The Rising of Women.
The battle for work-life balance is never-ending — and no one knows this better than moms. According to the Women’s Bureau US Department of Labor, women, including 25.1 million working mothers with children under age 18, are a major force in our economy. Over the years, many mothers have joined the labor force, and their role as economic providers for their families has increased. While their role in the paid labor force has changed, mothers continue to carry a disproportionate share of the unpaid household and caregiving responsibilities. At the same time, women still lack adequate support and encounter barriers that prevent them from practicing authentic self-care for themselves and their families.
The Myth of the Supermom Doesn’t Exist in Reality.
A woman is a juggler, a multi-tasker, a problem-solver but not a “superwoman.” Women often try to be that superwoman, or at least the “everything woman”, which comes at the expense of their own mental health.
A study published in the American Sociological Review found that working moms are multitasking more than working dads. The “everything mom” focuses on checking things off her to-do list. By the time dinner rolls around, she is counting down the minutes until bedtime, realizing how thin she has been spread most of the day. This lifestyle can contribute to declining mental health because in trying to do it all, your brain never shuts off. When this happens, our brain shifts into survival mode and produces stress hormones that can be toxic to our long-term health if not managed in healthy ways.
The Parenting Paradox.
Motherhood might be one of the most psychologically challenging jobs there are. Almost every mom will agree that the indescribable joys can be matched by equally intense feelings of worry, doubt, helplessness, anxiety, and depression. This has been defined as the great “parenting paradox” by psychologists. The irony here is that research has shown two opposite results when it comes to parenting. On the one hand, some studies show that parents are happier than their non-parent counterparts. On the other hand, however, other studies hint at the fact that being a parent may actually take a serious toll on your mental health. Interestingly, but maybe not surprisingly, mothers seem to be more at risk than fathers. The question is, what is it about mothering per se that contributes to this worse mental health outcome? Apparently, the more “intense” you are about mothering, the worse off you are, mental health-wise.
What do we mean by intensive mothering? This is the belief that everything you do as a parent matters so much. And apparently, this concept might actually explain this “parenting paradox”.
A study from the University of Mary Washington looked scientifically at how mothers’ attitude about parenting affects their mental wellbeing, and how their perception of parenting as challenging impacts their risk for depression and anxiety. The authors of the study have actually identified five factors that describe this type of mothering very well:
- The feeling that mothers, over fathers, are the more “necessary and capable” parent.
- The belief that a parent’s happiness is derived primarily from her children.
- The idea that you, the mother, should always provide the best, most intellectually stimulating activities for your child.
- The idea that parenting is just about the most difficult job there is.
- The idea of being child-centered, which refers to the fact that kids’ needs and wants should always come before your own.
The higher the women scored on these factors, the higher their intensity as mothers. The authors found, as you might guess, that women who believe that they are the essential parent had lower life satisfaction. Those women who perceived parenting as challenging had greater depression and stress. The authors concluded that it is the way of parenting, not being a parent that results in negative mental health outcomes, with more intense mothers having worse mental health overall.
If intensive parenting is related to so many negative mental health outcomes, why do women do it?
Many mothers probably ask themselves that same question. One reason might be that women may think that it makes them better mothers, so they are willing to sacrifice their own mental health for their children’s benefit.
In reality, intensive parenting may have the opposite effect on children from what parents intend. In fact, there is some good evidence that suggests that we’re over-parenting these days – overscheduling our children’s time and cutting down their free play time can have adverse effects on their mental health.
Stress, in fact, is among the leading causes of burnout and it’s not an uncommon part of motherhood.
The U.S. Department of Labor states that 70% of mothers with children under 18 work, with over 75% employed full-time. One study shows that a quarter of working moms cry once a week from the guilt of trying to “have it all.” Another study says women are more likely to report physical and emotional symptoms of stress than men.
It is important to remember that putting our own mental health first is probably the best way to protect our children and help them grow. It’s probably the best legacy we can leave.
One factor that can help prevent mental breakdowns is the degree of social support the mothers get from their families and from the community.
It Takes a Village.
Women can drown if they lack support systems. If they lack a family willing to help. If they lack a partnership that allows them adequate time to decompress from being a mom. Women and moms in today’s society can’t easily find a support system or decide to do parenting without one. I encourage you to create your village so you can take time for yourself.
Today self-care is a hot topic. It is all over the internet and on social media as the new trend. Most self-care is done as an afterthought. It’s done after you cook dinner, after you get the kids in bed, after you do everything for everyone else. Self-care is often described as getting your nails done or taking a warm bath or drinking wine by the pool but there is a deeper meaning to the authentic “care of the self” that can restore balance. That is learning to know yourself and your limits and when you need to set better boundaries or ask for help.
Tame Your Stress!
The truth is, you cannot be the mom your kids want and need, and the person you want to be for them unless you take care of yourself.
In order to do this there are some steps that I recommend to guide you through this process:
1. Understand how you experience stress — Everyone experiences stress differently. How do you know when you are stressed? How are your thoughts or behaviors different from times when you do not feel stressed?
2. Identify your stressors — What events or situations trigger stressful feelings? Are they related to your children, family health, financial decisions, work, relationships or something else?
3. Recognize how you deal with stress — Determine if you are using unhealthy behaviors to cope with the stress of motherhood. Is this a routine behavior, or is it specific to certain events or situations? Do you make unhealthy choices as a result of feeling rushed and overwhelmed?
4. Put things in perspective — make time for what’s really important. Prioritize and delegate responsibilities. Identify ways your family and friends can lessen your load so that you can take a break. Delay or say no to less important tasks.
