No it’s not mom’s fault


That old therapist trope, “Tell me about your mother,” always seems to imply, “Tell me how your mother bothered you.

From the overly stuffy mother to the cold, rejecting schizophrenic mother who gave mixed messages, mothers have often been roughed up in the field of mental health. In a 1985 scientific investigation into this issue, Caplan and Hall-McCorquodale published an article, “Mother-Blaming in Major Clinical Journals”. The authors reviewed 125 psychiatric and psychological journals from 1970 to 1982 that dealt with the causes of mental health problems. In these articles, mothers were accused of 72 different types of psychological disorders in their children, ranging from depression to the use of marijuana, hyperactivity and homosexuality, and even an “inability to cope with color blindness.” .

In this survey, fathers escaped blame much more than mothers: they were seen as much less pathological and were often seen as having healthier relationships with their children. Even absent or uninvolved fathers were found to have less negative impact on children than absent mothers, where 24% of absent fathers were considered to have no negative impact, against only 2% of absent mothers. It should be noted that the research also found that university men and women were just as likely to be the perpetrators of mother convictions.

Fortunately, years later, when I was in graduate school of psychology, many of those 20The theories of blaming the mothers of the century were taught as mere artifacts of history, and contemporary psychological theories had left these ideas in the dust. The focus on the development of mental health problems has shifted to the interplay of biological, psychological and environmental factors. The impact of parenthood is included in these environmental factors, but the focus is not specifically on mothers as such.

Nevertheless, while I was in my training, I took notes to my future self, which I assumed to be a mother one day: “Don’t be too overprotective, it can lead to fears and the belief that the world is a dangerous place., “and”Pay attention to the type of behavior I model with my children and do not show excessive concern for healthy eating and dieting, it could lead to eating disorders,” and also, “Make sure you always validate my children’s emotional experiences, so they can learn healthy ways to deal with their emotions.. OK, I’ve covered it all, I told myself, thinking I was fully armed to be the mother of a psychologically healthy child.

After my training, I worked for several years as a student counseling psychologist at a large public university. During these years, students’ experiences with mothers made all the difference. Some had close and supportive mothers, while others had well-meaning mothers whose weaknesses contributed to the psychological distress of their offspring. Others had mothers who had committed inexcusable and flagrant transgressions. I won’t forget some of the worst ones, like the anorexic client whose mother forced her to weigh herself every morning, starting in grade 5, or the student who was sexually abused by her stepfather, for find out her mother knew about it. and apparently did nothing.

While working in college counseling, I rarely saw a student who was a parent, and so, for the most part, I saw things from a young adult’s perspective. Looking back, I think I have sometimes done this wrongly, immersing myself fully in the experiences of the students without removing the lens to examine their parents’ motivations and perspectives.

I first had this awareness during a case conference meeting, where difficult and / or high risk cases were discussed with senior staff. I came to the meeting to discuss the next steps for a very distressed student with complicated family issues. I was laser focused on the student’s distress and how to help him deal with the situation. A colleague of mine, a mother of two and a grandmother of three, had a different point of view. “That poor mother,” she said. The commentary stopped me in my tracks, as I hadn’t even thought about seeing things from the mother’s point of view. I hadn’t even thought about what it would have been like for this mother to have a child with multiple mental health issues and chronic suicidal thoughts. I hadn’t thought about the stress of all of this on her, and how difficult it must have been to deal with an ex-husband who was on a completely different page to her on how best to resolve their difficulties. child.

And then, after two and a half years of uncertainties and multiple fertility treatments, I finally became a mom myself. The relief of finally getting pregnant provided a brief respite from thinking about what was to come. Once my son was born, the overwhelming enormity of the responsibility hit me suddenly and I realized that my life was forever changed.

At times during my maternity leave I reflected on how it was easier to help anxious and depressed clients in therapy than to stay home with a newborn baby. One day when my son was crying inconsolably, trying to comfort him, I said to him, “Don’t cry, don’t cry.” As the words escaped my mouth, I was mortified to find that only a few months after the start of my son’s life, I had betrayed my promise to always validate my child’s emotions.

As more and more years passed in my motherhood, struggling with my own parenting challenges and talking to my friends and therapy clients about theirs, my outlook on psychological development matured and became more sophisticated. Through lived experiences, I have now had the privilege of seeing things from another angle. To be honest, it is difficult to be a parent, especially a mother.

In heterosexual parenting relationships, studies have shown that mothers bear the “emotional load” or “mental work” of parenting much more. Even when the mother works full time, she manages many aspects of the household that go beyond housework. Often times, it’s mothers who are responsible for RSVPing at birthday parties and receiving gifts, arranging play dates, deciding what’s for dinner on a given night, and scheduling dates. to their children’s doctor. When a child has a disability or needs additional services, that burden also tends to fall on the mother. Parent lists in schools are almost always made up of mothers, as are members of PTAs and parent organizations. This is true even though 76.8% of mothers of children aged 6 to 17 are employed and 80.3% of them are employed full-time, according to a 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

For single mothers, the burden is even more difficult, because when a single parent raises a child, it is much more often a mother. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2018, 81% of all single-parent households are headed by single mothers. In addition, single mothers are almost twice as likely to live in poverty as single parents.

And then came Covid-19. With the burden of distance learning weighing more heavily on mothers, the pandemic has only increased the stress on the backs of American mothers. Sixty-nine percent of mothers (compared to 51% of fathers) reported experiencing adverse health effects due to the stress of the pandemic. The New York Times devoted an entire series, The Primal Scream, to the effects of the pandemic on working mothers.

All of these factors taken together, it’s actually no wonder that mothers are often blamed – they are often more present in a child’s life and often much more overwhelmed and stressed. How could this do not have a negative effect on their children? For example, a friend of mine is the child of a single mother. Her mother worked tirelessly to support her and did all she could to live in a safe neighborhood and send her to good schools. His father, an “impassive father”, was often nowhere to be found, out of his life for years at a time. However, she considers that most of her problems stem from her relationship with her mother.

One thing I realized is that most mothers are doing their best. However, sometimes they have to do a better job and sometimes they don’t have the support to do it. Over the past several years, in my therapy sessions with my clients, I have found myself having a more complete and nuanced understanding of a person’s parents and primary caregivers, often mothers. Now, putting together the stories of clients, when they talk about a negative impact caused by their mother, I ask them to “tell me more about your mother. Rather than denigrate her, I really want to know more about their mother and her struggles. Often times, opening the door to empathy and acceptance can be more room for growth than blame.

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