Menu
American mothers are trying harder than ever–so why do we feel like we’re failing?

Mama, you deserve more support and way less judgment. Because the truth is American mothers are carrying heavy burdens that are so ubiquitous and yet so secretive we can only assume we are alone in our struggles.

But, mama, it's society that's failing, not you.

Motherhood is way harder than it should be because the deck is stacked against women. We live in a culture that gives lip service to the importance of family, but sees investment in children and parents as an "entitlement" too far. We operate in a business climate that prizes consumption and profitability above all—leaving families, and especially women, behind in its wake. We're citizens in a country where "women's issues" are seen as side issues, rather than foundational challenges of our society.

We, as mothers, are all too often left to figure out the biggest transformation of our lives—one rife with physical, mental, financial and relationship stress—in the midst of a radically individualistic society that at times almost blames us for having children. Can't afford childcare? It's your fault for not making more money. Struggle to breastfeed? You're not trying hard enough. Coping with undiagnosed postpartum depression? Pull it together.

The finger pointing is everywhere except where it should be: at a society and structures that haven't evolved to support women, children and families.

In order for change to begin we have to first understand the problem:

Motherhood isn't supported: In generations past, adult children typically used to settle near their parents and raise their own offspring in highly-connected, intergenerational settings. That meant grandma would watch the baby while mama recovered from childbirth or that sisters traded childcare duties to allow time for housekeeping. While multigenerational living is actually at a high point in recent American history for largely financial reasons, the elements that define our vision of a village have been overridden by demands that cause people to work longer.

We now stand in a time where the villages that used to define the experience of parenthood have largely gone away—yet no other support has been put in their place. Grandparents are busy working long into retirement. A transient generation often doesn't have support next door. People cannot rely on "traditional" sources of backup—or relief.

With such a dearth of support and a struggling economy, the American birthrate—once a fertile outlier in the Western world—in recent years has dramatically declined. Women are choosing to wait longer to have children, and then have fewer kids overall. In many cases, they're having fewer children than they would ideally want to have because motherhood is just that hard. Even before they have children, women sense a lack of support that makes motherhood overwhelming—it's this anxiety that sells books and fuels a never-ending debate over whether women can ever "have it all."

The lack of resources is only compounded by the abundance of pressure. From over-engineering children's activities to an abiding sense of guilt for not doing "enough," American mothers often place their self-worth on the degree of their involvement in the minutiae of their children's lives.

Giving birth in America is shockingly dangerous: Discrimination against women, and women of color in particular, has led to an appalling maternal health crisis—where women's voices are not heard, women's needs are not met, and they, as well as their children and families, suffer.

Statistics prove American mothers die in childbirth more than in any other country in the developed world—and the death rates are actually getting worse, not better. According to research in the New York Times, "Black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as their white counterparts," with racism playing a direct role.

Sexism also plays a role with 26% of maternal deaths attributable to heart conditions, which may not display themselves with the same symptoms as among male patients. "Doctors may be more likely to attribute those symptoms to anxiety than heart disease," said Kim Lavoie, a professor of psychology at the University of Quebec at Montreal and co-author of a 2016 study on the topic. "So, in other words, a diagnostic bias may occur."

Postpartum women are left to fend for themselves: While newborns are typically seen at least four times in their first two months of life, their mothers routinely have no postpartum care from 48 hours after birth until six weeks. During these critical weeks of physical recovery and a psychological transition to parenthood, women are left to figure out the transition alone while navigating an exhausting, achy haze of postpartum bleeding, milk supply issues and financial stress.

The irony is this is perhaps one of the most vulnerable periods for mothers when support is often most needed. Case and point: Learning how to breastfeed, critical to keeping her baby healthy and alive for mothers who opt to exclusively breastfeed, is a learned skill. But, after her baby is born, a woman might see a lactation counselor right away, or might have to wait days to learn how to nurse — if she ever sees a consultant at all. Private lactation consultants often cost hundreds of dollars, an expense that is often out of reach during this financially stressful time in life.

