Why Moms Are Miserable
About a year ago, I was finishing up my research on motherhood when I came across The Feminine Mystique written by Betty Friedan from 1963.
The first chapter of this book is called “The problem that has no name.” As I was reading it, I felt my heart bursting. I said to myself: every mother needs to know what’s on these pages. It helps give meaning to where moms before us were and where we still are.
Betty Friedan interviewed mothers who privately admitted that they were unfulfilled, alone and ashamed to admit that they felt lost in the midst of raising a family. She called this the problem that has no name. The spread into suburbia with its green lawns and large corner lots were isolating for moms.
Worries about Smallpox and Polio were replaced by depression and alcoholism. ‘Drug remedies’ like Mother’s Little Helper promised relief from boredom, unhappiness, and anxiety. Sure, we’ve come a long way since the 1950’s. We can now receive a higher education wherever we want, we can pursue any career we want and we have rights that protect us against discrimination. But our feelings of loneliness and lack of fulfillment are just as they were back then.
In my practice as a child and family therapist, I have heard a familiar story over and over. Mothers are exhausted, overwhelmed and lonely in their lives. I could relate to exhaustion and overwhelm but thought that being lonely didn’t apply to me.
Or did it?
I have friends, a loving & supportive husband, dinners on weekends and I volunteer in the schools and community that we belong to. So I thought that I was doing pretty well, until something happened that changed my life. A few years ago after two days of being in pain, I drove myself to the ER.
After I was examined, I was admitted into a private room. I turned on the TV and settled in. Despite the fact that I was in pain, I was actually quite content. I was in an adjustable bed, had someone checking in on me, a warm blanket on, watching Sunday night football. No kids to put down, no dishes to unload and no laundry to fold. Just me, alone, in a room.
Then a lightbulb went off in my head!
I was having a real-life hospital fantasy. And it felt soooo good! I was so busy in my daily life that I thought a hospital break was a wonderful thing. After a while, the novelty started to wear off. I started to think, besides my family, who could I call? Who could I call to simply say “I am in the hospital and I want nothing else but to just tell you that?”
In that moment I realized that I was just as disconnected from my community as the mothers I see in my practice. I had done what so many of us do – moved across the country gotten busy raising my kids and advancing my career. I was living my life in 60-minute increments, going from school to soccer to home and back to work. I was feeling lonely and didn’t even know it.
50 years later the ‘problem that has no name’ is still with us. It shows itself differently, but it’s the same problem. Today, we have the rabbit hole of social media that shows what all the other mommies are doing ‘better’ than us.
If we are a stay at home mom we feel judged and if we are a working mom we feel guilty. We worry and stress over every parenting decision we make. We feel like failures and frauds all too often.
Somewhere in our frantic and overscheduled lives, we might have a husband with all of his needs and demands as well. Most of us, somehow, manage to have a career. Back in the 50s and 60s, mother’s thought if only they could have a career, life would be good. And earning our own money and having careers has been good. But still the ‘problem that has no name’ is with us. If you are relating to any of this, you are not alone.
I started researching and asking the tough questions. I found that since the 1970’s women have been reporting less life satisfaction than men. I asked, why is this? As I dug deep one thing became clear.
Women need intimacy with other human beings every day.
This is not the same as casual connections. We are spending upwards of 17 hours a week online, with at least one hour on Facebook each day. Yet I found that over the past 40 years women’s friendship networks have shrunk. People move on average 11 times during their lifetime. Shuttling kids around has caused more isolation among moms who spend the majority of their day in the car stressed out trying to get their kids from one thing to the other.
Did you know that a lack of intimate friendships is hazardous to our physical health as well? One university study showed that patients were 50% more likely to survive disease when they had close friendships. Social isolation and the feeling of loneliness is a major health issue that increases the risk of death, more so than smoking or obesity.
So what to do? Do we have to accept that the problem that has no name has no solution?
I don’t think so. In researching this topic over the past several years I have come to believe that if each one of my clients had a best friend my practice might be cut in half. We need to spend some of those 17 hours we’re online with a female friend instead. As I have shared with you today, I wasn’t immune either. Now I say yes to people a lot more. I reach out to others. Even if I am tired I still meet that friend out and we share our stories.
I know that collective stories create community. I have banned ‘being busy’ in my life. I won’t let ‘busy’ build walls that keep me apart from people.
Together, in our small towns and large cities, let’s start eliminating the ‘problem that has no name.’
Let’s call a friend. Anytime.
After we kiss our kids good night and we’re tired. Let’s contact a friend. For no other reason than to say how are you?
Let’s get together with a friend.
Let’s make a new friend.
Let’s resolve issues with an old friend.
I am reminded of that beautiful line by Susan Sarandon in the movie Shall We Dance.
”We need a witness to our lives.
There are a billion people on the planet,
So what does any one life really mean?”
When you have a close friend you’re saying,
“Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it.
Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness’.”
Moms: This problem has been around for at least 50 years, it’s up to us to make sure it’s not around for another 50 years.
Photo Credit :www.alexandranicole.com.