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American mothers are drowning and no one is stepping up to help them

Seventy-four percent of mothers say they feel mentally worse since the pandemic began, according to our recent COVID-19 survey.

American mothers are drowning and no one is stepping up to help them

At Motherly, we talk a lot about the proverbial oxygen mask and how moms need to put their own oxygen masks on in order to be able to take care of their families. But we're all out of oxygen and we need help filling the tank.

As our annual State of Motherhood survey has shown, year over year, America's mothers are increasingly burned out and the COVID-19 pandemic has only increased maternal stress levels. Our COVID-19 survey found a majority of mothers (74%) say they feel mentally worse since the pandemic began, but data suggests the hectic and difficult year of 2020 will be the tipping point in making moms feel better long term.

The priorities of American parents are shifting, says George Carey, the CEO of the Family Room, a research and consultancy company that surveys thousands of people every year to determine trends in emotional priorities that impact decision-making. "In the 15 years we've been doing this, there has never been a time of more transformational changes in the emotional priorities of mothers," Carey tells Motherly.


According to Carey's latest data, we are in the midst of the biggest emotional upheaval in recent decades. It's not just mother's struggles that are changing, it's their minds, too. "For the last seven years, there has been every indication across these different emotional priorities that we measure that moms and dads, but especially moms have been totally fixated on their kids to the point where their own needs have been put to the side," Carey explains.

"And of course it's every parent's duty to be very focused on their kid, you'd be neglectful if you weren't. But parents 10 years ago were able to recognize that they have needs too. And over the last three and four years in particular, there's been a decrease in evidence that parents have any regard for their own needs, until this year.

"This was the year which seems to reverse that seven-year trend. And all of a sudden there've been enormous increases in moms' need for time to themselves and a community of their own friends and people who they can trust in their lives and competent leadership. Big, big increases in those emotional priorities versus last year," says Carey.

Carey points out that there has been "corresponding decreases in a number of their priorities around their kids, like their kids' education, their kids' happiness, their kids' wellbeing." He says it's not that these things have become unimportant to mothers, but rather that mothers are recognizing their own needs more.

At Motherly, we've seen it in our own community. Our mamas are interested in their own needs now in a way they haven't been before—and that is a good thing. Because if there was ever a time for us to put on an oxygen mask, it's now.

Unfortunately, moms are finding little support from society and governments. We've been thrown into a world where we are supposed to work, but also homeschool our children and keep our families safe. As the New York Times pointed out this week in a heartbreakingly accurate trending headline, "In the Covid-19 economy, you can have a kid or a job. You can't have both."

The unrealistic exceptions placed on mothers are not new—it's always been way too hard to have a job and children—but now that we're in a crisis and what few supports we had have been stripped away, it's beyond untenable and mothers... well, mothers are not going to take it anymore.

Mothers do not want to go back to a "normal" where we put our needs last, and we want leaders who understand that. Carey's data shows that mothers are prioritizing their own relationships and spiritual growth and are also looking for competent leadership in government. Competency is more important now than political party affiliation. Moms are looking to elect political leaders who are honest and surround themselves with competent advisors.

"Don't assume that the way things were is the way things will be once this virus has passed," Carey explains. "Because our 15 years of doing this research would strongly argue that we are into a new normal, which is not ever going to return to the way things were, or if it does, it'll be decades before we actually see those kinds of changes."

According to Carey, "this fundamentally changed people at an emotional level, not just a behavioral level."

As we get closer to November, politicians at all levels need to be paying attention to this, and so do our employers and our partners. Because while Motherly's COVID-19 survey found that moms wanted was more time with family and more flexible work options, Carey's data shows moms are desperate to connect with friends and community again. But that's hard to do when you have less than an hour a day to yourself without family responsibilities, as 63% of Motherly's respondents state.

Moms need oxygen masks. And society hasn't been providing them.

