Mom Rage and Mental Health: The Convenient Scapegoat and Gaslighting Burnt out Moms
I open up my messages on any given day as a digital creator on multiple platforms with a focus on the wellness of mothers and I am inundated with cries for help:
- stories of burnt out mothers
- DM’s of moms sharing intimate secret struggles they haven’t shared with anyone
- the lamenting of the everyday mom who feels like she is just not enough for the task at hand
What’s the task? Motherhood, apparently.
Because although it is 2022, a time in which we are meant to be a society of equality and progressive thought, women are still carrying the majority of the unpaid, undervalued, emotional, mental and physical labour of keeping a household running.
We have become so accustomed and socialised to believe and assume that these roles belong to women that they have become intrinsically tied to the label of “mother”.
While caring for children and our homes is most certainly one of our main roles as mothers, the division of this labour is not equally split among men and women and all unpaid domestic roles are not and should not fall under the label of mother.
On May 30th, 2022 I made a viral Instagram post and TikTok about this topic and the results are in: Moms are exhausted and we’re sick of being told it’s an “us” problem.
In September 2022, I was asked to speak on this issue on The Tamron Hall Show in NYC.
The Motherhood Burnout Epidemic: Striking a Chord With Burnt Out Moms
Recently, CTV news wrote that nearly half of Canadian moms are reaching their breaking point, due to the pandemic. And while I agree that the pandemic has immensely exacerbated the plight of mothers carrying the domestic load while juggling children and work, the pandemic is not the root of the problem, rather the catalyst to the final breaking point.
The structural inequality is the root. Patriarchy is the root. The cultural norm that unpaid labour at home is ‘women’s work’ is the root.
The worst part is, everyday moms aren’t necessarily seeing what is happening as a social issue. Burdened by the worries, stresses, and tasks of everyday life, mothers are too busy taking care of everyone else and trying to survive without breaking down that they end up looking inward and asking “what is wrong with me?”
They say things to me like “Why can’t I handle this?” or “I am not cut out for this”.
They are sold messages about self-care, tips and tricks on reducing their exhaustion and anger, and told by their doctors to try reducing stress. They are sold the message that it must be a mental health condition that is stopping them from functioning as well as they think they should. They are medicated. They are told to just lower their expectations and calm down. They are told it’s their responsibility to let their partners know to care for them.
They are made to feel as though the load they are carrying for their family feels heavy because of a character flaw or an internal weakness.
The Numbers Don’t Lie: Moms are Past Their Tipping Point
As a digital creator, I post content daily about motherhood, mental health, trauma and other related topics. I have a combined community of over 1.5M followers, and like most digital creators, my content sees a mix of engagement. Sometimes, posts go “viral” – attracting millions of views, tens of thousands of comments and direct messages that I struggle to keep up with. I share these numbers to highlight that engagement with my content is like a pulse: A pulse on what other mothers are feeling, struggling with or hoping for.
In addition to the deep personal relationships and connections I have within my community, at times it also feels like my community is a focus group on motherhood – they are the teachers, and I am the student. Their reactions to my content show me what is important, what is relevant, what is needed.
My post on May 30th and subsequent posts on the topic gained a lot of traction. Notifications lit up my phone persistently. DMs were streaming in. I shared a thought, and my community screamed back YES!
Moms are sick of being being burnt out and told it’s their problem.
But mothers are not weak, the load is simply too heavy.
The solutions they are given are just more tasks to add to their list. Taking care of themselves better, asking for “help”, going to therapy, buying more books, streamlining their lives, “slowing down”. Nobody is talking about the fact that they are carrying a load that is far too heavy for any human. It feels heavy because it is too heavy, but they’re treated like they are the problem.
They are being gaslit. You are being gaslit. We are being gaslit.
What is Gaslighting? Moms Being Made to Feel as Though They are The Problem
According to Psychology Today:
Gaslighting is an insidious form of manipulation and psychological control. Victims of gaslighting are deliberately and systematically fed false information that leads them to question what they know to be true, often about themselves. They may end up doubting their memory, their perception, and even their sanity.
I call it gaslighting because as a society we continue to perpetuate narratives that the legitimate negative experiences or feelings that mothers are having due to gendered and structural inequality and unattainable standards are actually problems within us.
In other words, we are set up.
We are set up to be responsible for all the things, for all the people, all the time.
And, no one knows what we do or needs to thinks about it. We are expected to work like we have no kids and raise kids like we don’t work. We’ve got to juggle it all and handle a disproportionate amount of the domestic labour and child rearing compared to the men we are partnered to. Then we are told to fix ourselves.
It is natural to be upset, tired, and angry about the heaviness of our expectations, but we are treated like we shouldn’t be. We are treated like there must be a problem with our capacity, our mental health or our abilities.
The worst part? Many mothers believe it.
By no fault of their own, their perception shifts to doubting themselves, their abilities, their worth and their sanity.
What’s worse? We put it on their shoulders to fix – on top of everything else.
Are you angry? Just calm down.
Are you tired? Make sure you are sleeping.
Is the house too much? You’re responsible for asking for “help”.
Are you depressed? Eat better, run, take medication.
Anxious about the kids? Don’t be.
Overwhelmed? Make a better plan. Simply, “do less”.
But who will do the things she doesn’t?
The only way to lessen the load on mothers’ shoulders is for someone else to take some of it onto theirs. But it seems no one is willing.
And if they are, then she better count herself lucky.
It is easier to pretend she is imagining how heavy it is in the first place. It’s easier to make her think there is something wrong with her.
What About Mental Health and Mothers?
As a mental health advocate, it needs to be said that the mental health crisis among mothers is real.
