If you’ve been following along, this site mostly focused on toxic positivity for the month of June. Before I move on to my next topic (anxiety), I actually have one more branch of toxic positivity that I want to touch on. And that is the one that brings on the mom guilt. Being that I just had my second child this past weekend, I thought that it was the perfect time to write it.
“Being a mother is the best thing ever.”
While you do sometimes hear about how being a mom is hard, more often than not, it’s the opposite. Everyone tells you that you need to cherish every moment. To be grateful for every single second. If you’re a mom, I can pretty much guarantee that you have been warned not to blink because it goes so fast. The pressure to have it all together is immediate and intense.
Don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful for my children. They are absolutely the best thing that have ever happened to me and I love them more than life itself. I have mentioned multiple times on this site as well as my social media that becoming a mom brought me back to life. I have been a better, stronger and happier person since the day my daughter was born. But, that being said… It isn’t always easy.
It starts before pregnancy.
As soon as I was married, people were asking when we were going to start our family. We heard things like there’s no time like the present and you aren’t getting any younger! And yes, I wanted to be a mom more than anything, but we also wanted some time to adjust to married life and to make sure that we were in the right place to bring children into the world. And then once we did start trying, the constant comments and remarks from friends, families, and even acquaintances we barely knew got more intense. Are you pregnant yet? Have you tried this? Have you talked to your doctor? I thought you’d be pregnant by now. So and so started trying after you did and she’s already four months along… You had better get a move on!
People think that they’re helping or being supportive, but what they’re doing is getting into your head and making you feel like a failure. Every month that you don’t have a positive test, you not only have to deal with your own sadness, but the dread of knowing it means a whole extra month of the questions, pressure and unsolicited advice.
The pressure gets worse with pregnancy.
When you’ve been trying for a while, there are few things as exciting as seeing those two pink lines (or plus sign depending on the test brand). As soon as you start telling people, it’s all congratulations and excitement, baby showers and sprinkles. Everyone wants to feel your stomach and tell you how you’re glowing and celebrate your growing belly. You hear again and again what a miracle your little one is and how happy you have to be and how lucky you are. But here’s the thing: pregnancy can be really fucking hard. But society sort of shames you for admitting it, because you’re supposed to be celebrating.
When I got pregnant with Emily, it started out as high risk. In fact, at the very beginning, I was told that the pregnancy probably wasn’t even viable and I had to wait weeks before they could tell me that I wasn’t going to lose her. For the longest time, I was terrified, convinced that if something went wrong, it would be my fault. This pressure is something that I think falls on a lot of women who are trying to grow their families. We’re convinced that anything that goes wrong, it’s because of something we did. If it takes forever to get pregnant or if you find out something is wrong with the baby or if god forbid you lose the baby… It’s almost impossible not to blame yourself.
I had a very early miscarriage shortly before getting pregnant with my son. It was so soon that I hadn’t even had my first ultrasound yet, but it was still gut-wrenching. I felt sick- not only physically as my body went through a brief hormonal hell, but also emotionally. It felt like I was constantly berating myself and overanalyzing everything that had passed the month before. Was it something I ate? Something I drank? Was I too physical or was it something else that I did? Why was the universe punishing me? What had I done wrong?
I only told a couple of people but the one comment that stuck out the most to me was infuriating. Toxic positivity at its finest: everything happens for a reason. I cannot tell you how much I fucking hate that phrase. So many people use it when they don’t know what else to say during hard times and I have heard it applied to many different situations in my life. And each and every time, I’ve thought, what the actual fuck? What possible reason could there be that would make this pain okay? I’ve never understood the thought process behind that phrase or why it became the go-to. Because sometimes there is no reason.
Sometimes, things go wrong and people hurt and that’s all there is to it.
When I ended up pregnant again, I spent the beginning of it panicking, afraid something would go wrong. This lead to me being very strict with myself about everything that I did, ate, drank, or even said. I didn’t let myself admit to my fear or anxiety out loud, afraid that I would jinx things. Even after the doctors confirmed that everything looked good and the pregnancy seemed low risk, I continued to be neurotic because I was so afraid after what I had just gone through the month before.
