May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This is an incredibly important time to raise awareness and reduce the stigma of mental health. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last year talking about the mental health crisis in our teens, but since May is also a month that we celebrate mothers on Mother’s Day, I want to spend time talking about moms and mental health—an equally important topic and a group that is often forgotten in the conversation around mental health.
An article recently went viral entitled “Mothers Are Drowning in Stress.” Just by the title alone, I can tell you this is absolutely true. The writer, Dr. Alison Escalante, references a book by sociologist Caitlyn Collins called Motherhood Work: How Women Manage Careers and Caregiving. Collins researched moms across the globe and found that “American mothers stood out in their experience of crushing guilt and work-family conflict… U.S. moms are caught between conflicting cultural schema—that of worker devotion and devotion to children.”
If you are a mother reading this, this probably doesn’t surprise you. As a mother and pediatrician, I myself have experienced what we call “mom guilt” and have seen mothers of patients experience the same. Collins’ research backs up what many of us have already known—being a mother is terribly difficult work. And because of this, it often takes a toll on your mental health, causing you to drown in stress, anxiety or depression.
Collins’ most important message to mothers feeling crushed by guilt is this: It’s not your fault. Those are powerful words for the victims of mom guilt. Collins points out that social expectations and poor systems for working moms are really what are to blame—not moms themselves.
Moms, this is very important for you to hear and understand. Societal pressure, social media comparison, jobs that don’t support working mothers—all of this adds up to a lot of pressure put on moms, and moms alone. But what Collins says is right, it’s not your fault.
I have some advice for you moms who are feeling overwhelmed with stress. These worked for me and many of the moms in my practice.
Maintain key friendships.
Friendships are easy to form in our childhood, but as we become adults and especially as we become mothers, friendships are more difficult to come by. We are busy and worried about young children so we don’t prioritize friendship. But we thrive on loving and being loved, talking and listening, seeing and being seen in the way only friends can do. Loneliness makes parenting even harder than it needs to be. Community helps us thrive. Prioritize your friendships. They will carry you through the most difficult times. Even if you have one or two close friends you can talk to once a week, that will help tremendously.