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Erica's New Book Releasing the Mother Load is officially out! Order your copy today!
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July 15, 2024

July 10, 2024

How Intensive Mothering Creates Overwhelmed Moms: The Pressures of Modern Motherhood

E:
233
with
Jess Grose
Opinion Writer for The New York Times and Author

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

  • How Societal Expectations Lead to Overwhelmed Moms
  • How Intensive Mothering Impacts Children
  • Social Media’s Impact on Modern Motherhood
  • The “Trad Wife” Movement, Intensive Mothering, and Individual Choices
  • Creating a Sustainable Environment for Mothers

Motherhood has changed a lot over the years—and while some of those changes have been good, others have left us feeling more pressured and less supported than ever. 

We’re carrying the weight of the invisible load, often in addition to full-time careers outside the home. We’re expected to facilitate our children’s development, becoming experts in child psychology. 

We’re expected to prepare nutritious, balanced meals from scratch, becoming experts in dietary needs (and somehow actually get our kids to eat those perfectly-prepared meals). We’re expected to work as if we don’t have children and mother as if we don’t work. And we’re expected to take care of ourselves, “bounce back,” exercise, practice self-care, maintain our relationships, somehow doing all of this without struggling or asking for help. 

It’s not just unrealistic—it’s fueling overwhelm and burnout for modern moms. 

There are so many reasons this happens, from gender norms to family of origin to cultural upbringing. But one of the most prevalent factors is intensive mothering ideology. 

Intensive mothering ideology, also known as the perfect mother myth, is the prevailing idea of what it means to be a “good mom.” It has created the idea that moms should dedicate all of their mental space, time, energy, and resources to their children, be “on” and engaged all the time, be the primary nurturers and providers, and not seek any fulfillment outside of their motherhood role. 

Research shows that intensive mothering is not only linked to more invisible labor, but also to negative mental health outcomes for moms. We can learn to challenge this ideology—but it isn’t always easy. 

Intensive mothering is not only linked to more invisible labor, but also to negative mental health outcomes. 

Intensive mothering, unrealistic pressures, and gender norms have created an unattainable ideal of motherhood—one that is taking a toll on modern moms. If we want to break out of this mom overwhelm, we need to recognize those expectations and determine what works for us. 

This week on The Momwell Podcast, I’m joined by Jess Grose, author and opinion writer for The New York Times. We discuss why moms are so overwhelmed and what we can do to create more support. 

How Societal Expectations Lead to Overwhelmed Moms

When Jess began writing about motherhood, she became fascinated by how different the motherhood experience is in various parts of the world. She wrote the book Screaming on the Inside: The Unsustainability of American Motherhood to highlight both the unique pressures and the systemic lack of support moms face in the United States. 

We often think about “motherhood” as an individual experience—something we go through in a silo. 

But the truth is that motherhood is much more complex—it involves not just individual values, beliefs, upbringing, culture, and faith, but also the country we live in, the social expectations, politics, and widespread ideologies. Our beliefs and our individual choices are often shaped and influenced by these external factors, even if we don’t realize it. 

The pandemic shined a light on the societal aspect of motherhood. When schools closed down, moms overwhelmingly carried that added labor. The structure we are mothering in deeply impacts our mental health. And in Western cultures, that structure is heavily tied to intensive mothering. In the United States in particular, it also involves a lack of support on a systemic level. 

Jess pointed out that issues such as unpaid maternity leave, or even healthcare being tied to our employment, make it very hard to provide for our families. 

We’re facing more pressure than ever but given no support or infrastructure to meet those expectations. 

Not only are we given more intense expectations than we ever have in history, but we’re also given no support or infrastructure to meet those expectations. It’s no wonder that overwhelmed moms who feel like they’re failing have become the norm. 

How Intensive Mothering Impacts Children

We fall into intensive mothering with the best of intentions, believing that it is the “right” way to show up for our children. 

But Jess pointed out that intensive mothering has an impact on kids—and that impact isn’t necessarily a good thing. Our children aren’t always given the level of independence they crave and need—largely because we’re pressured to constantly be present and involved. 

