How to shift your mind-set from giving so much of yourself to others.
By Pooja Lakshmin| May 5, 2020
Photo: Dadu Shin
"I was teaching a group of new mothers a few years ago how to recognize postpartum depression and anxiety when a woman raised her hand. “My work is letting me take an extra two weeks of paid maternity leave. I don’t know what to do. I feel bad if I take it. My team will have to pick up the slack. I feel bad if I don’t. I’d be giving up precious time with my daughter.” I responded, “Is there any option you wouldn’t feel bad about taking?”
As a perinatal psychiatrist who takes care of women coping with the transition to motherhood, I meet mothers who lean into their guilt like it’s a security blanket and hold up their self-sacrifice as a badge of honor. Adopting a martyr identity doesn’t always correlate to clinical depression or anxiety. It’s a role that women can inhabit even without a diagnosable mental health condition.
I don’t blame those mothers for shielding themselves under a cloak of suffering. Appearing too well adjusted can be a liability. Leaving your kids in the car for three minutes to get a coffee can be grounds for a call to Child Protective Services and daring to bottle-feed your baby without trying to breastfeed can lead to criticism from strangers.
In 1996 Sharon Hays, Ph.D., a sociologist, coined the term “intensive mothering” to describe parenting that is “child-centered, expert-guided, emotionally absorbing, labor-intensive and financially expensive.” Two decades later, the mental load describes the invisible labor that goes into running a family. We still find ourselves living in a world where most mothers, even while working outside the home, bear the brunt of household work. The coronavirus pandemic only seems to be intensifying that pressure."
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