The Excruciating Pressure of Modern Motherhood

mom holding her head while two children sit on her pressure of modern motherhood

What is that feeling in my chest? Is it love for my two wonderful children? Maybe. But more likely, it’s extreme anxiety because of the pressure of modern motherhood. Do you feel it too? 

Am I doing too much or not enough? Am I watching my kids enough, or too much? Are they eating the right foods? Learning the right things? Do I know all the correct parenting scripts? Am I a Dolphin, a Tiger, an Almond, a Helicopter, or a Jellyfish mom? Honestly, I’d like to think I’m a mermaid, but that’s another story. 

I was raised in the eighties, when parents just let kids loose until the street lights came on, no questions asked. Sure, parents warned us of windowless vans and strangers giving out candy, but then they trusted that we would be fine outside for ten hours alone with zero supervision. And funny enough, most of us were. Even though we drank water exclusively out of hoses, rode bikes with no helmets, and played on molten-hot rusty slides with no adults in sight. We survived. Move over Harry Potter, we were the Children Who Lived.  

pressure of modern motherhood
The skin on my legs burned off just looking at this picture.

So what’s changed? Why is there so much more pressure in modern motherhood? 

Parents are much more attentive and involved these days, and there are a lot more opinions to grapple with, parenting advice to sift through, and ideas to consume. Somehow it’s less village, more village people. But not the friendly Village People who invite you to stay at the YMCA with them, just mean ones with pitchforks and fire.

Growing up, my family knew a bunch of our neighbors and it was understood that any adult could yell at anyone’s children if they saw them getting up to no good.

There weren’t clashing parenting styles or different rules for different families, really. Though we didn’t necessarily use the term, we were a village of sorts. Schools and the pediatrician also fell into that village category. Whatever the school or doctor said was good enough. Parents accepted vaccinations and vaccination schedules, parenting advice, and homework assignments without question. 

Dr. Google hadn’t been born yet and wasn’t injecting terror into every new mom twenty-four hours a day. I mean, I’m pretty sure you could still smoke in the hospital waiting room and the teachers’ lounge back then, but at least they were chill about everything. 

More village people, less village means more advice and comparisons with less help. It is any wonder that the pressure of modern motherhood feels overwhelming? 

Every decision we make as parents seems so heavy and fraught with peril. Sleep train and your child could be scarred for life. Too much TV and their brain is going to melt. Go back to work after your kids are born and you’re accused of abandoning them. Don’t go back to work and you’re not a good role model, and probably a Helicopter parent. I wish this meant that you could fly away whenever you wanted to avoid bedtime routines and endless pretend play games, but unfortunately, it just means you are overbearing. 

There are also so many decisions about parenting styles, health and safety, food consumption, toys, video games, screen time, schooling, car seats, and the list goes on and on. If you put a lot of thought into it and look for advice, you’ll find more than you could ever use. You’ll also see “perfect families” in every different category so it’s hard to know which perfect family you want to emulate. Which advice, parenting style, or photo filter is right for you? 

When you are deciding what village to join, just remember one thing. Parents are liars. 

Of course, we all lie sometimes, the park is closed, they are out of ice cream, I don’t know what happened to the stupid toy that would make fire engine noises randomly in the middle of the night. Maybe we left it at the park, which is closed now.

But we also lie to each other. About what our houses look like, about how well our kids are doing, about what good parents we are, and about the state of our mental health. If you think we don’t, just check out Instagram and Facebook. I’m pretty sure that the homeschooling mom of five I follow doesn’t just live in a wildflower field baking bread all day every day. I’m sure there are some fun outtakes of her yelling, “OMG Saffron, take that wildflower out of your nose! Juniper, stop dumping dirt into the bread mix! Regal, don’t hit your brother with the flower basket!” Honestly, I’d rather see the outtakes so I can laugh and comment, “Same!” 

mother and child in flower field pressure of modern motherhood
Perfect parenting always happens in a flower field.

When we are inundated with unrealistic and two-dimensional images of perfect families, we feel like we are failing. The pressure of modern motherhood crushes us. These feelings might cause us to withdraw, or put even more pressure on ourselves. It’s this disconnect that is really hurting a lot of parents and families. 

For me, when I see that beautiful family in the wildflower patch eating loads of delicious, homemade gluten and laughing together, I look around at my gluten-free kitchen that looks like a bomb went off in it and wonder where I went wrong. 

But did I go wrong, or is this just more of that gotta-be-perfect pressure of modern motherhood creeping in?

Of course, there are lots of honest parents out there too. The ragtag bunch that wears sweatpants to drop off and makes chicken nuggets for every meal. My people. My proverbial village. We are screaming into the void about how hard everything is, and sharing honestly that even maintaining this level of parenting is akin to being lost at sea in a boat with a hole.

Oh, and Jaws is circling.

And your kids want snacks.

You are definitely going to need a bigger boat. 

They say when you know better, you do better, so maybe that’s where some of this pressure of modern motherhood comes from now too. We know a lot, so we do a lot. Probably way too much.

All I know for sure is that I don’t know what I’m doing more than half the time, parenting scripts don’t work for me, I don’t have an animal-identified parenting style, and I wore my shirt backward all day yesterday without realizing it. Even to school pick-up. 

drawing of a person crushed under the pressure of modern motherhood
Self-Portrait of Meredith crushed under parenting styles. By Meredith Bartolo Pappas.

I want to alleviate at least some of the immense pressure of modern motherhood by tossing a little eighties parenting into the mix. Like more freedom and bike helmets, with less worry and rusty slides. I’m working on growing an actual village that feels authentic and safe, even if we are all different. I’m also going to save the pressure for the Instant Pot and take it easier on myself. I can just scroll past those perfect families and embrace the chaos around me. At least most of the time. And when I can’t, well, that’s why I hide chocolate all around my house. Chocolate solves everything. Or at least it makes the chaos taste better.

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