It also makes it difficult for them to form bonds with other adults in their lives—something which children benefit from. When we feel as if we must be the sole nurturers or caregivers, our children can miss out on valuable relationships. 

This expectation has also taken away the village mindset. Parents once received support from their families and communities. Now, we’re often expected to be isolated. 

Jess said that raising children was never intended to be done by one or two people—it was meant to be done in a community. We all benefit when we have a support system in place. 

Social Media’s Impact on Modern Motherhood

The rise of social media has added a new layer of pressure to modern motherhood. Platforms like Instagram and TikTok are filled with images of seemingly perfect families and mothers who appear to manage their households effortlessly. 

This curated portrayal of motherhood can cause moms to feel pressured to do more, and experience guilt if they can’t do it all. 

Jess pointed out that this expectation to do it all is different in other countries. In Sweden, for example, the idea of being a “good mom” simply means to spend time with your children—it doesn’t include the expectation to provide enriching activities or constantly be doing more. 

But when we’re bombarded with online ideals and curated images, that pressure to do more can grow even stronger. 

Jess pointed out that we often start feeling shame or guilt even for having normal human feelings, like maternal ambivalence. It can seem as though we’re supposed to always feel fulfilled and thrilled with our role—and any moments of other emotions mean we’re failing. 

We should be able to experience our full range of emotions—even about our motherhood role.

She said that we should be able to experience our full range of emotions—even about our motherhood role—without guilt or shame. We shouldn’t have to be ashamed of internal feelings. 

The “Trad Wife” Movement, Intensive Mothering, and Individual Choices

Another aspect of social media that affects moms is the role of influencers. It’s important to remember that influencers are paid to create specific content that attracts followers, gains clicks, or encourages purchases—they shouldn’t be the standard for everyone. 

One of the recent online trends is influencers who support the “trad wife” movement, which showcases women who adhere to strict traditional gender roles and expectations. We all have different values and roles within our families, but this “trad wife” image reflects something that is unrealistic for many modern moms. It’s important to view influencers and accounts within this world with a lens of digital literacy. 

These online trends and movements can also add fuel to the “mommy wars” or mom shaming. They often become polarizing and divisive, painting moms who choose to work and moms who choose to stay-at-home as opponents, rather than simply moms doing the best they can. 

Often, families find themselves in an economic situation where they might not even be able to make “choices.” They might not be able to afford to stay-at-home, or perhaps they have to stay-at-home because they can’t afford childcare. 

The way we define roles within our individual homes is based on so many factors, from our financial situation to our family values to our individual needs, preferences, strengths, and desires. And when we are pitted against each other online, that nuance gets missed. 

Creating a Sustainable Environment for Mothers

So how do we create a more sustainable environment for moms—one where they feel empowered to make choices, to let go of intensive mothering pressure, and to mother in a way that feels right to them? 

We need to create more support, both on a systemic and individual level. Individually, we can choose to let go of external pressures, establish support systems, and tune into our own values rather than social pressure. 

We can choose to redistribute labor in our homes and surround ourselves with friends and family who support us. 

But we can also collectively push for systemic support, including better subsidized childcare, paid family leave, and more flexible work arrangements. 

We can choose more compassion, both for ourselves and those around us. 

And on both an individual and systemic level, we can choose more compassion, for ourselves, for those around us, and for all moms who struggle under the weight of the invisible load in a system that doesn’t support them. 

If you’re struggling with modern motherhood pressures, you don’t have to do it alone! Working with a mom therapist can help. Book a FREE 15 minute virtual consult today.

This post includes links to outside resources we endorse–if you make a purchase we might receive a commission at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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Tags:

Social media, Lack of support, Intensive mothering

Stage:

Postpartum, Motherhood

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OUR GUEST

Jess Grose
Opinion Writer for The New York Times and Author

Jessica Grose is an opinion writer at The New York Times and the author of three books, Screaming on The Inside, Soulmates, and Sad Desk Salad.

Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.
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