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The Real Mental Break Moms Need

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What is a NeuroReflective Pause, and why is it so important for a mother’s mental health?

In my psychotherapy practice and experience as a mom of five, I have tried to articulate a term for a very common mental health need among caregivers. Almost every client I see who has young children feels depleted in a way she is challenged to explain. Physical exhaustion is a given. And it’s not about thinking too hard all day. What overwhelmed mothers are seeking a reprieve from is intention. We seek more inward-facing, restorative moments. I have coined a term for this kind of moment:

A Neuroreflective Pause

Reflective processing time, similar to daydreaming, or mindlessly surfing the internet, exists when output is not required – no reacting or strategizing, no interaction, no goal-driven task — and is a vital component of the brain’s healthy functioning.

In short, the brain needs time to simply digest the experiences of the day, without needing to respond.

Mothers in our culture are a prime example of those who have a deficit of neuroreflective time. Taking care of young children requires a type of mental stamina that challenges the most energetic and extroverted person. Very often, time away from attending to children’s needs becomes filled with other tasks that require focus and concentration. Mothers who are more introverted face a particular pain when continuously having to engage in the external world like this. A Neuroreflective Pause provides a means to step back, consciously, without the need to react, to anything.

I believe this conscious “off” time is as important to healthy functioning as sleep. Without it, we are more prone to depression, anxiety, physical illness, and relationship turmoil.

So much of childcare in the early years is about outward tasking and monitoring. In our culture of extroversion and immediate gratification, letting one’s mind wander even for a few seconds often comes with an implicit judgement of laziness. At worst, an off-moment can put children in danger. Therefore it is almost impossible to engineer regular Neuroreflective Pauses when children are in one’s care.

Long before parenting was as isolating as it is now, mothers had helpers – aunts and grandmothers, who were also nearby, attending to the children, so that the mother could experience moments “off” to process, reflect, and rest.

Neuroreflective time, where no output demands exist on the mother, and where she can either focus inward on her thoughts or “mindlessly” absorb information, is a way for the brain to recharge.

Do you need more Neuroreflective Pause time in your life? Here are a few tips:

-Protect your non-parenting time, such as the time after the children go to bed. Give yourself permission to watch bad television or scroll through your Instagram. Don’t schedule sleep or tasks, including interaction with others.

-Explain to your partner that neuroreflective time is essential for your mental health.

-Acknowledge that time off doesn’t always mean you are getting a Neuroreflective Pause if you have another task to accomplish.

-Gain an awareness of when you need a Neuroreflective Pause. Symptoms of deficit include increasing irritability, depression, confusion, emotional outbursts, and a sense of overwhelm.

-If you’re having trouble explaining this to your doctor or friends, please send them this link

-See a trusted, experienced therapist to process what you may be thinking or needing to say out loud.

Kathryn Bereman-Skelly is a maternal mental health specialist, author, and mother of five in Portland Oregon.

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