The 2021 State of Motherhood Survey is in, and the results confirm what mothers and parents around the country are feeling deep in their souls: We are exhausted, burnt out and in significant need of change.
Motherhood burnout is not new, but it is getting worse. This year we found that 93% of mothers are burnt out (up from last year)—and the reason is clear: 92% of mothers do not believe that our society does a good job of understanding or supporting them. This is a sentiment that has grown in strength every year we’ve conducted this survey—from 74% in 2018, 85% in 2019 and 89% in 2020.
This feels disheartening, to say the least. But I am not giving up—and neither should you. We need major action, major cultural change to fix this crisis. But in my 2019 TEDx Talk, I said that “huge solutions are a compilation of small solutions.” And small solutions? We can all agree to that, can’t we?
There are things that you can do every day that can have a very real impact on the way that mothers exist. So please, do them. We don’t have any more time to lose.
Here are 10 meaningful ways you can support mothers every day.
1. Believe them.
When mothers tell you something is wrong, believe them. Someone who has just given birth and is reporting a worrisome symptom. Someone who is asking to work for home 1 day per week and guarantees it won’t impact their productivity. Someone who reports mistreatment. Whatever it is, believe them—and act on it. Please stop belittling women, mothers and non-binary parents by discounting the things they share with you.
2. Avoid toxic positivity.
“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.”
We know you are trying to help us see the silver lining of a situation, but it’s really important to let mothers feel safe to acknowledge the hard things, too.
3. Validate their experiences.
“I have a friend who isn’t a parent, but who reminds me all the time that taking care of a child is really hard work when I’m feeling overwhelmed. The fact that she expresses empathy for me as a parent, unprompted, means the world to me. It’s really validating to have someone who isn’t in my shoes telling me that parenting is objectively difficult on top of everything else I do. Sometimes it feels like the world tells me, ‘Well, you made the choice to have a kid, so you just have to deal with all the stress that comes along with it.’ —Becca Brink, Motherly Assistant Editor
Local and federal policies have a big impact on parents’ day-to-day existence, so putting politicians in office that support mothers is hugely important. Do not underestimate the power of your vote in helping to improve the situation for mothers.
5. Plan a thoughtful Meal Train.
“My first trimester was ROUGH. I had sweet friends start a small meal train and specifically asked what sounded good/what smelled terrible. And usually, those meals came with ginger chews, teas or other things that helped other mamas in the past. It was just the thoughtfulness that really got me.” —Hayli Craig, Motherly Editorial Operations Coordinator
6. Provide flexibility.
If you are an employer, offer your employees flexibility in a way that makes sense for your business model. This could be allowing them to work from home (occasionally or always), giving them the flexibility to have middle-of-the-day appointments or creating flexible days off that parents can take based on their childcare needs. Mothers are grown-ups; they will get their work done. You may be surprised at how much more efficient parents become when they don’t have to pretend that they don’t have children.
7. Listen without interjecting your story.
“Sometimes when talking to a fellow mom having a rough time, I remind myself NOT to share my own experience and instead let them vent. I’ve read this is a normal conversational compulsion—to share your own experience—but I’ve noticed as moms we tend to overtake the conversation with our own experience instead of focusing on the person who’s having a tough time at hand.”—Shannon Vestal, Motherly Editorial Director
8. Pay them.
It’s 2021 and yet the pay gender gap is still very real—and even more significant for women of color. Assess the way you are paying the mothers in your life—is it fair? If not, fix it.
This also includes providing pay transparency. When you post a job opportunity, list the salary with it. Not doing so perpetuates the gender pay gap (women historically ask for less money than men).
9. Respect their parenting decisions.
Unless they explicitly ask you for your opinion, don’t give it. How they feed their baby, whether or not they are employed, if and how they sleep train their baby—it’s all so personal. Please don’t make them doubt themselves any more than they already do.
10. Use your superpower.
Everyone has a skill they can offer a mother—everyone. Are you an excellent cook (or even a mediocre one)? Find a mom to make a feel for. Do you have the capacity to do a few hours of volunteer work a month in your professional capacity? Hone in on a talent that you have and then start offering help to those around you. You might be surprised by how much it matters.