The modern mother is infamous for her acrobatic act of juggling between caregiving, breadwinning, and housekeeping. This is on top of society’s huge pressure on women to do it all and be it all. As a result, a mother’s mental health is often left on the backburner.
So this Mother’s Day, let’s show appreciation for our supermoms by better understanding the complex challenges of motherhood, along with how we can better support them in their mental health journey.
Challenges Faced by the Modern Mother
Motherhood is one of the most rewarding things a woman will experience. However, we must also acknowledge that it depletes a woman’s physical and psychological resources. Despite this, society often dismisses the invisible burdens women have to carry. Here’s to name a few:
1) Work, life, and family balance
Society expects mothers to raise families as if they don’t have careers. And work tirelessly as if they don’t have children. They bear the brunt of “invisible tasks” from organizing family schedules and managing household finances, to caring for their family’s emotional needs. These overbearing expectations leave mothers scrambling to balance each day often at the expense of exhaustion.
2) Mom guilt
Mom guilt begins at pregnancy and exacerbates when our culture preaches the should and shouldn’t of mothering. Mom guilt is particularly prevalent among professional women due to the need to continue working and concerns about leaving their children (1).
3) Sleep deprivation
Sleep deprivation is a standard feature of motherhood. A mother’s interrupted slumber starts before her baby is born. This lasts beyond their kids’ teenagehood as they thump up the stairs hours after curfew. Furthermore, moms tend to use the night as their own quiet time to relax or to get things done that they couldn't do during the day.
4) Body shaming
The media is notorious for bombarding us with stunning celebrity moms free from stretch marks and non-existent postpartum weight. To make matters worse, family and friends tend to pressure them to “lose the baby weight”. This can contribute to poor self-esteem, self-loathing, and in extreme cases, eating disorders.
5) Birth-related trauma
Almost 50% of women have had a traumatic birth experience (2). In 2015, Dr. Cheryl Beck even published a study called "The Ever-Widening Ripple Effect that details all of the ways birth trauma can impact a person, including PTSD, postpartum depression, breastfeeding issues, and fear of subsequent childbirth (3).
Getting Mothers the Support they Need
The gender-based discrimination and neglect mothers face is a serious issue. What’s worse is that over half of mothers with depression are not being treated (4). If these problems persist, mothers, families, workplaces, and communities will face devastating consequences. Hence, change is needed at individual, organizational, and societal levels to bring about real change.
1) National support
Public policies for equal pay, family leave, healthcare, and child support, are some of the ways national governments can support mothers’ mental well-being. With better support programs, mothers’ mental health issues can be alleviated on a larger scope. This also allows mothers to have more bandwidth to advocate for campaigns that support families and gender equity.
2) Workplace support
Workplaces need to stop paying women less than men for the same job, penalizing women for taking time off and discriminating against them for prioritizing their families. Structural and ideological changes are needed to support the reality of modern motherhood. This may entail providing parent-friendly policies like employee assistance, onsite daycare, and paid time off.
3) Family support
Whether you’re a spouse, sibling, child, or extended family member, take note of the signs of poor maternal mental health. Be compassionate when they express frustration and encourage them to seek professional support if it seems necessary. Most importantly, make sure everyone at home understands that everyone is in this together. Contributing equally when it comes to the household benefits your home, and also the mental health of everyone in it.
Mothers need time and space to recover from the challenges of pregnancy, childbirth, caregiving and working. No matter how busy, you need to identify and meet your needs. Carve out time at least once a week to catch up on sleep, nutrition, or exercise. It doesn’t hurt to talk things out with a friend, your spouse, or a mental health professional, to put things into perspective too.
No other job is as demanding as motherhood, they’re technically required to be on duty 24/7. Hence, to celebrate the supermoms in our lives, we all play a role in advocating mental health as the building block of women's empowerment. And to all mothers out there, we want you to know you’re never alone - and that your tenacity, courage, and love are noticed and fiercely celebrated!
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