Why Overwhelmed Moms Need a Village
Finding a Way to Alleviate the Isolation of Motherhood
“Why is parenting so hard” “Why is parenting so exhausting” Why is parenting so lonely” Google search results that both affirmed how I feel and further depressed me. Parenting IS hard and it IS lonely and if Google is telling the truth, many of my fellow parents feel the same way and are probably desperate for support. They say parenting is supposed to take a village- it’s just that we’re missing the village.
As a community builder and a parent, I want to explore why isolation as a parent feels like such a devastating universal truth in this moment and whether tapping into community might be a key to alleviating some of the pain.
I first want to acknowledge that the brunt of this burden, and the emotional labor that goes with it, is gendered. It’s mostly women who are experiencing this challenge.
Why Is It So Hard?
Remember when you were a kid and didn’t want to hold your doll, or were done with your juice box-.just hand it to Mom, she’ll carry it! American moms are our culture’s default setting. Women still carry the brunt of the (unpaid!) emotional labor of child-rearing: managing timelines around online classes, muting and unmuting the mic for younger kids, shopping for food, keeping schedules, etc….All this while still “showing up” for work and meeting deadlines. The intensity of modern parenthood was heated before COVID and now, it has reached a boiling point.
That intensified and sustained pressure is not without its own consequences — according to Jessica Calarco’s paper (“Let’s Not Pretend It’s Fun”) “Among the mothers who have greatly increased the time they are spending with their children, 80% report that they are experiencing more stress during the pandemic, 72% report that they are experiencing more anxiety during the pandemic, and 56% report that they are experiencing more frustrations with their kids.” In an unofficial survey of my mother friends, 85% of them are medicated for anxiety and/or depression. So, is it any wonder we are Googling for hope and connection!?
How could we not feel lonely when our own government can’t prioritize meaningful legislation or programs that honor and support the labor of care-giving. Parental leave is not required in the US! Almost 2 million women have dropped out of the workforce since COVID hit and nothing has been done to address the dearth of support for these women.
The proliferation of social media and mom-fluencers can add another painful pressure to the isolation, causing many of us to “compare and despair” the reality we see in our own lives to those on our screens. Too many perspectives and not enough vetted sources of truth can have our minds racing. Is breast best? Is formula ok? Why does breastfeeding look so easy for her? What’s a waist trainer? I want to get my pre-baby body back. Should I want to get my pre-baby body back? Body positive! How do I baby proof? When do I babyproof? What about screens? Will wooden toys make my kids smarter? Being a modern mother is hard enough without the proverbial peanut gallery weighing in.
We feel lonely because raising a child was never meant to be a solo journey of one or two parents with a child. It was meant to be aunts, grandmothers, cousins, sisters and beyond, all taking turns doing the nurturing, supporting and raising children together. Paying people to be your village of nannies, chefs, night nurses, doulas is easy if you’re extremely rich. Plus, it would allow for easy access to personal time with friends if you’ve got the paid-for village.
So, what are the non-Kardashians among us supposed to do when we still need the benefits of a parental village? We have to build it for ourselves.
Hopefully, I won’t sound like too much of a community PollyAnna but, I have seen and experienced first-hand how participating in community can fill the chasm between loneliness and belonging.
Let’s talk about where you might make that happen, how you might make that happen and who to look for.
Tapping into your community as a parent can happen successfully onIine and offline. In person relationships are vital yet, trickier these days (because, ya know, COVID) And, while the Internet can activate FOMO, real, fulfilling friendships can absolutely form online. Maybe they’re in your local Facebook Group, NextDoor or on Peanut or, maybe you keep seeing these moms in your neighborhood park, at school drop off or, looking as frazzled as you in the background of your children’s Zoom class.
Once, you’ve honed in on who the “who” might be — how can you strike up a thoughtful conversation?
Step 1: Say Hello! Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, finding a way to wave, say Hi, Howdy, What’s up can lead to good things. Even Oprah had a whole magical campaign about it years ago and has been scientifically proven to lighten the load of loneliness.
Step 2: Reach Out. Maybe this is sending a text, a DM or even inviting a fellow mom to join you for a coffee. If you’re on the shyer side, maybe sparking conversation around a shared experience at school or sending a parenting article to discuss could be a nice icebreaker on the path to greater connection.
Step 3: Do Small Favors: This sounds like a tough one, especially during COVID, since we are all stretched to the limits. But! Imagine how special or appreciative you might feel if a new friend offered to watch your kids play in the park for an hour while you ran errands or, took a nap!? I think of this kind of community building as the “cup of sugar” approach. If you need something (a break), and I have it (a little extra time), why wouldn’t I share it some?
Step 4: Work Together Without government infrastructure to support parents, I believe we have to work together in ways big and small to fill in the gaps for each other. AOC created an even more thoughtful and structured way to create a COVID-friendly childcare collective where you bank time with your neighbors and friends.
Now that you’ve said hello, followed through and supported your own growing community — -let’s talk about some strategic folks who are especially valuable to have in the community.
The Mentor If Grandmothers and Great Aunts were meant to be a part of the communal aspect of parenting, finding a been-there-done-that parent with children older than yours is an invaluable fill-in. They are the holders of institutional parenting knowledge and because they have done this before, can give you insights from a hindsight perspective.
Protip: These folks usually have gently used clothes and toys to share too.
The Resource Authority: This person is a human encyclopedia of kid clothes, toys, medicine, parenting approaches, doctors, schools — you name it. They’re the person who read all the books and reviews aka, have done the work for you! Make sure to say hello to her and do small favors for her wealth of knowledge.
The Text Me Anytime Friend: This person might live near you or across the globe. They may have kids close to your kids age. These people will make themselves known to you — they’ll model empathy about their hard times and look for the same from you. This person is probably awake rage-breastfeeding their baby at the same time you are.
Child Free Champion: Last but not least, is this hero of the village. It could be your actual blood relative, your neighbor or friend who does not have a child of their own and understands deeply how valuable support is. They’re your buddy to call for support on a walk in the park with the kids (for extra entertainment) and available for last-minute, urgent childcare needs.
Moms in 2020 are up against layers of impossibility. I believe that with some effort, community can be your path to a little less loneliness. I promise, you’re not alone!