what message that sends to kids.

“What’s more important? How clean my house is or my character?” Whitcomb asked. “That’s really where a lot of us struggle. We’ll spend hours cleaning our house, but we don’t take care of our mental health.”

Archuleta’s boys are now 4 years old, and she’s learned a lot since she became a mom and tried to take on all the household responsibilities by herself. These days, she believes it’s important to share household responsibilities, and she’s modeling that for her sons.

“I’ve been raising my boys to be involved in cleaning, cooking and doing laundry because these are all life skills everyone needs to have,” she says. “Hopefully because of that, they’ll make very good partners when it comes to their future relationships.”


Kelly Ragan is a writer based in Greeley with bylines in The Colorado Sun, USA Today, The Greeley Tribune and the NoCo Optimist. When she’s not writing, you can usually find her on a hike or with her nose in a book.