How Our Culture Reinforces Maternal Anxiety, & How We Can Change It
Motherhood has always been hard. Historically, mothers have been expected to raise perfect, healthy children, cook all of their meals, and keep their homes clean and their husbands happy. But in today's culture, with #fitmom blowing up on Instagram and the media drooling over Kim Kardashian's post-pregnancy body, there's even more pressure to be a super mom. Now, moms not only have to deliver a healthy baby, but they also have to be back at work in a month, lose all the pregnancy weight immediately, give plenty of love and attention to their children, and be perfect wives. But studies show that these expectations are harmful and can cause anxiety, particularly among working women.
Reports have shown that brain chemistry in new mothers changes during and after pregnancy, according to The Atlantic. So it's no surprise that, with all the physiological changes, some mental changes arise, too.
And our culture hasn't done much to ease those mental issues. In fact, it's exacerbated them. Here are three problems in our culture that have contributed to anxiety in mothers, and how we can start to fix them.
Obsessing Over "Post-Baby Bodies"
A few months after Lively had her daughter James, she shot a solo film that featured a lot of bikini shots. Cue everyone in the media and on Facebook asking her about her body. Lively got so many questions about her workout regimen, eating habits, and post-pregnancy life that she finally had to tell an interviewer to focus on something else. "There shouldn't be that negative 'ugh' after someone had a baby. Your body is so beautiful," Lively said. One mom on Twitter put it well.
I wish we could agree to end all "post-baby body" talk. It puts unnecessary pressure on women & spawns unrealistic expectations. #AskHerMore— Antoinette M. Powell (@BellaAntoinette) February 22, 2015
We need to follow Lively's suggestion and focus on the miracle of childbirth, not the miracle of getting a flat stomach in a few weeks. Mothers should be able to take their time healing, be proud of what their bodies did, and feel comfortable in their own skin. Body positivity could help reduce self-esteem issues that mothers may face.
Worshipping Super Moms
It feels like super moms are everywhere these days. They're posting about their busy days on Facebook, they're telling bloggers their secrets, and secretly making a lot of women feel insecure about what they can manage after having a baby.
Aren't all moms kind of super in their own way? Some moms are super smart, some are super funny, and some are something entirely different. But every mom, just like every person, has her limitations. Idolizing a super mom is damaging because it's not realistic, and it creates unreasonably high standards that put pressure on mothers. Let's try to talk more about the little ways all moms are super.
Encouraging Reckless Independence
I'm all for fierce independence. But sometimes, having to handle every little thing yourself can feel like a burden, and I'll vouch for the fact that it can cause anxiety. For mothers, who have an incredible responsibility, this burden can feel huge. Popular blogger Stephan Labossiere said women often feel like we have to do everything ourselves, and that's a problem. There's nothing wrong with letting your partner share some of the responsibilities. Just ask John Legend, who seems more than willing to share the burden of parenthood with Chrissy Teigen.
Funny there's no dad-shaming. When both of us go out to dinner, shame both of us so Chrissy doesn't have to take it all. We'll split it.— John Legend (@johnlegend) May 11, 2016
We need to emphasize the importance of strong relationships and unwavering support systems. Healthy relationships will help mothers navigate the difficulties — and enjoy the perks — of motherhood better.