There are several, very real and treatable mental health disorders. BUT, when we label the exhaustion, burnout, anger, resentment, worry and stress of mothers as “mental health,” regardless of the circumstance or social context, we do her, her family and all of society a disservice.
The fact is that higher stress levels, lack of access to support, sleep deprivation, being overworked, financial stress, and perceived incompetence or insignificance are common risk factors for developing and exacerbating mental health problems. And these are all things highly connected to caregiving, the mental load, and emotional labour that mothers do at a much higher proportion than men.
Mothers are likely to struggle less with their mental health if the social structures surrounding them are supportive and gendered roles within their homes were more balanced.
The Missing Factor in Self-Care For Mom Burnout
Self-care is fantastic. You know what’s better? Being taken care of. The sort of care we give to all the other humans we love dearly who live under our roofs – that is what we REALLY need more of. And we shouldn’t have to beg for it or schedule it ourselves.
Mothers are the ones caregiving for everyone else. They are making the time, spending their mental, emotional and physical energy making sure the needs of their family members are met.
But most often, who is looking after them? Who is scheduling their “me time”? Who is cooking their food? Who is telling them to go to sleep?
She is – it’s just another job on her to-do list.
And while self-care most certainly contributes to our wellness as I’ve shared in past work, one of the most important components is having a family culture where it is accepted and encouraged that mom is taken care of. Mom guilt is prevalent in moms who aim to prioritize their physical, emotional and social needs because they’re made to feel as if they are not deserving of care.
Self-care is sold to us as something to add to our list of to do’s. So I ask, where are our caregivers? Who is prioritising mothers, the ones prioritising everyone else?
Break the Burnout Cycle Prevalent Among Moms: Address The Structural Inequality and The Division of Labour
Despite all the strides that have been made, the majority of parenting labour, the mental load, the emotional labour, caregiving, and the domestic labour, still falls on the backs of women regardless of whether or not their role requires working outside of the home.
And it contributes to the feeling os motherhood ambivalence, a topic I discussed in a feature by the BBC in November 2022.
According to this 2018 Statistics Canada study, there is significant evidence of the fact that women are continually performing a disproportionate share of unpaid work and even though more women are in the workplace than ever, there has been little redistribution of unpaid work at home to men. It’s only gotten worse since the Covid-19 pandemic.
In fact, I decided to run an Instagram poll of my own, and while Instagram polls aren’t the most scientific of methods, here’s what the results showed:
- Over 11,000 women responded to the polls
- An overwhelming 96% of respondents shared that they take on the mental load of parenting.
- Over 80% of respondents reported that they take on the domestic labour inside of the home.
Yet, moms are treated as though there is something wrong with us for being angry, that it’s some kind of flaw – not that we are at the brink for very valid reasons. Anger is necessary sometimes. Anger makes us aware of social issues and motivates us to solve problems. Without anger we would have no change in any world issues.
The frustration mothers express with regards to how much of the load they are carrying and the inequalities they face at home and in the workplace should be welcomed.
Because, when mothers are valued and supported by their families and the systems in place, we are less likely to be overwhelmed, exhausted, burnt out and resentful. When mothers have the opportunity to focus on our wellness, we are less likely to struggle with our mental health. When mothers are okay, we can show up better for ourselves, our partners, our kids, and our workplaces.
Why Should Anyone Who Isn’t a Mom Care About Mom Burnout?
The burnout epidemic of mothers directly impacts the men, the children, the communities they live in, the organisations they are part of, the businesses they own and work for and social institutions they belong to.
It’s in everyone’s benefit to demand equality.
We all have mothers and know the impact that they have on our development, confidence, well-being and success in life. So why aren’t we making sure mothers are also cared for? Why aren’t we providing mothers with every opportunity for success so that they can be the best version of themselves?
Stop telling moms they need to prioritize themselves when nobody else seems to.
Stop invalidating the struggles of mothers by telling them it’s not that bad or that it’s worse for someone else.
Stop pretending running a household isn’t hard work but refuse to take part in it.
Stop telling moms they just need more self-care.
Stop prescribing pills before prescribing a shift away from a patriarchal society.
Stop making women feel they just need to try harder.
Stop telling women it’s their fault they get walked all over by their spouses.
Stop telling women they just need more boundaries and to just say no if you aren’t also finding someone else in the picture to say yes to the million responsibilities she has.
Stop making women feel like they are not enough.
What can we do about mom burnout?
All these “solutions” are bandaids on a sinking ship.
Personally, I take medication, practice self-care, enact boundaries, say no, and go to therapy – among other healthy habits. These things are so helpful for my own wellness as a mother. I also live with a partner and father to my children who carries his weight. It’s still hard.
As mothers, we can do things to cope with our circumstances and the system we find ourselves in, but it’s just not enough. There needs to be systemic, long lasting change – especially for women who aren’t so privileged.
Otherwise, the invisible load of motherhood will eventually suffocate us and we’ll be told we should have pulled the bag off our own heads.
What does that look like? It looks like a lot of things that have to do with the laws, rights and legislation passed by our governments to make sure women are treated fairly. It looks like change in the workplace and affordable healthcare and enough maternity leave, for a start.
This article has some great recommendations. If you are looking for ways to share the load fairly at home, check out the New York Times Bestseller and game changing solution for couples called Fair Play and revolutionise your homelife. Change CAN happen one household at a time.
At a systemic level, contribute your voice and join the movement to make the workplace and home a more equal place for men and women.
If nothing else, share this blog post with a friend. Let a mom know she’s not crazy and she’s not alone. She’s just carrying too much.
Did this resonate? Follow me on social @diaryofanhonestmom for a daily dose of relatable and honest motherhood.
I talk about hard things that no one else seems to be talking about, but so many of us seem to be feeling.