Moms of toddlers and babies need support, not perspective.
I’ll never forget the first time someone said to me: Big kids big problems, little kids, little problems. I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and so sleep deprived I couldn’t think straight. I experienced postpartum depression in the form of rage and I thought I’d never escape it.
I loved and respected the woman who said this to me which made it hurt more. It nearly broke me.
It made me question myself more than I already was. It made me worry for my future and my children’s future. It made me feel defeated , because if I can’t handle these supposed “small problems”, how would I cope in the future?
It made me fearful.
I don’t doubt that having teenagers will rock me to my core. I don’t doubt that aspects of having older kids will leave me in a puddle of tears and worry. I don’t doubt that it’s going to be hard for the long haul. I don’t doubt that it will continue to be hard.
But as a mom of multiple small children who was gasping for air or a moment to myself and wondering if I would ever be okay again, I wasn’t prepared to think about how hard the other parts would get.
Now that my kids are older, I understand what they are saying. I understand that the problems our small children face are things we can usually just distract them from or fix with a cuddle or snack. The problems older children face are more complex for us as moms to navigate. But as mom of littles, I couldn’t see past tomorrow.
The mental load, the exhaustion and the sensory overload were already so hard to navigate.
Disclaimer: My story is a personal account of my own journey with postpartum depression and overload, and it should not be taken as a substitute for professional advice. I strongly believe that anyone who feels they may need support seek the help of a qualified health care professional – they were vital in my own journey, and are trained to find the right support for each person’s unique and individual care. If you are in crisis – know there are many compassionate and expert teams available to help you. Call 911 or consult with your local emergency department. If you need help you deserve it, and can get it.
It is damaging because it ignores the type of hard that moms are facing
These moms don’t sleep, eat food while it is hot, or have the privilege of going to the bathroom alone. These moms just want a hot shower alone.
They are still adjusting to what it means to live life as a mom, being needed 24/7. They are often crying out for help, looking for a time when their bodies and minds will feel like their own again. They are too exhausted to take on what the struggles of parenting older kids is going to be like.
When we say “little kids, little problems” to these moms, it shows a lack of perspective for what they are facing right now, and a lack of empathy for how that might feel.
Being aware of who we are talking to and what they might be experiencing are major cues in what we should say or not say. The words we say have the power to show support and solidarity, or to cause shame and fear.
It is invalidating to moms who are struggling with small children
Comparative suffering is when we look at our experiences or others experiences and rate them on a scale of who has it worse. It is feeling the need to see one’s suffering in light of other people’s pain. There is no award given for who has it worse. There is no medal for having gone through more struggles than another person. When we tell other people that their problems are small we invalidate what they are going through and it is problematic for many reasons.
When we say someone’s problems are little, often what they hear is “I am not concerned about how hard it is for you, because someone somewhere has it worse”. It says “I am not here to listen or to support what you are specifically struggling with, I am here to focus on the bigger picture”. Even if we mean well. Even if the intention is good, it doesn’t help.
It tells moms that we are not hearing or caring about what they are sharing with us but only comparing their pain to ours or someone else’s. Someone else struggling doesn’t take away from our struggles. All pain, all problems and all suffering are valid.
It can cause anxiety for the future and make moms wonder what's wrong with them for struggling
By saying “big kids, big problems” moms hear “your problems are insignificant and don’t matter”. Many moms with small children are overwhelmed, exhausted, touched and wondering when they will get a break again. They ALREADY wonder if they are cut out to be a mom. They ALREADY think there might be something wrong with them for not being able to handle it.
When moms already feel like they won’t make it to the end of the day with babies and other little ones at home, being told it only gets harder, compounds the overwhelm and anxiety that moms are already feeling. It makes moms think “If I am only just surviving now, and it only gets harder, I won’t be able to handle that”. It can send them into a spiral.
The thought of it only getting harder and the problems only getting bigger is extremely overwhelming. The idea that this stage in their life that they find extremely difficult, is considered by other moms to be the easy part makes them fear the future. It causes mom’s undue worry.
This phrase makes them question their capacity for stress and parenting more than they already are. Instead, if a mom of littles asks, we can tell them, it gets different. The parts that are hard now are easier. So you will have more capacity to deal with the different challenges that come your way.
Invalidating the struggles of moms of littles silences moms, and that is a problem
Mental health is real and many new moms struggle with anxiety and depression. What is needed is more support and more open conversations around mental health and the normalization of new motherhood.
It needs to become normal to talk about how hard it is. But this phrase stops moms from wanting to share or open up.
There is already immense stigma around mental health. A great deal of new moms who are struggling with perinatal mood disorders don’t talk about it because of the shame, stigma and fear of what others think. Talking about it normalizes the struggle and ensures they will be more likely to get help when they need it.
It is dangerous (or could be dangerous) when we invalidate them or make them feel stupid for sharing because it makes it that much less likely to reach out for help when they need it.
What can we do to support new moms and moms of little children instead?
Moms of little ones are not the right person to unload on. If you’re a mom of older kids just know the time and place. Your struggles matter too. They do! Find someone who has had a solid night’s sleep. Find someone who has walked in your shoes. Don’t unload on a mom with little ones. Yes, parenting is always hard, but the hard gets different and you won’t be juggling the same things you’re juggling now. You can’t compare because it’s just different.
Some things we can do to help moms of littles:
- Let her know she is not alone
- Let her know you remember how hard it was when your kids were small
- Ask her to talk about it
- Ask her what you can do to help
- Offer to clean her house
- Offer to watch her kids
- Drop off a hot cooked meal
- Remind her of her worth and value
- Tell her, that this part DOES get easier
To the moms who feel like they are drowning: this part does get easier, I promise.
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