Mothers do not need to do a better job taking care of themselves. We need to do a better job taking care of mothers.
Moms have always worked hard under difficult circumstances. But the last several months of existing through a pandemic have escalated what was once a bad problem to an absolute crisis: Mothers are reaching unprecedented levels of burnout.
But burnout is not a new issue.
Last year, I wrote an article called "'Self-care' is not enough to fix how much moms are burnt out."
And as happens when you write something that goes out on the internet, the feedback started to come in. For many, it struck a chord. Moms were feeling utterly burnt out, and their attempts to fix the burnout with bubble baths or nights out with friends weren't working. They knew deep down that their stress, exhaustion and depletion were symptoms of much larger systemic shortcomings.
In addition to the moms who shared that it resonated, I got a fair amount of "constructive criticism." It sounded like this:
"If a mom is burned out, she needs to do a better job taking care of herself."
"She needs to ask for more help."
"She needs to stop taking on so much."
"She needs to use her resources better."
In other words, "She has done this to herself."
As I always do with feedback, I sat with it; I wanted to let it settle and learn from it. But I waited a long time and it never settled. Instead, it sat heavily on my shoulders, weighing me down more and more.
Because that sentiment—the idea that a mother's burnout is her own fault—is exactly why moms are burnt out.
Here's the thing: Mothers do not need to do a better job taking care of themselves. We need to do a better job taking care of mothers.
Do many of us need to work on prioritizing our own needs? Yes, without a doubt.
Could many of us get better at saying "no" to all the little asks—the PTA, the themed birthday parties, the volunteer opportunities? One-hundred percent.
Would doing any of those things solve mom burnout? Not even close.
To put the onus of fixing mom burnout on the mothers who are burnt out is to ignore the foundational issues that have gotten us to this point.
So on behalf of mothers everywhere, I refuse to accept that feedback. I refuse to let society off the hook that easily.
Mama, if you too have been told that your exhaustion, your defeat, your burnout is your fault, here's what you need to know: The notion that your burn out is your own doing is unfair and not based on the reality of modern motherhood. In short, your burnout is not your fault.
It is not your fault that childcare is unaffordable.
It is not your fault that you don't live near family who can come over to help.
It is not your fault that your health insurance is tied to your job, making it so you can't leave, even though you can feel the stress starting to impact your health (the very health that the insurance is there to protect).
It is not your fault that strangers assume you have the same privileges that they do. It is not your fault that we're losing our ability to empathize with people who live different lives than we do.
It is not your fault that you had to go back to work after giving birth before you healed. That your pelvis ached and your incision itched and your breasts swelled as you tried to smile your way through that shift or that meeting. (It's also not your fault that you were criticized when you didn't smile.)
It is not your fault that you feel pressured to tell people everything is great when it's not.
It is not your fault that you were pressured to have postpartum sex before you felt ready to do so.
It is not your fault that it was impossible to exclusively breastfeed your baby for six months like they recommended, while also working a full-time job that you needed in order to maintain your income which your family depends on (or simply because you love your job and wanted to keep working).
It is not your fault that you make less money than your co-workers because you are a woman or BIPOC.
It is not your fault that you feel like your mom-body isn't good enough (psst: it is).
It is not your fault that you now need to navigate all of this during a pandemic, in a society that was never set up to actually support you.
It is not your fault that the society you live in has not shown you how important you are.
None of it is your fault. But mama, it's still up to us to fix it. Because after all, when you need something handled, you ask a mother.
And so. We get to work.
We continue to fight for ourselves, remembering that every time we stand up for ourselves, we are standing up for mothers everywhere.
We continue to call out injustices wherever we see them.
We continue to do the uncomfortable work of examining our own biases and privileges and we learn and we vow to do better every single day.
We continue to own our value—by speaking loudly even when we don't feel brave, by taking up space and by refusing to let the "it's your own faults" settle into our self-perception.
We continue to demand better.
And we continue to love our children, our communities and ourselves fiercely.
Because despite what they have shown you, you are so important.
Not just to your child, although, please remember that to your child, you are everything—their safety, their heart, their courage, their home.
You are important to other mothers—in the way that you stay in this fight alongside them.
You are important to our society—in the way that you make your family and community better. In the ways that feel small but matter more than you could ever know.
You are important to the world—in the way that you make it continue to spin. In the ways that you are raising children who will continue your work and make it all better.
Mama, it's not our fault and we haven't done this to ourselves. We're still going to fix it.