I’ll be honest, this pregnancy was a LOT harder than my first. I started showing a lot sooner and even though I gained less weight, I swelled up a lot more and my belly was much larger. The nausea was worse and lasted for almost the whole pregnancy rather than just the first trimester. I ended up with a few infections that required medication, extreme heartburn, increased fatigue and soreness, and had to start using an inhaler again because of breathing issues. My red blood cell count was all over the place and I had to take supplements. There was constant back pain, hemorrhoids and Charlie horses. My rings and shoes stopped fitting. Then I got covid, bruised a rib, and strained my intercostal muscle. He also pushed and kicked so hard sometimes that I would end up crying from how bad it hurt.
I wasn’t supposed to complain.
I was supposed to be grateful, because at least I had gotten pregnant and he was healthy. That’s more than a lot of women can say, so complaining makes me ungrateful. I’m supposed to be able to do it all and god wouldn’t give me anything I couldn’t handle. These are just some of the things I read or had been told. As mothers, we’re supposed to do anything for our children regardless of the pain. And yes, of course, I’m willing to do that. But I can’t pretend that it was easy. I hate that so often, we’re expected to. Complaining about it or not loving every second of the process doesn’t mean that I’m not grateful or that I don’t love my children. It means I’m human and I have a fucking limit to how much I can smile through.
It’s okay to admit that things are hard, and that not every second feels like a blessing.
This is especially true once your kids are out of your belly and getting used to being in the real world. Those newborn days- sometimes referred to as the fourth trimester- are an emotional whirlwind. I’ve been through them before and I’m going through them again now. And I think that when it comes to motherhood, this is one of the points where toxic positivity is at its highest.
On one hand, you’re so in love with this little creature that you have brought into the world and would do anything for them. But on the other, you’re tired and you’re sore from the giant wounds healing inside of your body. You can barely function to take care of yourself and yet you’re expected to provide for someone else. If you’re like me, you pretty much feel like a cow being milked all day long in order to feed your baby, meaning you’re always hungry on top of the exhaustion. All you really want is a few hours of silence to sleep and maybe shower, but this tiny creature is depending on you so you can’t get it.
Meanwhile, you feel guilty for wanting that break and everyone around you is telling you how lucky and blessed you are. No one is telling you that it’s okay to also feel a bit miserable or sad. Instead, you’re only getting that toxic positivity: hearing that you should be soaking up every minute because it will be gone in the blink of an eye. You’re told to enjoy every second because you’re going to miss it. I’ll let you in on a little secret- that’s not true. Yes, you’ll miss most of it. As Emily grew, I certainly didn’t miss the sleepless nights, the screaming that couldn’t soothed, the blowouts or the projectile vomiting into my hair while I sat in a spit up covered t-shirt and the same sweatpants I’d been wearing for three days.
What I needed was for someone to tell me that it was okay to be sad.
That it was okay to long for the end of that phase, when she’d be sleeping through the night and I wouldn’t be alternating between nursing her and being strapped to a pump all day long. I needed someone to remind me to give myself grace. To be told that it was okay to cry or feel bad for myself sometimes. (Knowing that this time around has already made a difference for my mental health!) Instead, I got the toxic positivity, reminding me that not everyone gets to have these moments and telling me that I just have to put on a brave face and power through. That I have to be grateful for all of it.
As mothers, there’s a certain pressure to be Wonder Woman.
We’re supposed to be able to do it all, and yet somehow, we’re always wrong. If you don’t lose the baby weight right away, you’ve let yourself go. But if you do, then your priorities are clearly out of whack and you’re not focusing enough on your child. You should be breastfeeding for proper nutrition but never in public regardless of whether your child is hungry or not (**Not judging anyone here-I am a breastfeeding mother, but I am fully aware that not everyone is able to, whether physically or mentally, and I’m a firm believer that fed is best.**) If you’re a working mom, you’re shamed for leaving your child with someone else but if you’re a stay at home mom, you’re lazy for not working. Regardless of what choice you make, you’re made to feel like it’s the wrong one.
