Because even in the best of circumstances, the most stressful job on earth is being a mom...
Any guesses what the most stressful career choice might be?
Having been a pastor for over a decade, I’m tempted to claim my own career choice as the obvious answer to the question. After all, as a pastor I work irregular hours, make thankless decisions, field lots of complaints, and deal with personal trauma, illness, and death on a regular basis.
But then I think about how a lot of my job is simply hanging out with interesting people, drinking coffee with parishioners, and going to church – all stuff I like to do and barely even registering in my mind as work. In any case, lots of careers are easily as high-stress as mine, so I’m willing to admit my job probably isn’t the hardest one around. Neither, apparently, are jobs like “Dog Breath Sniffer,” “Professional Apologizer,” or “Human Scarecrow.” (All real.) In spite of all my stalling here before the big reveal, you may have already guessed the answer: The most stressful job on earth is being a mother.
Mothering even in the very best of circumstances is stressful. It’s a job in which you literally have no off-hours, no vacation, and are in charge of at least one other human life. That little life must stay clothed, fed, and uninjured, Mothers are also tasked with helping children mature emotionally, learn to use the toilet, eat with a fork, and not dive into a public fountain every time the opportunity presents itself. Motherhood doesn’t end when the kids are sent out to wait for the school bus. As little ones get older, it just gets harder. Mothers must re-learn algebra to assist with homework, brush up on their psychologist skills to give sage advice about relationships, and become master-chefs in the kitchen. And that’s motherhood in an ideal world, with the support of family and society.
What if society turns against mothers, though? What if other people suddenly aren’t so understanding and helpful? And what about single moms and moms with extra challenges? An already stressful job becomes a nightmare.
Recently, Kim Brooks wrote an editorial in the New York Times titled “Motherhood in the age of fear.” In it, she describes how mothers are being subjected to arrest and harassment for simple, logical parenting decisions. Studies show that people are far more willing to confront mothers than fathers, but even in my experience as a man, the article rings true. Complete strangers are more than happy to criticize my family size, comment on whether my children are wearing bike helmets, and express shock that they would walk barefoot in a park. For my wife, it’s worse. For us, the most stressful part of parenting is other adults. By that, I don’t mean kidnappers and bullies, I mean the people who might call the police because my child was alone on the sidewalk for an instant. Brooks agrees: “I was beginning to understand that it didn’t matter if what I’d done was dangerous; it only mattered if other parents felt it was dangerous.”
The stress of constant intimidation is wearing mothers out. In response, they’re doing what they can to guard their families and their own sanity. Specifically, they’re over-protecting and over-supervising their children so there will be no question about their qualifications to raise kids. It’s not the best parenting style for children, but in the current climate it’s all that mothers can do.
With that in mind, here are a few suggestions to give mothers a break so that they can stop worrying about what other adults might be thinking, and enjoy raising a family…
Don’t criminalize parenting decisions
This seems obvious, but there are plenty of mothers out there who have been reported to the police or social services for simple parenting decisions. In a truly supportive community, people would simply talk to each other if they’re concerned or, better yet, lend a helping hand. It would be more helpful if we empathized a little bit before judgmentally (and anonymously) calling in the authorities.
Trust her instinct
Simply because someone feels that a mother is making a mistake doesn’t mean she actually is. It may be tempting to criticize a mother’s choices for her children, but one simple fact ought to make us hesitate – she knows her children better than we ever will. She knows how mature they are, what their confidence level is with new responsibilities, and what challenges they’re ready to tackle. If a mom says her son is ready to have a pocket knife or take a long walk in the woods, or ride his bike to soccer practice, she’s almost certainly correct.
Applaud her for letting her kids take risks
Just because a child seems to be in a risky situation doesn’t mean mom needs to be reprimanded. Children need to take risks in order to mature and danger is a part of growing up. Children riding their bikes alone to a friends house or climbing trees in the park are not the result of negligent parenting. It’s responsible. Even when a child is in a truly dangerous situation and another adult needs to intervene, children getting into trouble is a part of life. It doesn’t mean that mom is negligent.
Say something positive
Mothers are currently suspicious of all strangers who are around her children. Defuse the stress level at the park by commenting on how great it is to see a child climb a tree or comment on how impressed you are that her child managed to climb all the wrong parts of the playground structure. Tell her how beautiful her family is and wish her a nice day.
Mothers have perhaps the hardest and most important role in all of society. If we truly love children and support parents the way we insist we do, let’s replace a climate of stress and fear with one that truly celebrates mothers and their children. Thank you, mothers, for all you do.