No relief for working mothers: One in four new mothers returns to work out of economic necessity within two weeks of giving birth. Federally, American mothers are not guaranteed paid leave, making the United States an appaling exception in the global sphere. Recent statistics from the U.S. Labor Bureau indicate that only 12% of American workers have access to paid leave—the rest are left to fend for themselves.

The one piece of federal legislation that could make a difference, The Family Medical Leave Act, only guarantees that a new parent's job will be held for 12 weeks—but doesn't require any compensation during one of the most vulnerable times in their life. And that's only if the employee meets certain eligibility conditions to begin with, which include having worked on a nearly full-time basis for at least one year and the company having 50 or more employees within a 75 mile radius.

After the initial adjustment, working women face the motherhood penalty—which amounts to a decrease in 4% of her earnings for every child that she has. That stands in stark contrast to the fatherhood bonus, which describes a 6% income boost the average father experiences for the birth of each child.

Motherly's 2018 State of Motherhood survey revealed that the majority of women scaled down their careers after the birth of a baby, while their partners often scaled up—a split that sometimes happens by choice, but other times happens by default, thanks to issues such as the incredibly high cost of childcare, which is not subsidized or covered fully as a tax credit, unlike in other countries.

The victims blame themselves: The worst part? Research shows American mothers largely blame themselves, experiencing waves of guilt and self-criticism for struggling to manage the inordinate task of working, raising children and maintaining a household. As it is, the burden is on these mothers in already vulnerable, challenging positions to ask for help—rather than how it should be done by offering resources and support in the first place. It's as if we're wading through a fog and cannot see that we're not doing it wrong, it's that modern American motherhood is just that hard.

But it is NOT our fault.

As Beth Berry wrote in a telling Motherly essay that has become our anthem, "It takes a village, but there are no villages. . . [mama,] you and I are not the problem at all. WE ARE DOING PLENTY. We may feel inadequate, but that's because we're on the front lines of the problem, which means we're the ones being hardest hit. We absorb the impact of a broken, still-oppressive social structure so that our children won't have to. That makes us heroes, not failures."

That bears repeating: It makes us heroes, mama.

Originally posted on Medium.

You might also like:

In This Article

    14 toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

    They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

    With fall in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in outside-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

    From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

    Wooden doll stroller

    Janod wooden doll stroller

    Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

    $120

    Detective set

    Plan Toys detective set

    This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

    $40

    Sand play set

    Plan Toys sand set

    Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

    $30

    Water play set

    Plan Toys water play set

    Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

    $100

    Mini golf set

    Plan Toys mini golf set

    Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

    $40

    Vintage scooter balance bike

    Janod retro scooter balance bike

    Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

    $121

    Wooden rocking pegasus

    plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

    Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

    $100

    Croquet set

    Plan Toys croquet set

    The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

    $45

    Wooden digital camera

    fathers factory wooden digital camera

    Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

    $179

    Wooden bulldozer toy

    plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

    Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

    $100

    Pull-along hippo

    janod toys pull along hippo toy

    There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

    $33

    Baby forest fox ride-on

    janod toys baby fox ride on

    Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

    $88

    Balance board

    Plan Toys balance board

    Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

    $75

    Meadow ring toss game

    Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

    Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

    $30

    We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

    Shop

    10 photos to take on baby’s first day that you'll cherish forever

    You'll obsess over these newborn baby pictures.

    Bethany Menzel: Instagram + Blog

    As you're preparing for baby's birth, we bet you're dreaming of all of the amazing photos you'll take of your precious new babe. As a professional photographer and mama, I have some tips for newborn photos you'll want to capture.

    Here are the 10 photos you will want to take on baby's first day.

    Keep reading Show less
    Life

    Mama, all I see is you

    A love letter from your baby.

    Mama,

    I can't see past you right now, I'm so small and everything's a little blurry.

    All I see is you.

    When you feel alone, like the walls are closing in, remember I'm here too. I know your world has changed and the days feel a little lonely. But they aren't lonely for me.

    You are my everything.

    When you feel like you don't know what you're doing, you're making it look easy to me. Even though we're still getting to know each other, you know me better than anyone.

    I trust you.

    Keep reading Show less
    Life