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.

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.

In This Article

    Need sixteen bandaids, three courses of snacks and a stain stick? Just ask the nearest mom. She'll hand you all that and ask if you'd like a fistful of baby wipes to help clean up afterward.

    Mamas are the OG Mary Poppins. But that doesn't mean we want to carry giant carpet bags to prove it. When it comes to toting all the things mamas and little ones need, we want to do it in style. And forget diaper bags that look like diaper bags. We want a reliable and easy-to-organize bag that looks chic enough to carry it even without toddlers in tow. (Read: 26 Diaper Bags That Don't Look Like Diaper Bags)

    Meet the impossibly stylish Stevie from Mina Baie. Motherly shoppers have been crushing on it for months and we wanted to let you in on the secret.


    As sophisticated as it is practical, this spacious diaper bag is designed with every need in mind. First of all, while it may look like leather bags that cost three times more, it's made from a resilient and gorgeous vegan material that you don't have to feel precious about since it's easy to clean and hard to beat up. It also features a water-resistant lining that's ready for any sippy cup mishap that comes its way. The top-loading design, flush with a variety of interior and exterior pockets keeps everything orderly and accessible while the clever construction allows you to carry it as a backpack, tote or crossbody.

    Mina Baie vegan stevie

    Mina baie vegan stevie

    The look and practicality are elevated by chunky hardware, a padded laptop sleeve and a luggage sleeve for slipping over a carry-on handle.

    $142

    It's the kind of bag that brings mamas together. You know, the kind of bag that makes a fellow playground spectator sidle up and ask you where you got it. (Isn't that just the best feeling ever?)

    We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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    Motherly created the flexible online birth class moms need

    The Motherly Birth Class is completely online, which means you can take the class at your own pace.

    Taking a birth class is a pregnancy milestone. Whether you've been excited to take a birth class for a long time or have just recently decided that you wanted to take one, sitting down for that first lesson feels big—spoiler alert, this is really happening! But finding time for a birth class isn't as easy as it would seem.

    We know new parents are busy (hello, understatement of the year). Between diaper changes, pediatrician appointments, healing from birth and the general adjustment to #newparentlife, the days can fill up quickly. But a lot of people are caught off guard by how busy pregnancy can be, too! That first trimester is so often full of symptoms—like nausea and fatigue—that can make previously easy or simple tasks exhausting. The second trimester begins and (usually) we start to feel better. But then our days get filled with planning out baby registries and deciding on questions like, "Where will this tiny new human sleep?" And before you know it, it's the third trimester—and, well, then you're in the home stretch. Plus there are so many appointments!

    All this to say that we get how busy you are—and how hard that might make it to fit in a birth class.

    And that's why we created The Motherly Birth Class. The Motherly Birth Class is completely online, which means you can take the class at your own pace.


    Think you'll want to watch each lesson a few times over? Great!

    Due date's next week and you need the option to take a birth class very quickly? No problem!

    Like everything at Motherly, we designed this class with you in mind.

    Taught by Certified Nurse-Midwife Diana Spalding (who also wrote "The Motherly Guide to Becoming Mama"), this class is broken into 12 lessons—and you get to control how and when you watch them. We'll teach you about what your (amazing) body is up to in labor, how to decide when it's time to head to the hospital or birth center (or when to call your home birth midwife), what your options are for coping with pain and so much more.

    When you sign up for The Motherly Birth Class, you'll get access to a downloadable workbook and meditations. Plus, you'll be invited to join our supportive private online community (where you can chat with the class instructor!)

    Oh, one more thing: Your insurance or flexible spending account might even able to able to cover the cost of this class.

    Pregnancy is wonderful—but it's a lot. You deserve a birth class that works for you and empowers you to have your best birth. Because vaginal or Cesarean, unmedicated or medication, birth is incredible. And you are the star of it all.

    You've got this.

    Sign up for The Motherly Birth Class today!

    The Motherly Birth Class

    pregnant-woman-looking-at-her-belly

    Take our completely digital birth class from the comfort of your living room. We'll help you have your best birth—because you deserve it.

    $79

    We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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    10 splurge-worthy items for your baby registry that are totally worth it

    These are perfect for a group of friends or family to split.

    One of the sweetest parts of a baby shower is gifting the mama-to-be with items that she probably would never splurge on herself. Maybe you're part of a group of friends or family who want to purchase a big-ticket surprise. Or, you want to spend a little extra on a gift you know she'll obsess over.

    We've rounded up our top splurge-worthy items that mama and baby will love.


    Motherly Timeless 5-in-1 Crib + Playhouse

    Motherly Timeless 5-in-1 crib + playhouse

    From first sleeps to the sleep-until-noon teenage days, this crib is designed to be there through it all. It grows right along with them from a crib to a toddler bed, day bed, play house and eventually a full-size bed.

    $499

    BOB Alterrain Jogging Stroller

    Bob-alterrain-jogging-stroller

    A jogging stroller is a must-have for an active family. We love this top-rated model from BOB, the brand that's synonymous with jogging strollers. It seamlessly goes on all terrains, from pavement to wooded trails. If mama already has her everyday stroller, this would make a great addition.

