Moms are overwhelmed, period. That doesn’t come as a surprise to most of today’s mothers.
Reuters reports that a study by ForbesWoman and the pregnancy website TheBump.com found that 92 percent of working moms and 89 percent of stay-at-home mothers felt overwhelmed by work, home and parenting responsibilities. Nearly 30 percent of working mothers said they do the bulk of the household chores and 31 percent said they are responsible for all of the parenting.
And some say our resulting stress might just be our own fault.
Furthermore, seventy percent of working moms and 68 percent of stay-at-home mothers said “they feel resentful toward their partner” because of all they have to do:
“It’s not just that women can’t ask for help; they don’t want to,” said Meghan Casserly, a reporter for ForbesWoman. “She feels it’s damaging her sense of motherhood to ask for help. And it’s causing resentment.”
“Moms have an innate aspiration to do it all and a secret desire to be superwoman,” says Carley Roney, editor in chief of TheBump.com, which she feels may start in childhood. “There is an underlying self-doubt and guilt in saying I don’t want to do this. It’s literally ingrained in most of us to want to be Super Moms,” she says.
And it’s this longing to be the perfect, patient mom who should not only be able to handle it all, but do so with a smile on her face, that makes us self sabotage:
That guilt then, and the reluctance to relinquish any task of motherhood, might just be Public Enemy No.1. “It’s a martyr syndrome,” Roney contends. “You want to do everything, but you want to be recognized for it. You want to be offered the help, not to ask for it; and that’s where the resentment kicks in.” Seventy percent of working moms admitted resentment towards their partners for not being as helpful as they’d like with parenting duties.
Roney may have been in my house before she uttered these words. I honestly don’t know why I naturally assumed that every part of child rearing fell on me but ever since my kids were born, when they needed something, I was the one who ran to get it. If I was at work, my husband happily took over, but when I was home, it was as if everything fell on my shoulders. The problem is that even when my husband offered to help, I’d still feel an intense need to do it. So eventually he began to stop asking. But he should just do it, without my asking, I would think. And I began to feel resentful.
In my state of anger, I couldn’t understand why he didn’t respond to the baby’s obvious need to reach her sippy cup or have a diaper change when I so obviously did. But that was when I was angry. Soon enough, he would say or do something minor (that irritated me) and I would let out the laundry list of reasons why I felt resentful. It was a lose-lose situation. When cooler heads prevailed, I was able to tell him how the events leading up to my melt-down bothered and exhausted me, and he was able to tell me he really didn’t notice all those minute details that I did, but if I asked him to help, he would have.
So why was it so hard for me to simply ask?
“There’s ego in motherhood,” Roney concludes. “And an ego in being a wife. It’s the nature of being a mother—that you’ll just do it. That you’ll take it like a mom.’” Communicating the need for help is a troubling but necessary first step, she says, to relieving stress, avoiding resentment and—ultimately—getting the time out every mother deserves. “At some point, you’ve got to say: I can do a lot of it, but I don’t want to do it all.”
Not until I learned that I didn’t have to do it all, did I find any peace. During one recent discussion about the sheer volume of dishes that have to cleaned in a household of five, my husband told me that if I didn’t have to do every dish as soon as it was dirty and if I left them there, since he works the evening shift, he’d do them later when he got home from work. But my compulsion was to have the kitchen cleaned before I went to bed. That was how I was raised and if I was dead tired, I still had to get it done. That’s what my mother did and still does. It had nothing to do with him or his willingness to help, but rather reflected my childhood beliefs of seeing my own mother do everything alone.
Surely, not every woman has this reluctance to ask for help, but so many of us do. Many of us were raised being the “good girl”, and don’t want to put someone out, even our own husbands at times. It’s not difficult to understand why we ended up this way either. I have heard countless times from women of our mothers’ generation who place the parenting and household responsibilities on the woman because it was all placed on them years before.
Throughout our marriage, the more I talked about it this self-imposed martyr sentence with my husband, the freer I felt. Last week after a particularly grueling workday, I left an entire sink filled with dishes and went to bed, and when I woke up, the kitchen was spotless. So I fully understand what Roney is saying.
Sometimes it’s our own fault when we are stressed. Sometimes we have to ask for help. Sometimes our husbands don’t see everything that needs to get done…but would certainly pitch in, if we simply asked.
Read Danielle’s blog Just Write Mom.