Lately, the fact that Mother’s Day and Mental Health Month both fall in the month of May doesn’t seem to be much of a coincidence to me. Maternal mental health has become quite personal to me over the last several years.
I grew up believing that women could *finally* have it all – successful careers were no longer off-limits for us. Working moms became the norm, what progress we’ve made! What I failed to realize (and I know many in my generation failed to realize as well) was that the world wasn’t created for households with two working parents. Society may have welcomed working moms into the fold but…not really. Parental leave is still severely lacking in most parts of the country, child care costs more than your rent/mortgage, and I sure hope you have plenty of paid time off (PTO) to cover every time that kiddo has to stay home from daycare because of another ear infection.
I have an incredibly supportive husband who co-parents like a champ. But that didn’t protect me from daycare always calling me first – even though my husband was listed as the first contact because he worked only 10 minutes away and I was commuting across town. It didn’t protect me from the terrible supervisor I had while I was still nursing my youngest, who chastised me for all of the blocks I had on my calendar so that I could pump.
So much of the world still operates as if there’s a non-working parent in the home. The late start/early release days at elementary school that seem to imply that someone is around to take the kids to school at 10:00 a.m. or pick them up at 12:30 p.m. The doctor and dentist offices that are only open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. The fundraisers, the sports teams, the lessons, the school concerts, the field trips that all seem to happen during 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Don’t forget the laundry, cutting the grass, cleaning the bathrooms, and picking up after the dog. You didn’t want to actually relax on the weekends, did you? But this time of year, we hear lots of “thanks mom, you’re a superhero” messages. And while I don’t want to seem ungrateful, what if we instead had a world that didn’t require us to be a superhero just to survive?
But instead, it all keeps getting harder. It’s getting harder for women to access the health care they need and make decisions about their own bodies. Health care coverage can vary depending on who your employer is or what state you live in. It’s easy for some to preach about self-care when you barely feel like you have time to brush your teeth on some days, let alone find time to go to therapy (but you should, therapy is amazing!). And here I think it’s hard for a household with two working parents, that doesn’t even compare to what single parents are coping with. The mental energy that parenting consumes these days is exhausting.
And we wonder why everyone’s well-being seems to be on the decline. We live in a constant state of the to-do list being longer than the number of hours in a day, whether at work or at home. To paraphrase one of my favorite sitcoms (“The Good Place”), it’s getting harder and harder to be a human. It’s getting harder and harder to be a parent. It’s getting harder and harder to function in a world that wasn’t created for us to function in.
If you’re struggling, you are not alone.
In some ways, we’re more connected than ever. I’m grateful we live during a time where my kids can FaceTime with their grandmas to wish them happy Mother’s Day while they are halfway across the country. But there is mounting evidence that people feel more isolated and lonely than ever before. It can feel like we’re the only one who don’t have it all figured out.
I wish I had a silver bullet for the working parents who are struggling with the pressure to do it all. The best advice I can offer is this: despite what we may have grown up believing, you cannot do it all. You are not, in fact, a superhero. We have to set boundaries around what we can and cannot do, will and will not do. We have to say no to some of the fundraisers or limit after school activities. Birthday parties do not have to be a social media-worthy event.
I’ve come to realize that my time is one of my most valuable assets. I block time on my work calendar for when I take the kids to school and decline any meeting that conflicts with that. I make sure there’s enough time during the day to get my work done so I don’t have to work in the evenings. I talk to my kids a lot about my work, so they understand why I’m not able to attend every event in the middle of the day at school. My kids have been putting away their own laundry since they were in preschool and are learning to clean their own bathroom. I relentlessly prioritize what matters the most and regularly put aside things that don’t make the cut, whether at home or at work.
Set boundaries and protect your own well-being as much as possible. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – whether from a friend, family member, partner, your doctor, or a mental health professional. No one can do it alone.
And help create a better system so that our kids won’t be fighting the same battles we are.