    $599

    Doona Infant Car Seat + Latch Base

    Doona infant car seat + latch base

    Doona is a car seat that transforms into a stroller in a matter of seconds. It's a thoughtful gift that will simplify mama's life without sacrificing on safety.

    $549

    SNOO Smart Sleeper Bassinet

    snoo-smart-sleeper-bassinet

    By combining gentle rocking with soothing white noise and snug, safe swaddling, SNOO creates a nearly fool-proof, safe sleep environment that parents (and babies!) swear by. Not only does it automatically respond to your baby's needs when it senses their fussing or crying, but it also helps teach little ones to self-soothe. It's the recipient of tons of awards and countless accolades from families who say it's actually changed their lives. That might sound like an overstatement, but when it comes to sleep, a solid night of it is nothing short of life-changing.

    (Read more about why we think the Snoo is totally worth it!)

    Willow Hands-Free Wearable Double Electric Breast Pump

    Willow hands-free wearable double electric breast pump

    If mama is going to try breastfeeding, a quality breast pump is an essential tool. Willow reinvents traditional pumping, making it easier than ever to pump on the go. As the first in-bra wearable pump, there's no need to worry about cords. Plus, it's spill-proof and quiet. (Learn more about why the Willow Pump is totally worth it!)

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    Baby Björn Baby Carrier One Air in 3D Mesh

    Baby Bj\u00f6rn baby carrier one air in 3D mesh

    Customize your (and baby's!) comfort with the two-way padded, adjustable straps, lumbar support and built-in infant adapter. It features breathable mesh that keeps the temperature just right for you and baby. More to love? Three easy-to-adjust seat positions so you have plenty of options to create an ergonomic fit.

    $220

    Nanit Pro Smart Baby Monitor

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    The Nanit merges mama instincts with your inner data nerd to help your baby sleep like, well, a baby. Their game-changing tech acts as a personal sleep trainer to track your baby's sleep, breathing, wake-ups and fussing and even how often you enter the room via an over-the-crib camera. The info that's gathered is synthesized to provide nightly reports, scores and tips that parents can use to improve. The camera itself captures real-time HD quality video and even allows you to create a digital scrapbook of the adorable moments caught on camera.

    $249

    Baby Brezza Formula Pro Advanced 

    baby-brezza-formula-pro

    The Baby Brezza is formula's best friend. It easily prepares formula so mama doesn't have to worry about mixing or measuring—simply place in the formula powder and water. With temperature control features, you can be sure it'll be ready for baby.

    $199.99

    4moms Mamaroo Baby Swing 

    4moms mamaroo baby swing

    When mama can't bounce baby (because she's tired, needs her hands free or just needs a break), the mamaRoo mimics that gentle rocking motion. We love that you can control the sound, motion and speed from your phone so you don't have to interrupt baby.

    $239.99

    Stokke tripp trapp chair with baby set

    Stokke tripp trapp chair with baby set

    With a beautiful Scandinavian design, the Tripp Trapp Chair will seamlessly blend into any home design. It features an ergonomic seating position and an adjustable back and footplate so a little can comfortably sit at the table for years to come. You can even add in a cushion for added comfort. While it's an investment, think of it as a piece of furniture versus another kid's item.

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    We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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    This post is sponsored by BABYBJÖRN. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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    Jenna Dewan says being a working mom with postpartum anxiety was 'really difficult'

    In a new interview, Jenna Dewan talks about her struggles when she was a first-time mom.

    Jenna Dewan/Instagram

    Jenna Dewan has been a mother for eight years, but she's just now opening up about her struggles in those early days with her first child, Everly. She touches on a majorly relatable pain point for many new parents: postpartum anxiety.

    Postpartum depression is, of course, a major issue that affects many, many new parents. But postpartum anxiety doesn't get quite as much attention (or, at least, it didn't used to), despite it being a very common experience.


    In an episode of the Dear Gabby podcast, Dewan says after giving birth to Everly in 2013, she was away from her ex-husband (and Everly's proud dad), Channing Tatum and experiencing "a lot of postpartum anxiety" at the time. She says she and Tatum both had hectic work schedules that separated them for the first six weeks of Everly's life.

    "I had to travel with her and at the time, Chan wasn't available to be with us for the most part. So, it was me, my doula, and Evie all by ourselves traveling at six weeks," she said. She explained that balancing everything was "really hard" and she was filming on sets for long hours . "I did have her on set with me constantly," she said. "It was just really difficult."

    Dealing with postpartum anxiety and working and traveling just six weeks after giving birth to your first child would be extremely difficult to navigate and cope with. I had never experienced a genuine bout of anxiety in my entire life until my first daughter was born, and the feeling was so foreign to me that I barely kept my head above water for two months. I had been educated on what to look for in terms of postpartum depression, but what I was enduring wasn't necessarily that. I lost 30 pounds in three weeks, I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep, and I had no idea what was happening. It took me a full year before I realized it was postpartum anxiety (that has since just turned into a generalized anxiety disorder that will probably never dissipate, because parenthood).

