This last year has been, in a nutshell, a combination of chaos, fear, isolation, uncertainty, and incredible change. Finding peace has been easier for some than it has for others. While all of us have been greatly impacted, I fear that mothers have been hit the hardest. I was curious about how mothers had fared through this pandemic and went about finding a survey that may shed light on the topic. I was able to find this survey, created by Mother.ly, that gave an insightful look at the pressures mothers are facing grouped by number of kids, work situation, and whether they have a partner or not. If you want to read the details, the link is here: Motherhood Survey
It was insightful to read these statistics and not at all surprising that mothers are feeling “burnout” at an overwhelmingly increasing rate. Between the shift to working at home, the shut down of daycare providers and school, as well as the loss of social gatherings, there is little to no space for mothers to catch a break from the constant demands of parenting. While some may argue that parenting is a 24/7 deal and that millennial parents/mothers are simply self-entitled and “whiny” regarding the demands of parenting, I haven’t seen any data to support that argument. From what I’ve read, millennials are incredibly hands-on and interactive parents who actually spend more time with their children than previous generations of parents.
Here’s an excerpt from an article about millennial parenting: “According to Gerson, one of the biggest misconceptions about parenting today is that parents are less devoted than parents were decades ago. “The research shows this is not the case,” says Gerson. Even though many families now have two working parents, “the fact is that parents today are spending more time with their children than parents did in the 1950s.”” (link to article)
So, not only are millennial parents spending more time with their children, there are also increasingly larger numbers of households with both parents working. This means that during the course of 2020, when daycare providers were forced to close and schools were shut down, many parents were left with the expectation of not only working from home, but also having to raise and care for their children while doing so. If you have children, you will understand how intense this season would have been for so many parents. “Burnout” suddenly doesn’t even begin to cover it! Add to that the evidence that mothers are continually giving more time in the day to household activities than their partners, even when both are working, you start to see why burnout among mothers is so prevalent!
Another observation regarding the pressures mothers are facing is the way that they feel shame/guilt when being constantly exposed to impossible standards set by the endless amount of social media “influencers” on the rise. These influencers, whether they realize it or not, have created this false reality on their pages that reflect an always tidy, completely organized, and chaos free life. Because of this, I feel that it creates a sense of competition among mothers to be the most “instagrammable” family unit.
Indeed, here is an excerpt from Ann Peterson, author of “Can’t Even: How Millenials Became The Burnout Generation:” “There’s one woman I interviewed who said something like, “We’re all so tired, but we are all so scared to actually ask for help from one another”—as if asking for help somehow makes you seem like you are failing at motherhood, like you don’t have it all together.” Click to read the article.
Beyond the simple pressure of having a family that fulfills all of the social media ideals, there is also this new and pervasive idea that parents are responsible for keeping their children continuously entertained and occupied. Sensory bins, pre-preschool, developmental standards, … the list goes on!
Luckily, there are people out there giving us a more realistic idea of what parenting has truly looked like throughout history. The social media age has brought about an insane drive for perfection and has created an increasingly isolated culture amongst young people. NPR journalist Michaeleen Doucleff has taken time to study the hunter/gatherer tribes and presents an “anti-American” approach to parenting, which disrupts the parenting standards that have been set only a few generations before us.
“But the idea that parents are responsible for entertaining a child or “keeping them busy” is not present in the vast majority of cultures around the world, and definitely not throughout human history.” (link to article)
Another interesting point she makes in this article regards the way we parent so individually. It was never commonplace to carry the load of parenting so singularly until more recent years. She had this to say:
“People tend to think of the nuclear family as traditional or ideal, but looking at the past 200,000 or so years of human history, what’s traditional is this communal model of working together to take care of a child.” (link to article)
In conclusion, as I look at the burnout mothers are facing currently and the thought provoking research that has been done regarding millennial parenting and looking back on ancient cultures, it seems to me that a rising solution would be the migration back to community. We need each other and our families NEED the interaction and help we receive when we work together amongst families instead of living so individualistically in society. Even more so, we need to reject the competitive nature of motherhood that has arisen so recently that causes judgement, shame, guilt, and fear among mothers instead of a sense of belonging, acceptance, and community!
We tend to plant our feet in our chosen mode of parenting/family culture and then burn ourselves out trying to accomplish it alone. Like previously mentioned, millennials seem afraid to ask for help as if it means they are a failure. In fact, social media has programmed us to see anything less than perfect as failure. We judge one another in order to make ourselves feel better about our own failures yet the solution is to drop the facade and lend each other a helping hand. Where one is weak, another is strong!
If we can truly run to the idea of community, supporting one another, and being ok with imperfection as the only way forward, than we will be able to alleviate this burnout in a generation of parents who are already trying/doing their absolute best.