By Amber-lee Buendicho
The idea of the 'perfect mother' is a pervasive myth in modern society; one that often contributes to feelings of guilt, anxiety and stress among many mothers. The prevalence of the hyper-independent society reinforces this myth, leading to decreased mental health among mothers who are expected to achieve an unrealistic level of perfection in all aspects of their lives.
The Importance of Connection
Humans have a natural inclination for connection and meaningful relationships. In fact, researchers have found that belonging and connectedness is a basic human need next to water and food! For centuries, the strength of families has been determined by the bonds between parents, children, and extended family members. These relationships are essential in creating a nurturing environment for both mother and child. Throughout history, mothers have been dependent on the support of their families and communities in order to survive and care for their children.
In traditional societies, mothers rely on the help of family members to provide childcare and other resources. In other cultures, there is an emphasis on mothers taking care of themselves as well as their children, which includes seeking help from friends, family, and community members when needed. For instance, I just came back from a month trip in the Philippines, spending most of our time in my husbands childhood village in the northern mountains where families have lived for many generations. In this village, it was common to have up to 4 generations living under one roof. Mothers right from the moment of conception are treated with the utmost respect and given all kinds of support, from cooking, cleaning, washing, to creating spaces of rest, special foods to help keep her nourished and certain rituals and practices are carried out to celebrate her and protect her. It was so beautiful to witness and also helped me recognise that taking care of a mother goes far beyond the physical, she also needs emotional support, positive regard, validation and being with others who have similar interests and who are in the same stage in life.
Connection is an essential element of life that provides us with a sense of belonging and worth. In motherhood, the need for connection can become even greater due to the demanding and sometimes isolating nature of the job. But many mothers face obstacles in establishing meaningful connections that lead to loneliness, which can have serious consequences on their mental health. Studies have shown that perinatal and postpartum depression is associated with feelings of loneliness, and that connecting with supportive family members, friends, or other mothers is an important factor in helping women cope during this period. For this reason, finding ways to foster meaningful connections in motherhood is essential for maintaining good mental health. Many modern mothers seek out relationships with others who understand the joys and challenges of motherhood. Online communities, such as mummy blogs and social media groups, offer a way for mothers to connect with each other and create a supportive virtual village. By connecting with other mothers, women can find solace in knowing they are not alone in their experiences. This type of connection is especially beneficial for mothers who are geographically isolated or otherwise lack a local support system.
The Pressure of Independence
The valuing of independence in our society has impacted families in a variety of ways. This value began long before the days of modern technology, and many people believe it to be rooted in a number of different philosophies and beliefs. For example, some people see independence as being necessary for success, while others view it as a sign of strength.
When it comes to babies and young children, this value is often seen as important for development and growth. As such, parents are often encouraged to help their children become independent from a very early age. This can take the form of teaching babies to sleep on their own, encouraging them to play independently, and generally not intervening too much in their activities. While there are some benefits to this approach and many families have found relief and success, it can also have a negative impact on families, in particular a mothers mental health and children's brain development. A really good article on this I recommend is: https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/moral-landscapes/201112/dangers-crying-it-out
Mothers are often expected to put their children's needs before their own, as mothers try to balance their own needs with the demands of their children, it can create resentment, fatigue and burnout, encompassing feelings of guilt, stress, and depression. Doing it all on your own can have a serious effect on maternal mental health, as mothers may find themselves struggling to cope with the demands of parenting and other responsibilities as motherhood often involves long hours, hard work, and little recognition. Furthermore, when children learn to be independent at an early age, they may be less likely to seek comfort or support from their parents when facing challenges. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, which can be difficult for both parents and children alike.
The modern world has imposed an incredibly demanding set of expectations on mothers, expecting them to be both fiercely independent and devotedly present to their families. This pressure to be hyper-independent can lead to a decrease in physical and mental health during the perinatal and postpartum period. Expecting mothers to carry all of their responsibilities alone, with no help or support, creates a huge burden of stress and exhaustion. This stress can lead to a decline in self-care practices, both in terms of mental health and physical health. It can also contribute to a sense of isolation, as many women feel unable to rely on anyone else for assistance or emotional support. I have spoken to many new and seasoned mothers and the theme that presents most often in their struggles is isolation, loneliness and pressure to adhere to these unwritten rules of self sacrifice. Many mothers expressed feelings of wanting to run away, only reinforcing guilt and shame. Unfortunately, the reality of motherhood is that it often requires a level of connection with others that the hyper-independent society does not allow for. Asking for help, leaning on family and friends, and relying on social supports are all important pieces of caring for oneself during the perinatal and postpartum period. Ignoring these needs can lead to increased levels of anxiety and depression, which can have serious implications for the mother and her baby.
The Reality of Motherhood
In addition, many women find themselves facing difficult decisions when it comes to work and motherhood. Some women feel they need to choose between having a career or being a full-time mother, while others have to figure out how to manage both. This can be an incredibly stressful experience, especially when faced with the added pressure of societal expectations.
The reality of motherhood is that it can be incredibly challenging and demanding. But it can also be incredibly rewarding and fulfilling if we are given the right tools and resources, I promise its not all doom and gloom mothering in a hyper independent society. It is important to recognise the personal difficulties associated with motherhood in order to better understand and address them. We need to create a supportive environment that encourages mothers to ask for help when needed and make sure that they are getting the care they need.
How to Seek Help
Motherhood is an incredibly difficult and challenging journey, and it's important to remember that you were never meant to do it alone. If you are struggling with your mental health, there are many resources available to help. It can be hard to know where to start, but here are a few organisations that I recommend:
• Cope.org.au – an Australian website offering support and advice for new mothers struggling with mental health
• Panda.org.au – an organisation offering online support and community groups for parents experiencing depression or anxiety during pregnancy or after birth
• Birthtrauma.org.au – an organisation dedicated to helping mothers and families deal with the psychological impacts of childbirth
• Lifeline.org.au – a crisis support service, offering phone counselling and online chat
• Postpartum Support International – a global organisation dedicated to promoting awareness and providing help for mothers suffering from postpartum mental health issues.
You can also go to my website to see the variety of organisations supporting women and families from child loss to conditions such as Hyperemesis Gravidarum: https://www.thepowerofbirth.net/finding-support
In addition to seeking out professional help, it's important to understand your own personal journey into motherhood and the “perfect mother myth”. This is the idea that we put too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect in our roles as mothers, which can lead to feelings of guilt and inadequacy. Instead of striving for perfection, take time to nurture yourself and appreciate the unique challenges and joys of motherhood.
Finally, if you feel like you need some extra guidance or support, don't be ashamed to reach out for help. A qualified therapist can offer expert advice and strategies for managing perinatal mental health issues. With the right help, you can make it through this challenging time in your life. Don’t be afraid to connect with other mums and ask them how they got through tough times - you can read the stories shared on the blog or write to me to share your story here: https://www.thepowerofbirth.net/share-your-story I also have a podcast where I break down these taboo topics and share lived experiences: https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/can-we-talk-about-this/id1572162194
You can also download free motherhood affirmations if you subscribe to thepowerofbirth.net
There may even be local organisations or programs that provide free services, such as peer counseling, free childcare, and postnatal classes. Taking advantage of these resources can make a huge difference in your journey towards better mental health.
It's also important to recognise that any type of change takes time. Working towards better mental health isn't going to happen overnight; it will require small steps over a longer period of time. But by being patient and consistent with your efforts, you will eventually notice positive changes in how you're feeling, take it from one healing mama to another.
Much love x