    "It was like, I just never stopped," Dewan explained. "You know, you're up a couple times in the night and then you're working all day. I was breastfeeding, I was pumping, I was without a partner, I mean it was just craziness."


    Luckily after the birth of her second child with fiancé Steve Kazee, Callum, who was born in early 2020 right before the pandemic shut things down in the U.S., Dewan had a radically different experience.

    Even though the world was crazy, I was home and in this love nest and it was different," she said.

    Many parents have a different experience the second time around—myself included. Even if all the same anxieties are there, you typically have better coping strategies when you know what to expect. We need more moms like Jenna Dewan to keep the dialogue open about postpartum mental health.
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    To the mama preparing her heart for baby #2: You are ready

    Your heart is about to grow so much more full with love.

    A few months ago my two year old daughter and I were driving home from dinner with friends, and as we pulled onto our street a lump formed in my throat and big tears began to stream down my face—I realized that tonight was our last night ever just the two of us to do my daughter's bedtime routine.

    Out-of-town relatives were set to arrive, my husband would soon be home from his deployment, and we'd be having our second baby.

    The intense emotion hit me out of nowhere.

    I felt guilty about how much was about to change for my daughter. I had no idea how to rationalize or sort through this sudden rush of feelings.

    I was already so in love with this healthy, unborn baby girl kicking inside my belly, but I felt like I was mourning the future loss of my season as a mama of one.

    Fast forward three months later to today as I once again found myself with a lump in my throat, but this time it was the result of watching my 2.5 year old daughter love on my infant while she sat in her bouncer seat. I had stepped out of the room for a moment, and when I rounded the corner to return I found my older daughter crouched down by my baby wiping spit-up off of her face and making the sweetest baby-talk noises.

    My baby was locked on my older girl's eyes, and the lump in my throat formed before I knew it. I smiled and recalled my emotions from a few months back—I couldn't begin to imagine then how full my heart would feel watching the two tiny loves of my life interact with each other. It sometimes takes my breath away.

    I was so worried then about the unknown and making my daughter "share" my husband and me and the life we'd all built together, but we didn't know what we didn't know, and that's that I had nothing to worry about.

    To the mama reading this whose heart is currently twisted about soon going from parenting one kid to two...

    It really is true that you'll never have to split your love between your babies, and it really is true that your love will multiply tenfold as you all get to know your newest little love.

    Right now you may catch yourself wondering how it's possible that you could ever intensely love another little person as much as you love your first (I couldn't begin to fathom it), but just wait, mama. It's beautiful and perfect it happens so effortlessly.

    You wonder and worry about how your oldest will respond to sharing your attention, but try to remember that the adjustment period, regardless of how long or short it is, is just a brief season in the grand scheme. (Plus, your oldest may surprise you with how well and how quickly he or she adjusts.)

    Like me, you may find yourself in this bizarre phase of mourning all the things you love about this current season of life as a mom to one. You feel like you've all finally found a routine that's comfortable and easy and enjoyable just in time to shake things back up again. You'll surely find that "comfortable" routine again eventually, and this time you'll have the privilege of having another little soul to love and raise and enjoy.I used to watch other moms who had two or more children and wondered if they could have ever at some point empathized with my roller coaster of emotions about adding another baby. I would watch as these mamas so effortlessly moved through the grocery store or a restaurant or the park with two or more little ones, and I would hope (and still hope) that one day I would find my groove just like her. I hoped that someday I would be able to embrace the role of juggling multiple kids as naturally as she seemed to do.

    If your heart is twisted and you're finding yourself taken back by your roller coaster of emotions about having your next baby—know that your feelings are relatable, understandable and justified. You may choke up like me when it's time to give your biggest baby one last hug before you meet your second one, but just remember this is all a beautiful part of this crazy life.

    Your heart is about to grow so much more full with love.

    Making the transition from one to two, mama? These tried-and-true products can help.

    BABYBJÖRN bouncer bliss

    BABYBJ\u00d6RN bouncer bliss

    Siblings are our first best friends. The universally-loved bouncer from BABYBJÖRN not only gives your arms a much-needed break, but also provides the sweetest opportunity for their bond to thrive.

    $250

    Tushbaby carrier - black/gold

    Tushbaby carrier - black/gold

    The next best thing to an extra set of arms, the Tushbaby carrier takes the weight off of your waist and is equipped with a storage area perfect for diapers, wipes and changing essentials of all kinds. Ditch the diaper bag and carry on with toddler life like the pro you are. You've got this, mama.

    $79

    Slumberkins alpaca snuggler

    Slumberkins Alpaca Snuggler

    If your older child is struggling with the transition, the Slumberkins alpaca snuggler is a snuggly tool developed by therapists and early education specialists that can help kids manage anxiety and better articulate big feelings.

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    We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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