When I think about what it means to be a "strong" mom, I immediately think about my grandmother. She was resilient, light-hearted, compassionate, and kind; a true example any parent would be lucky to have. She passed away in Feb. 2015 and, make no mistake, I wasn't ready to lose her. In fact, every time I think about her it feels like I'm losing her all over again. So, to be honest, there are more than a few reasons why I don't want to be labeled a "strong" mom, and feeling like I can't compare to the infallible example I had growing up is definitely on the list.
I've lived almost 36 years on this planet, but sometime it feels as though I've lived the equivalent of a thousand lifetimes. I grew up emotionally and physically neglected, in poverty, and without knowing my biological father, so to say my childhood was toxic and traumatic would be a gross understatement. I had no sense of true identity, and my broken family unit only make me feel like a stranger in my own skin. School was hard. I battled eating and mental health disorders. I married my high school sweetheart as soon as we graduated so I could escape my home life, only to divorce him after four exhausting years of marriage. After I became a mother and married my now-husband, I battled severe postpartum depression (PPD), suffered through two miscarriages, and had a complicated pregnancy and traumatic delivery during the birth of my son.
And through it all, I searched for my birth father. That search seemed endless, and hopeless, and in the end I found him... only to discover that he'd died of a cancer. I don't know if his cancer is heredity. In fact, I don't know the answers to a number of questions he is now unable to answer for me. So every single day, when I open my eyes, I battle depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and a swarm of insecurities that threaten to derail my schedule, my ability to parent, and my self-care regimen that allows me to be the mother my children need me to be.
All this is to say that when someone comments on how "strong" I am, I often feel like they've made a mistake or must be talking about someone else. Yes, I have endured countless traumas and overwhelming difficulties and I have emerged seemingly unscathed. Yes, I face each and every day with a deep sense of determination, pride, and a sorta "indestructible" attitude. But I don't think any of the aforementioned experiences I've overcome or endured are particularly unique or remarkable. We all have our backstories and our traumas and our difficult moments. I haven't saved the world or cured the cancer that took my father at such a young age. I've not miraculously managed to bring my grandmother back to life, and I don't always hide the pain I battle on a daily basis. I'm not strong, I am a flawed human being, but here's the thing: I would rather be flawed than superhuman. I would rather be me instead of some "picture perfect" version of me.
So for that reason, and the reasons to follow, I don't want people to consider me "strong" mother.
Because It Isn't Realistic Or Healthy
Motherhood is hard enough without having to feel like I have to do it a specific way. My perceived strength isn't indicative of my parenting abilities. By calling a mom "strong" without adding another identifier, you continue to perpetuate the notion that mothers shouldn't complain. They shouldn't feel the freedom to break down. They shouldn't express their emotions or talk about motherhood in a way that's anything other than positive and cheerful and with a grin. That's. Not. Healthy.
Because It Makes Asking For Help Harder
When you're considered the "strong one," people tend to think you never need help with anything. They'll stand aside and watch you take on more than you can handle, because they assume there's nothing you can't handle. And even if you struggle, and eventually overcome that struggle, you're used as inspiration porn for other mothers who are having a difficult time. Because there's nothing you can't handle, remember? You're capable of anything, all by yourself, all on your own, and even if it makes you feel exhausted, overwhelmed, and horrifically lonely.
According to a 2010 APA survey, "women are more likely to report physical and emotional symptoms of stress than men, such as having had a headache (41 percent versus 30 percent), having felt as though they could cry (44 percent versus 15 percent), or having had an upset stomach or indigestion (32 percent versus 21 percent) in the past month. The same survey also reported that women are more likely than men to report that they eat as a way of managing stress (31 percent versus 21 percent)." The survey also revealed that 80 percent of family decisions are made by women. Basically, it's unfair to assume "strong" moms are super human. They're not. They're just human.
Because It's Too Much Pressure
Yeah, I'm not perfect. In fact, no one is. Shocking, I know. But by calling me a "strong" mom, I feel this undeniable need and pressure and expectation to appear perfect.
I'm not entirely sure that's anyone's fault but my own, though. When I think of a "strong" mom I think about my grandmother. She deserved and earned and lived up to that label. To be honest, I'm not sure I'm at her level yet, nor do I particularly want the pressure to live up to her level, either. I'd rather stay down here with my feet firmly planted on the ground. I want to be able to look up to, and learn from, everything she exemplified. I don't want to compete with it.
Because It Hurts My Mental Health
After I suffered through my first miscarriage, everyone assumed I would "heal" quickly. At first I was overwhelmed with condolences, to be honest, but they quickly vanished. Why? Because everyone assumes "strong" moms don't grieve for very long. Instead, they just pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and move on.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 10-25 percent of all clinically recognized pregnancies will end in miscarriage. In other words, so many women and/or moms are suffering, often in silence, from the pain of pregnancy loss. Assuming we're all strong just because you can't see how much we grieve fortifies a culture of silence that hurts women. It makes it that much harder for us to reach out for help, talk about our mental health, and seek the support (and sometimes treatment) we need and deserve.
Because It Makes Me The "Go-To" Person In My Home
Spend a day in my house and you'll quickly realize that my kids, and my husband, rely on me for everything. Every. Last. Little. Thing. While I appreciate the undeniable fact that they trust me, it's also a detriment to my self-worth and self-care. My needs, as a human being, are always pushed to the side.
No one notices the moments I lock myself in the bathroom, crying over and over again as I deal with one overwhelming responsibility after another. I don't want to do this parenting thing alone. I want, and need, help. I want, and need, support. I want, and need, to let someone else make the decisions every once in a while.
According to Care.com, a reported one in four moms say they're stressed-out and cry at least once a week. Why? Because they're considered "strong" moms who are innately capable of "having and doing it all."
Because The Word Doesn't Fit My Definition Of "Strong"
True strength, in my eyes, reveals itself in a variety of ways. So while my definition likely doesn't fit every other person's, when I think of strength I think about a cancer survivor, or a soldier who returns home from a deployment. I think about a trauma survivor that's experienced far worse than the trauma's I've endured. I think about my aunt and uncle who lost their 2-year-old child in a horrific car accident. I think about people who are living lives filled with constant injustices and micro-aggressions and discriminations.
Calling me "strong," at least in my opinion, diminishes the world entirely.
Because Sometimes I'm Just Not
Sometimes, I'm not strong. Sometimes, I struggle. Sometimes, I break down. Sometimes, I'm depressed, anxious, and drowning in self-doubt. Acknowledging the moments when I don't live up to the idea of a "strong mom" is, in my opinion, one of the strongest things I could ever do.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.