So we're going to make them for ourselves and each other. Because now that we recognize how much we need to be prioritizing ourselves, we're not going back. We're mothers, not martyrs. And we're so over 2020.

In This Article

    Tips parents need to know about poor air quality and caring for kids with asthma

    There are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

    When wildfires struck the West Coast in September 2020, there was a lot for parents to worry about. For parents of children with asthma, though, the danger could be even greater. "There are more than 400 toxins that are present in wildfire smoke. That can activate the immune system in ways that aren't helpful by both causing an inflammatory response and distracting the immune system from fighting infection," says Amy Oro, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health. "When smoke enters into the lungs, it causes irritation and muscle spasms of the smooth muscle that is around the small breathing tubes in the lungs. This can lead to difficulty with breathing and wheezing. It's really difficult on the lungs."

    With the added concern of COVID-19 and the effect it can have on breathing, many parents feel unsure about how to keep their children protected. The good news is that there are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

    Here are tips parents need to know about how to deal with poor air quality when your child has asthma.

    Minimize smoke exposure.

    Especially when the air quality index reaches dangerous levels, it's best to stay indoors as much as possible. You can find out your area's AQI at AirNow.gov. An under 50 rating is the safest, but between 100-150 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as children with asthma. "If you're being told to stay indoors, listen. If you can, keep the windows and doors closed," Oro says.

    Do your best to filter the air.

    According to Oro, a HEPA filter is your best bet to effectively clean pollutants from the air. Many homes are equipped with a built-in HEPA filter in their air conditioning systems, but you can also get a canister filter. Oro says her family (her husband and children all suffer from asthma) also made use of a hack from the New York Times and built their own filter by duct taping a HEPA furnace filter to the front of a box fan. "It was pretty disgusting what we accumulated in the first 20 hours in our fan," she says.

    Avoid letting your child play outside or overly exert themselves in open air.

    "Unfortunately, cloth masks don't do very much [to protect you from the smoke pollution]," Oro says. "You really need an N95 mask, and most of those have been allocated toward essential workers." To keep at-risk children safer, Oro recommends avoiding brisk exercise outdoors. Instead, set up an indoor obstacle course or challenge your family to jumping jacks periodically to keep everyone moving safely.

    Know the difference between smoke exposure and COVID-19.

    "COVID-19 can have a lot of the same symptoms—dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and chest pain could overlap. But what COVID and other viruses generally cause are fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Those would tell you it's not just smoke exposure," Oro says. When a child has been exposed to smoke, they often complain of a "scrape" in their throat, burning eyes, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or wheezing. If the child has asthma, parents should watch for a flare of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or a tight sensation in their chest.

    Unfortunately, not much is known about long-term exposure to wildfire smoke on a healthy or compromised immune system, but elevated levels of air pollution have been associated with increased COVID-19 rates. That's because whenever there's an issue with your immune system, it distracts your immune system from fighting infections and you have a harder time fighting off viruses. Limiting your exposure to wildfire smoke is your best bet to keep immune systems strong.

    Have a plan in place if you think your child is suffering from smoke exposure.

    Whatever type of medication your child takes for asthma, make sure you have it on-hand and that your child is keeping up with regular doses. Contact your child's pediatrician, especially if your area has a hazardous air quality—they may want to adjust your child's medication schedule or dosage to prevent an attack. Oro also recommends that, if your child has asthma, it might be helpful to have a stethoscope or even a pulse oximeter at home to help diagnose issues with your pediatrician through telehealth.

    Most importantly, don't panic.

    In some cases, social distancing and distance learning due to COVID may be helping to keep sensitive groups like children with asthma safer. Oro says wildfires in past years have generally resulted in more ER visits for children, but the most recent fires haven't seen the same results. "A lot of what we've seen is that the smoke really adversely affects adults, especially older adults over 65," Oro says. "Children tend to be really resilient."

    This article was sponsored by Stanford Children's Health. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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