In honor of Mother’s Day I am dedicating this blog to exploring what mothers need, because this question is rarely asked. Historically, mothers have not been asked what they need and still today, this question is missing in many families. I do not remember my father and grandfather ever asking my mother and grandmother what they needed. And my mother and grandmother acted as if this was normal. They had learned to believe that as a mother, their only need was to take care of their children and family, and growing up in this environment, I could not avoid inheriting this self-neglecting belief.
It is interesting that post-natal depression has suddenly hit the headlines in the media and counseling circles. I don’t know why the sudden interest in this issue, but what interests me is the lack of exploration about the socio-cultural environment in which mothers mother and how this contributes to mothers to suffer from post-natal depression. Hormones and exhaustion are still being singled out as the cause, along with the lack of parental leave in America.
My clients have helped me understand that the lack of recognition that mothers are people first with lives and needs of their own is the main contributing cause of post-natal depression. This omission also leaves mothers experiencing unacceptable levels of guilt, stress, role-overload, depression, and anxiety. Unlike when a man becomes a father, a woman loses her personhood when she becomes a mother. She is surrounded by questions that inquire after her child’s wellbeing, rather than her own. And if anyone does ask her about how she is doing, the underlying motivation is often about whether she’s able to look after her child. For most mothers, questions about who she is evaporate. And it is a difficult emotional task to fight against this personhood erasing norm, especially if she is surrounded by family and friends who do not acknowledge her right to be a person first.
Claiming what women and mothers need is, I believe, the next task of feminism and the women’s movement. Women cannot be emotionally strong, empowered, equal, and visible if they do not need. As I write in The Mother-Daughter Puzzle, sacrifice and emotional neglect are the bedrock on which mothers have mothered for generations, and still do today. Selflessness, sacrifice, and emotional neglect cause women and mothers to suffer from anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and post-natal depression. And it is also the leading cause of mother-daughter relationship conflict.
Just as the #MeToo movement cracked open the reality of sexual harassment that we all knew existed, but learned to tolerate and keep quiet about, the reality of motherhood needs to be cracked wide open. We need to start talking about and acknowledging how sexist and inhumane our beliefs are about what a mother is and should do. We all know that the definition of motherhood didn’t work for our mother and grandmother. Many daughters witnessed their mother juggle too many demands and struggle with her lack of personhood. So on this Mother’s Day, I hope that mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons unite and call Time’s Up on mothers not being allowed to be people first. Women cannot be fully present, visible, heard, and equal if we do not redefine what it means to be a mother and a father.
Rosjke Hasseldine is a mother-daughter relationship therapist, speaker, and author of The Silent Female Scream & The Mother-Daughter Puzzle. Rosjke teaches mental health professionals how to become a Certified Mother-Daughter Coach. www.rosjke.com