The coming of a new baby can be a joyous occasion. The gifts to the mom-to-be and baby roll in. Blankets, binkies, bottles and baby booties – all are an effort to help the new mom care for her baby. There are also the unwanted gifts given by well-intentioned people such as unsolicited advice, patting the “baby bump” and comments on how big the expectant mom has gotten.
Mothers are also given a unique gift that is quietly and sometimes quiet unknowingly bestowed upon them from the moment they announce a pregnancy. This gift isn’t wrapped; there’s no bow on top. Fathers may also receive this gift, though not feel the impact in quite the same way as mothers do because of the socially defined roles of mother and father. This gifts can be described in one word: pressure – pressure to conform, pressure to parent right, pressure to parent perfectly.
A text-photo circulating Twitter and Facebook sums it up nicely. “How to be a parent in 2017: Make sure your children’s academic, emotional, psychological, mental, spiritual, physical, nutritional, and social needs are met while being careful not to over stimulate, under stimulate, improperly medicate, helicopter, or neglect in a screen-free, processed foods-free, GMO-free, negative energy-free, plastic-free, body positive, socially conscious, egalitarian but also authoritative, nurturing but fostering independence, gentle but not overly permissive, pesticide free two-story, multilingual home, preferably in a cul de sac with a backyard and 1.5 siblings spaced at least two years apart for proper development” (Brilliant). None of these are individually overwhelming but piled on top of each other they amount to enormous pressure.
In the world full of technology and information at the stroke of a key, when news stories from around the world about child endangerment are instantly reported, there is pressure on mothers to protect their children at all costs. There is an underlying worry that someone may see a parent do something and (with good but uniformed intentions to protect the child) call the Child Protection Services without real warrant. In the age of Google searches to find out how to do anything from putting the baby to sleep, feeding and diagnosing illnesses, there is also a plethora of seemingly perfect mothers doing it all with criticizing and strong opinions on all sides. Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest are full of photos of the perfect party, the clean house, children playing happily together, leaving a mother in the real word feeling as though she doesn’t quite measure up.
Then there is the judgment – the looks when a child is acting up in a restaurant or the store, the not so quite comments to others, the judgment of one mother to another. All of this amounts to pressure on mothers to parent perfectly and have perfectly behaved children.
Many of these stressors come from a form of mothering called intensive mothering, first identified by Sharon Hays (Gunderson et al., 2017). This includes “the belief that mothers should completely devote themselves to their children’s intellectual and emotional development” (2017). In this ideology, mothers are expected to give everything to their children, leaving no room for personal development, paid-work endeavors or developing other relationships.
Though many women choose to have children, they don’t always choose to parent in this intense manner. But even those who do not choose to engage in such high ideals still feel the pressure to conform, according to a 2016 study done by Angie Henderson and her team of researchers (Henderson et al., 2016).
Both Gunderson et al. and Henderson et al. found that intensive mothering can produce feelings of guilt (Gunderson et al., 2017; Henderson et al., 2016). “Mothers who experience guilt for not meeting parenting expectations also experience lower self-efficacy, higher levels of stress and higher levels of anxiety… [Studies have also found that] internalizing guilt and the pressure to be the perfect mother are detrimental for mothers regardless of whether or not they subscribe to intensive motherhood ideologies” (Henderson et al., 2016). Mothers are faced with anxiety, depression, anger, self-blame and guilt while trying to raise happy and productive children.
The news is full of stories of mothers who couldn’t cope with the pressure or depression and therefore did tragic things. There are many others who attempt it, but (thankfully) aren’t successful. How could tragic events such as murder/suicide of children and mothers be prevented? What can community leaders and other professionals do to ease the pressure and therefore help mothers improve their emotional and mental well-being?
Judith Warner, in a Newsweek article, suggested a few things that community leaders can do to help improve mother’s lives and therefore the homes of the future leaders of their communities. Warner suggests that instead of politicians talking about family values, instead of patting mothers on their backs for working or staying at home, real solutions are needed (Warner, 2005). These solutions can come in the form of tax subsidies for corporations to “adopt family friendly policies”; more affordable, high quality child care; more options for part-time child care and benefits for mothers who work part time (2005).
Other forms of support can come from other mothers. A recent study found that mothers of children of all ages need social support. Having someone to talk to about one’s children is essential for good parent-child relationships while also relieving the stress of motherhood (Fraga, 2017).
The state of Utah recently passed a bill clarifying their child protection laws. This new law allows children to walk home from school or play outside unsupervised without the risk of the parents being prosecuted (Winslow, 2018). This can relieve some of the stress parents feel and maybe the judgment from others.
As a community, people need to come together to support and help mothers and families raise the next generation of leaders and community members. It takes a village to raise a child.
Fraga, J. (2017, July 15,). Moms of teens can benefit from social support, just like new moms. NPR Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/07/15/536657455/moms-need-social-support-and-not-just-in-the-baby-years
Gunderson, J., & Barrett, A. E. (2017). Emotional cost of emotional support? the association between intensive mothering and psychological well-being in midlife. Journal of Family Issues, 38(7), 992-1009. 10.1177/0192513X15579502 Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0192513X15579502
Henderson, A., Harmon, S., & Newman, H. (2016). The price mothers pay, even when they are not buying it: Mental health consequences of idealized motherhood. Sex Roles, 74(11-12), 512-526. 10.1007/s11199-015-0534-5 Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.byui.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=115197149&site=ehost-live
Warner, J. (2005, Feb 20,). Mommy madness. Newsweek Retrieved from http://www.newsweek.com/mommy-madness-122393
Winslow, B. (2018, Jan 23,). ‘Free range kids’ bill passes utah senate committee. Retrieved from http://fox13now.com/2018/01/23/free-range-kids-bill-passes-utah-senate-committee/