Maternal stress. No, I don’t simply mean baby blues or the odd hard day when nothing flows. Mums are by definition working to a set of unbounded, relentless needs and expectations. There’s no leaving the office at the end of a satisfyingly long day, no paid holidays or time off for doing a good job. There’s also no other occupation which would expect workers to give their best despite being chronically sleep deprived.
A 2010 survey conducted by the American Psychological Association of over 1100 participants revealed that married women with children reported higher levels of stress than single women and have more frequent headaches, digestive symptoms, and are more likely to overeat to manage emotional stress.
Unfortunately, mothers are socialised to ignore their needs; taking care of us as mothers is considered selfish. Worse still, asking for help is seen as somewhat weak. This cultural attitude of the ‘strong mum’ is hurtful to mothers and women. Being strong doesn’t mean working yourself to a state of dis-ease or until you’re exhausted and mentally spent.
But how come this is still happening? Wasn’t feminism supposed to have fixed all that? Aren’t we theoretically now raising kids in an updated society which believes in and prioritises people living in a state of work/life balance utopia?
Well no. While It’s great that in Australia we have fought for and won paid parental leave, it’s a drop in the ocean. Most couples are still faced with un-family friendly job policies, high childcare costs and a lack of extended family support. Women in particular who stay at home to do the first year of breast-feeding, can feel isolated and invisible. If your partner is only really around on weekends when he or she is probably tired or you’re a single parent, where do you go for support? How do you know if you need it?
Obviously the signs of serious or prolonged depression are at one end of the stress continuum. If you find yourself feeling chronically anxious, unable to sleep, eat or maintain basic routines for an extended period, do seek professional help.
If you’re simply struggling, tired, and perhaps trying to put on a brave face as you mother those around you, here are some ways to lighten the load:
- Tell the truth about how you’re feeling to someone you trust, be it a friend, a spouse, a parent or even a help line. Suffering in silence isn’t helpful. Ask for help.
- Prioritise what you say yes to and don’t be afraid to change your mind or say no to non essential commitments when you’re feeling burnt out.
- Learn the art of self-parenting. Only you know your deepest needs, your limits, your triggers. It’s always possible to re-learn and make time for 10-30 minutes of self-care, the wise alternative to waiting until you fall apart.
- Stay connected. Mother’s groups and kids play-groups where you don’t have to go it alone all day are everywhere. Social media such as Hills District Mums can provide a wealth of information and access to community resources.
One day if we all keep voting and working for it, we may see our sons and daughters grow up in a world that truly values and supports the work mothers and fathers do. Until then take care… one day at a time.
Wende Jowsey is a mother and an educator who runs support groups for mothers in Castle Hill. She is beginning a support group on 18 July for mums so join in! Contact Wende: firstname.lastname@example.org or 0490775080 for more information.