5. Find healthy ways to manage stress. Focus on changing only one behavior at a time. And most importantly, learn to state what you need. Let go of that idea that you don’t need to ask for help and that you can do all by yourself.
Self-Care Action Plan
Next time you fill out your calendar and to-do list choose some very specific self-care goals.
Here are some ideas that you can implement right away:
STOP THE NEGATIVE SELF-TALK. Negative self-talk is harmful to your happiness. Moms seem to have an inner critic that never sleeps. This inner critic makes moms question just about everything, including their performance as parents. That constant criticism isn’t good for anyone. Ask yourself this: Do you speak to yourself as you speak to someone you love?
PRACTICE GRATITUDE. The benefits of practicing gratitude and appreciation are nearly endless. People who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they’re thankful for experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and have stronger immune systems.
STOP MULTITASKING. A recent study at Stanford University found that heavy multitaskers were actually worse at multitasking than those who like to do a single thing at a time. Multitasking reduces your efficiency and performance because your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully.
STOP OVERLOADING YOURSELF & YOUR FAMILY. Overscheduling your kids can easily lead to burnout for all of you so know when to say no to save your sanity. Try to build in at least one day during the week that your family doesn’t have to be anywhere after school. Simplify your days to add in that free time and you’ll make burnout less likely.
AVOID NEGATIVE PEOPLE. Avoid negative people who don’t have your back. Sometimes it is important to make difficult decisions to exclude certain types of unsupportive people from your life,
FIND YOUR VILLAGE. If your support system isn’t behind you then you may burn out. You want to surround yourself with as many positive people as you can. If you currently don’t have a support system in place, create one. Find mom friends through playdates, support groups, your children’s school, or even standing in the line at the grocery store. Other moms are a wonderful resource because they’ve been there/done that and can relate to exactly what you’re going through now. Confide in your own mom, a sibling or other relative about the challenges you’re currently facing. Without a good support system in place, you can quickly become overwhelmed and burnout.
PUT YOURSELF FIRST. I am serious here! If you’re not taking care of yourself, you can’t take care of everyone else. Put yourself first. It doesn’t mean you’re not taking care of your family and doing what’s right for them. Start a new hobby, take classes for women, or pick up a work-at-home job if it’s something you want to try. Those little things you do for yourself make a huge difference in your emotional health.
PRIORITIZE SLEEP. Get a good night’s sleep. Science shows that sleep is vital for keeping your brain functioning and your mental health sound. Sleep reenergizes the body’s cells, clears waste from the brain, and supports learning and memory.
SPEND TIME WITH YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER. There’s a reason we call them “significant” others. As exhausted as you may be at the end of the day, make time for your partner and for adult conversations. A simple daily conversation with your partner can give you the emotional boost you need. Connecting with your partner every day makes a huge difference in your outlook for tomorrow. Simply looking forward to time to decompress with your significant other at the end of the day can get you through those challenging parenting times.
PUT YOUR PARTNER TO WORK. Your family is a team and your spouse can help you! Many partners want to help but we can make them feel like invaders because they’re not doing things the way we do! Just step back and let them do their thing.
JUST SAY NO… AND DELEGATE. You can’t do everything so don’t even try. Learning to say ‘no’ to people’s requests may be an obvious time management tip for moms, but that doesn’t make it an easy one. It’s important to look at your priorities and learn to say no to time demands that aren’t absolutely necessary. Learn the power of saying no and setting healthy boundaries – for your work, for your personal life, and for your family. The trick is to break chores into simple tasks and reward people for doing them.
LET IT GO. Don’t try to be always perfect! Be Flexible and let go of being in control. Not every battle will be worth it, so choose wisely. What are your non-negotiables? If the non-negotiables are agreed on, what are you willing to be flexible with? Sometimes you need to take a deep breath, and let it go.
ASK FOR HELP. When you’re feeling overwhelmed ask for help from your village. Ask your spouse, your family, friends or neighbors for help. If you don’t have a village, look for a babysitting swap, hire a babysitter for a few hours or a place to drop off the kids for a couple of hours here and there to get things back in order. Pay attention to what you’re feeling and watch your internal gauge for signs of burnout and make sure you take care of your own needs before your stress reaches your children.
ASK FOR PROFESSIONAL SUPPORT. If you are overwhelmed by stress, you may want to talk to a mental health practitioner who can help you manage stress and change unhealthy behaviors. Don’t be afraid to seek help. As much as you love your kids, parenting can take its toll on you. Talk to your doctor honestly so that you can get back to being a happy, healthy mom.
LEARN TO CO-REGULATE WITH YOUR KIDS. Kids learn emotional regulation from us. Parents who control their own emotions and know how to manage stress are helping their children learn to do the same and are a model for the rest of the family. You can start by using my Restore and Relax Ritual that I shared in my audio-training of the 4 rituals of wellbeing.
PRACTICE RITUALS OF WELLBEING. Routines and healthy habits are a time management tip that can save you mental energy and stress. Aim for 15-30 Minutes Daily Activity or habit. That is why I have developed and shared with you my audio-training on the four science-based rituals of wellbeing, to help you harness stress into lifelong strength and learn how to keep your cool and juggle the chaos and responsibilities of motherhood. They really work!
You can implement 1 or 5 or all of these ideas to be happier, more patient and more present in your own life.
No matter what you choose, make self-care a priority!
With Mother’s Day approaching, it’s a good time for women and their families to recognize the importance of addressing stress and managing it in healthy ways.
Remember you have the power to harness your stress into growth, health, and happiness!
And if you have a minute, I’d love to hear from you.
What are your favorite go-to practices to manage stress as a parent?
Leave a comment in the comment box on the blog page and let me know.
Happy Mother’s day!
Thank you so much for being so amazing.