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Toxic positivity doesn’t fix how much moms are burnt out—it only makes things worse

Insisting that mothers be happy and positive all the time does not permit us to recognize or fix the foundational problems.

Toxic positivity doesn’t fix how much moms are burnt out—it only makes things worse

My friend was recently mom-shamed on social media.

She was venting about the challenges of parenting during a pandemic, and another mom—a stranger—messaged her to tell her to stop complaining. You should feel lucky for all that is good in your life and stop focusing on the bad. When you complain, you bring everyone around you down. Motherhood is beautiful, enjoy it more.

Now, this friend is one of the more positive people I know, so the feedback missed the mark. But more important than the irony of misguided feedback was that rather than changing my friend's perception about her situation, it made it so much worse. It shamed her. It belittled and isolated her. And it hurt motherhood as a collective.

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The following statements are all truths:

Optimism is beautiful.

Finding the silver lining is a gift.

A positive outlook will take you far.

And sometimes life is really hard.

In order to live a full, human life, that last part has to be acknowledged, and even welcomed, into the conversation.

To ignore or shame it is to practice toxic positivity—and it's a huge problem right now.


Toxic positivity is the extreme preference for positive emotions while ignoring or rejecting anything negative. It is looking at the spectrum of emotions that people experience and stating that the happy ones are okay, but the unpleasant ones are not.

Toxic positivity is rampant in motherhood.

We are living through unprecedentedly difficult times when every day brings an onslaught of sadness, stress and anger. Yes, there are periods of joy and they should be celebrated. But ignoring the hard stuff, asking each other to only talk about the positive, and shaming people when they acknowledge the bad are all symptoms of toxic positivity—and it is hurting mothers.

As a general rule, our culture is not one that tolerates much discomfort. We try pretty desperately to avoid it. Think about when a child cries—our immediate reaction is to make the discomfort go away. "Don't cry, everything's okay!" Our culture has conditioned us to think that only positive, happy emotions are good.

We tell people to cheer up, chin up, buck up and snap out of it all the time. We print "good vibes only" on t-shirts. Why are we so averse to feeling or expressing or hearing about anything less than perfection? Aren't we braver than that?

Toxic positivity presents itself in many ways in motherhood. Here are a few examples:

Shaming a mother who complains about an aspect of motherhood. This is what happened to my friend (and happens to many others regularly).

This might sound like, "You have it so good, you have no right to complain."

When mothers are given the space to be honest and vulnerable, something beautiful happens: Mothers everywhere feel seen. This allows us to feel less alone. But when we swoop in to make mothers feel bad about venting, we are shutting down this call for help and the attempt to find connection. In doing so, we are not only doing her a disservice, we are hurting mothers everywhere.

Ignoring problems that have harmful consequences. Insisting on an overly positive view of the world risks causing us to turn our back on the very real—and very harmful—crises that exist all around us. A glaring example of this is racism.

This might sound like, "He wouldn't have said that to you. He's so nice," or, "I know that some people are racist, but the majority are not. I truly believe that most people in the world are good at heart."

Toxic positivity would have us believe that there are occasional problems here and there, however, on the whole, everything is fine. But we know that that's not the case—not even close. Denying the existence of huge societal problems, or using the notion of "staying positive" as a means to ignore problems, only elongates the existence of the problem. It is dangerous and unhelpful.

Toxic positivity can lead to over-glorification, which is another way that problems get ignored. A prime example of this is mom burnout.

This might sound like, "I know you've been diagnosed with postpartum depression, but try to focus on all the wonderful aspects of motherhood. It's such a magical journey, isn't it?"

Motherhood has been put on a pedestal—and yes, it is wonderful in many ways. But there are significant fundamental issues that make motherhood incredibly difficult right now: lack of paid parental leave, lack of universal childcare options, lack of support around mental health and so much more.

Toxic positivity surrounding motherhood—insisting that mothers be happy and positive all the time—does not permit us to recognize or talk about the foundational problems. And if we don't recognize and talk about them, how on earth can we fix them?

It also prevents mothers from being fully human. We don't stop getting mad or sad the moment we become mothers. We are still people with complex emotions. To insist that mothers only focus on the positive is asking us to play into the stereotypical, patriarchal role of "the mother, who lives and dies for her children's happiness alone."

Gas-lighting, minimizing or placating a person's difficult experience. The parenthood journey is full of beautiful and impossibly difficult moments—and they are all valid. But so often we only grant people permission to talk about the positive.

This might sound like, "You shouldn't complain about your birth. At least you and the baby are healthy," or, "I'm sorry you had a miscarriage, but it's time to move on; you were only 6 weeks pregnant, after all. Just be grateful that you can get pregnant in the first place."

Forcing someone to move through tragedy and trauma before they are ready doesn't work and is emotionally damaging. We have to process and grieve before we can begin to heal. And honestly, it's disrespectful.

Toxic positivity isn't just something we do to each other; we do it to ourselves, too.

When we shame ourselves for feeling negatively, we are forcing toxic positivity on ourselves.

"I shouldn't be upset that I lost my job, I have so much to be thankful for," or, "I feel guilty for being stressed during the pandemic. I have my health, I should just focus on that." When this happens, we feel shame. Shame is problematic because it can often prevent us from taking action to get help.

For example, if we are ashamed of our postpartum depression, we are much more likely to hide it or tell ourselves we need to snap out of it. "I should be so happy right now. I shouldn't feel like this." On the other hand, when we permit ourselves to have bad feelings too, we can approach them with much less self-judgment. "Wow, I have been feeling really unhappy recently. I wonder if something is up. I am going to call my doctor."

The solution to toxic positivity is three-fold: welcoming the negative, increasing our empathy and embracing the phrase, "Yes, and."

On welcoming the negative: Here's the thing about life: The shadows are just as real as the light. They're important, valid and full of lessons—plus ignoring them doesn't make them go away. If we could learn to tolerate discomfort a little more, learn to sit in the fire, we'd learn things about ourselves we never thought possible. And if, when someone vented, we resisted the urge to say "stop" and instead said "yes"—imagine how much more compassionate our world would feel.

On empathy: The next time someone feels called to "remind" a mother how lucky she is, let them be reminded that they cannot and should not presume to understand that mother's whole story. Please consider that she may have battles you know nothing about.

We need to increase our empathy levels and work the toxic positivity out of our culture.

On embracing "Yes, and": Our human brains want to put things into either-or categories. This is good and this is bad and it can't be both because that is messy!

But life is messy! And part of becoming an adult is coming to terms with the duality of life—an experience can be more than one thing at any given time.

You can be grateful to have your health and stressed during the pandemic.

You can believe that there are good people in the world and fight against institutional racism.

You can love motherhood and be overwhelmed by it; love your child and dislike aspects of caretaking; feel lucky to be a mother and miss your pre-motherhood existence; love your child and need a break from them; love your job and look forward to the weekend. And on, and on, and on.

Yes, and.

Because that's what life is. It's gorgeous and tragic and boring and riveting and breathtakingly hard and breathtakingly beautiful all at once.

And how lucky we are to be here for each other through it all?

So let's actually be here. In the muck. In the fire. In it—because that is real and we are brave enough.

14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school 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 summer-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.

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

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

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective 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

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden 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

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

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