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.