Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Why Is It So Depressing To Be A Mother?

It's pretty common in the blogosphere that a theme or trend on posts will emerge, sometimes the influences are seasonal like gift ideas before Christmas or Summer weight loss journey's. Sometimes it is due to a current event or major news story. Other times it relates to underlying issues within society, an indication that something is wrong.

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Lately I have seen a great many posts relating to Depression. Stories of women struggling, feeling lost and overwhelmed by the task of motherhood. Everyday I see another post about a mother beginning a course of anti-depressants or seeking counselling to help them overcome these issues. Thank God we have these options available to us to allow these mothers the opportunity to enjoy their children without being clouded by these feelings. A right we all have as parents. 

But it does concern me. 

It concerns me that the need for these tools seems to be increasing. What is causing mothers to be so depressed? Has it always been this way and we are just a generation more comfortable with acknowledging things are not perfect, or is it simply harder to be a Stay At Home Parent now? From my perspective, I believe that part of the issue lies in the archaic attitude that being a Stay At Home Parent does not constitute work.

It is something that has bothered me from the moment I became a mum, but I wasn't able to pin point why until I saw a news story recently discussing the stress and fatigue levels of Stay At Home Parent's in comparison to their working partners. It was apparently shocking that a parent who spent their day in the home with their children was somehow more exhausted than their partner at the end of the day. I struggled with the distinction between the two roles because it seemed to be overlooking one vital point:

Being a Mother IS a job.

If you break it down, being a Stay at Home Parent really isn't that different to any other job;
  • There are aspects of being a mother that you probably don't enjoy, but they still have to be done. No one enjoys changing a dirty nappy now do they?
  • There is a lot of behind the scenes tasks performed that can get over-looked but do not warrant a specific mention like wiping down the high chair for the 8th time that day.
  • You can get called in for unexpected overtime at a moments notice - kids may be sick or need help finishing a class project, or you missed the note about bringing a plate for the school fete
  • And then there are the days that, for whatever reason, have just been shitty and you can't wait to knock off and put your feet up
The big difference, in my opinion, between Stay At Home Parents and those working in the paid workforce is that those in the paid workforce are allowed to hate their job occasionally. They are allowed to complain, they are allowed to seek improvements in their conditions. Essentially, there are support measures in place to help them remain satisfied and productive. 

The same often cannot be said for the Stay At Home Parent.

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If you are unhappy with a colleagues behaviour, you can speak to HR about mediation, discipline or even a transfer. If you need a sick day, stress leave, an early mark, or a week to take off to Fiji and escape it all, there is provision for you to do that. If you feel that your workload is too much, or you need additional training to perform your job effectively, you are often encouraged to do so. Coming from a job where I was so conditioned to this support, I took it for granted until I became a full time mum and suddenly that support vanished. 

I recall stating quite indignantly one weekend when Mr Bond wanted to go fishing as it was his day off that I had not had a day off in the four months since Skye had been born. The concept of work days and days off had ceased to exist for me and it was difficult to adjust.

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We as parents need to be able to say we have had a bad day and have that validated, we should be able to say that we need a break and be respected for the immense amount of work we have put in to earn that break. In my home, I feel that as the full time mum it is part of my job to be the support to both Skye and Mr Bond. It's a role that I love, but it is exhaustingly constant. 

To expect full time parents to be fulfilled solely by the sound of their child giggling in the garden, or eating all of their veggies, or doing a poo on the toilet is ridiculous. Acknowledgement of the effort that went into achieving these things is often overlooked and in a world conditioned to thrive on praise and rewarded for any work undertaken, it can seem a thankless, relentless and almost invisible contribution.

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Of course comparison via the Internet, Pinterest, Facebook and dare I say it, even Bloggers, can be a trigger to unrealistic expectations too. But I think we are smarter than that, we know that what we see there is not reality, it is a carefully edited version that we then blend into one big model of perfection that no one is actually capable of.

So what can we do about it? 

We need to change our mindset. 

Give the small victories and countless hours of effort the recognition they deserve.

Allow a little room for dissatisfaction. 

Acknowledge the need to breathe.

Visiting a friend recently her husband had remarked how easy it had been for him to put their 1 year old daughter to bed when only moments earlier she had been playing and showing no sign of tiredness. I commented that her co-operative behaviour was the sign of a well established bedtime routine. It was an off-the-cuff comment that I didn't give much thought until the mother later thanked me for the acknowledgement of the time she had spent establishing and enforcing that routine in order for her husband to think he just had an easy baby.

I could see in her face that she had been needing to hear those words of encouragement for some time. She described the all too familiar feelings of being unappreciated, frustrated by his lack of understanding of what she does all day and disdain for all the things believed to just magically happen around the home. She knew she was doing a good job as a mum, but to hear someone acknowledge that verbally, and directly to her husband who may otherwise assume it to be a fluke, made her feel appreciated, visible, significant. 

That's not to say that her husband was doing anything wrong in thinking this way. It is impossible for anyone to understand someone else's job if they don't do it on a full time basis themselves, much like I cannot accurately comprehend what is involved in Mr Bond's job. I get the bare basics, but not at a level that I can fully grasp the stress or success on any given day. But that doesn't stop me asking him every day how his day was and sharing these stresses and successes with him. 

I'm not naive enough to think that this alone is going to rid the world of depression. Mental Health is incredibly complex and something I believe we all need to invest our time in on an ongoing basis. But if we can improve our support of those in the job of being a Mother and recognise when things start to overwhelm them, it may help in some small way to improve our overall job satisfaction so we can spend more time enjoying the blessings we have and less time struggling to get to the end of the day. 

There are a great number of resources available for those seeking information on Depression and Anxiety. Below is a list of websites you may wish to visit, many of which include some excellent survey tools that may help you better understand how you are feeling and where you can get help. 

beyondblue info line (National) - 1300 22 4636
Lifeline (National) - 13 11 14
* Just Ask Rural Mental Health Information & Referral Line (National) - 1300 13 11 14
SANE Australia Helpline (National) - 1800 187 263
Suicide Helpline - 1300 651 251
Mensline (National) - 1300 789 978
Australian Psychological Society Referral Line (National) 1800 333 497
Mental Health Information Service (NSW) - 1300 794 991
Kids Helpline (National) - 1800 551 800
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