Last weekend, like moms around the country, I saw my Facebook feed light up with parents sharing the New York Times series, The Primal Scream. The series uses reporting, audio and pictures to delve deep into the crisis that moms are experiencing during the pandemic.
The problem is, that as one of the moms who is working, schooling, and generally trying too hard to keep my sanity together during this time, the series sat unopened on my phone for nearly a week. When I wanted to listen to the audio, I was thwarted by a sleeping child or lost headphones. When I wanted to read, well, ha — we all know how easy it is to find ten minutes of uninterrupted time. I enjoyed the pictures, but was also frustrated by my foray through the article. I wanted solutions, not just another conversation about the stress that moms are under.
It turns out that a lot of other moms feel the same way. When I posted about the article in one of my favorite online groups for parents, the thread quickly drew more than 130 comments.
“Honestly, reading all these pieces about mom burnout just seems like one more thing I have to do… that I don’t have time for,” said Rachel Morgan Cautero, a Florida mom of two and contributor to Truly Mama. Like me, Morgan Cautero has had the series open for a while, but still hasn’t finished it.
Here’s why I, and so many other moms, find the reporting on burnout problematic.
There Isn’t Enough Focus on Solutions
We all know what the problems are, and most moms are looking for a way to fix them.
“I like reading it because I feel less alone, but also none of it is solution based,” said Meg St-Esprit McKivigan, a Pennsylvania mom of four.
New York Times editor Jessica Grose said that her team tried to focus on solutions.
“There are a lot of stories about what the problem is and not a lot of solution-driven content,” she said.
However, finding answers is difficult in a culture so steeped in patriarchy. For St-Esprit McKivigan, the Biden administration’s proposal to increase the Child Tax Credit is one actionable solution that would make a difference in St-Esprit McKivigan’s life.
“I could feel less pressure to work so much,” she said.
We’re In An Echo Chamber
If society at large is finally paying more attention to the unsustainable demands on mothers, that’s a great thing. But I worry that reporting like The Primal Scream, which has become more common during the pandemic, is mostly consumed by moms, when we’re already intimately familiar with the problem.
“If other people reading them leads to changes that help lighten my load, I’m all for it,” said Nicole Perry Brown, a Tennessee mom of two. “I’m glad we’re being acknowledged, but I don’t have time to read these articles.”
It Needs To Go Beyond Working Moms
Unrealistic modern expectations aren’t just focused on working moms. Juliet Bahiyyih Martinez, a mom of two kids with disabilities, is frustrated to see that the argument still focuses on parents with jobs outside of the home.
“In what I’ve seen, the emphasis is on ‘working mothers,’ which is de facto defined as mothers with employers,” she said. “All mothers are working mothers.”
We Must Have More Diversity
Conversations about motherhood often assume a nuclear family with a mom, dad and two kids. But many families don’t look like that. Families with disabled kids or parents, large families, and single parents by choice face unique challenges, as do Black and brown families. Any talk about solutions needs to include all families.
The Conversation Has To Go Further
Way too often, the so-called solution to the burnout that moms face is to tell men to do more. That’s just not enough, said Suzanne Brown, a Texas mom of two.
“We get it. Working moms are doing more than previously understood or acknowledged,” she said. “Let’s move on. Let’s help working moms have conversations with spouses and the community to adjust household duties and childcare. Let’s have schools help create the right systems for when working parents do work and manage remote learning. Let’s help companies understand what they can do to help manage the load (like having backup childcare as a benefit). Let’s help communities that support entrepreneurs create infrastructure for mom entrepreneurs to succeed, not keep stumbling over childcare. It’s time for solutions.”
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