"Tully:" Portrayal of a Burned Out Mom

This weekend I decided to finally watch the movie “Tully,” which I had been meaning to get to for months, after hearing positive reviews from friends. If you are not familiar with this film, it is about a burned out mom of three children played brilliantly by Charlize Theron. I found myself so relating to the main character, Marlo, as she struggled to juggle home, husband, two small children— one of whom had special needs— plus a newborn. I must admit that, at times, I felt transported back to those days in my own motherhood journey, and I could almost relive the stress and anguish of it all.

In watching this movie, I think that Marlo’s life is fairly typical of many moms living in suburban America. She is a working middle-class mom, she’s married to a nice guy who loves her, she has a modest but nice house, and her two children are in private school. Her life is fairly ordinary by many accounts. And that is precisely the reason why this film is so important. It shines light on a problem that can— and often does— go unrecognized: mommy burnout. Even Marlo’s own husband did not realize how much she was struggling until the end of the movie! It is also quite poignant to recognize that even a woman who appears to have a good life with many advantages and comforts struggles with burnout. Let’s imagine for a minute how much more challenging motherhood is for those moms who cannot afford to take maternity leave, or who are single moms, or whose partners are physically or emotionally unavailable, or who don’t have access to external support, or to good schools for their kids, or to housing in a safe neighborhood? Each of these challenges adds additional stress to the lives of mothers all across the world.

Shining a light on mommy burnout is important because of the significant impact that it can have not only on maternal health and wellbeing but also, ultimately, on the wellbeing of our children and families. The fact that mommy burnout is so often unrecognized and unquestioned tells me that more awareness is needed. The fact that it is so common tells me that more support is needed for moms, even those who are not “brand new” moms. Motherhood is a lifetime journey that doesn’t end when our babies reach school-age. It is one in which our children present us with different challenges as they grow, and therefore mothers need support at every stage. Furthermore, each child is different and comes into this world with his/her own personality and needs, and that makes the job all the more complex and challenging.

Another lesson that I draw from this film is about the importance of moms asking for and receiving help. Like many women, Marlo felt that she should be able to handle all of the chaos on her own, that this was her job to do alone, especially since she was now on maternity leave and had a break from the added responsibilities of her job. Like many women, she had difficulty asking for help, and even accepting help when it was offered. This had dire consequences for her.

If you are a mother —or even if you aren’t— I highly recommend that you see this movie, and that you take its message to heart. I hope that you can see yourself in Marlo and that you are moving in a path that takes you away from mommy burnout and more toward joy and fulfillment, because you deserve that and so do your kids. If you would like to explore changes you can make to accomplish that feel free to book a Mom Empowerment Session with me to explore how I can support you in creating the motherhood experience and the life that you desire.

Dr. Raquel Muller