And then there are the other pressures about how you’re raising your kid. What are you feeding them, how much screen time are they getting, how quickly are they walking, talking or out of diapers? Rather than allowing kids to go at their own pace and supporting mothers as they keep their children healthy, fed and safe, the world is constantly telling us there’s a better way. That if we were good mothers, we’d be doing this or that. And then we’re bombarded with more unsolicited advice or how to articles or social media posts about how to do it better and how to be the perfect mom.
Moms need positivity.
We need someone to ask us how we are doing every once in a while, not just whether baby is sleeping through the night or how our toddler is handling potty training. What we need is to be told that some days aren’t the best days and that that’s okay. We need a break every now and then, or to be told that we’re doing a good job because our kids are clean, fed, clothed and loved. That it’s okay to take a nap or have a glass of wine or whatever me-time looks like. We need to be reminded that self-care is important, and that if we don’t take the time to take care of ourselves, we won’t be able to properly take care of our kids. That we don’t have to come last in every situation and that it’s okay to ask for help.
We don’t need toxic positivity.
We don’t need to know what your sister’s friend’s co-worker’s niece is making for her kids for dinner. Links to articles about screen time being linked to a decrease in imagination aren’t helpful. We don’t need to be reminded of how fast everything goes or asked for constant updates on our children’s accomplishments or milestones. But most importantly, we don’t need to be reminded again and again how blessed we are.
It undermines our feelings and struggles.
If a woman admits or vents to you about having a hard time with an aspect of motherhood and you tell her that she needs to focus on the positive, that everything happens for a reason, or that she’ll miss these moments when they’re gone, then you’re essentially telling her that she’s wrong for how she feels. You’re telling her that the anxiety or burnout that she’s feeling are her fault, making her feel like a failure or a bad mom. By forcing optimism, you’re telling her that her own emotions, thoughts and feelings are not valid and making her second guess herself. And I’m only talking about regular motherhood here… If postpartum depression comes into play, it’s a whole different ball game!
I firmly believe that being told to look on the bright side or being reminded that things could be worse is detrimental to our mental health. Instead, we need to be allowed to feel. We need to be able to express the negative with the positive so that we can process it and be our best selves. If we’re stuck waging an internal war with our own minds and hearts, how are we supposed to be able to provide the best care and support for ourselves and for our children?
Sometimes, we just need to feel heard.
Rather than being told to just push through (toxic positivity), to focus on the good things (toxic positivity) or to be grateful for the opportunity that other’s would give anything for (toxic positivity), having someone tell us that they’re there to listen would be so much more beneficial. Feeling seen and validated as we navigate the confusing stages of our lives would go so much further than a bull shit pep talk with no real understanding. Allowing us to feel all of our feelings and to admit that it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows would make us more emotionally ready to take on our struggles. Knowing that we’re not alone or wrong in our feelings of hardships would help to make us better moms.
Being a mother is the best thing ever.
I will say it again- I absolutely love being a mother. The very best moments of my entire life have revolved around my children and I know that I am lucky because I have been able to experience the joys of motherhood. But I also know that it isn’t always easy. There have been days where I’ve cried and felt like a failure. Where I’ve wondered if maybe I’m not cut out for this at all. Just like there are days where I know in my bones that this is what I was born to do. I’ve learned to take the good with the bad and to give acknowledgement to both. Ignoring the hard shit doesn’t make it go away. Processing it and working through it does.
And so I’ll end it with this:
Rather than toxic positivity, judgment and shame, how about we show moms some actual support?
- Instead of be grateful, try give yourself some grace.
- Replace you’re going to miss these moments with it’s okay to have bad days.
- Rather than this would make you a better mom, try you’re doing a good job.
- Instead this is what you signed up for, say you’re not alone.
- Rather than stop complaining, try I’m here to listen.
It’s not that hard of a concept: a little kindness goes a long way.