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Mothers, Mental Health and the Conversation We Should All Be Having

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the mental health crisis, but today I want to focus on mothers.
Last Updated
April 22, 2019
posted on
May 8, 2019
Minute Read

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.

Say no to competition.

One of the biggest stresses we face comes from feeling that we need to make life perfect for our kids. We run them all over the countryside in order to help them keep up with their friends and give them ample opportunities. Often, though, the real reason we drive ourselves crazy overscheduling our kids (and hence ourselves) is because we are competitive with other mothers. Yup. We want our kids to be every bit as good as their kids. I get it. I was there once. Also- we feel we need to let our kids do and have whatever they want: cell phones, sleep overs, video games, 5 sports per semester. Forget it. You are the mom and you decide what to give your kids and when. If life drives you crazy trying to make everyone happy, change. And when you do, stick to your guns. I promise, in the long run, the changes you make will make everyone happier.

If we want to live healthier, happier lives, we’ve got to call ourselves on our competitive behavior.  We have to resist our culture of competitiveness and view each other as allies. If we don’t, we squander any opportunity for real friendship, and we will simply exhaust ourselves by always trying to be the best.

Make time for solitude.

Removing ourselves from constant stimulation and noise actually sharpens our sensitivity. Solitude forces us to face ourselves. In solitude, we learn to like ourselves better because we are faced with our own company. It helps us heal from old hurts so that we can be free to enjoy the present and it refreshes us in ways that the company of others can’t.

Let go of the comparisons, focus on making time for yourself and make friendship a priority. Yes, mothers are drowning in stress. No, they shouldn’t be. Mothers, focus on  this month: It’s not your fault. You’re trying to please everyone all of the and you’re not alone. We all do it and the only way to get life under control and be happier is to make some changes. I promise that when you do, you will feel wonderful.

We will be talking more about mental health and mothers all month, so I encourage you to come back and read, comment and share what you’re learning about your own mental health and the freedom that comes from being honest about it with others.

Dr. Meg Meeker, MD

Practicing pediatrician, parent, grandparent, coach, speaker, and author. Say hello @MegMeekerMD

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