‘Intense Mothers’ More Likely to Suffer Mental Health Woes

Posted on June 24th, 2013
Posted in Women

As a woman and a mother, you face serious pressure. The pressure to be a good mom comes from many sources. You may feel pressure from your peers, your fellow mothers. It is possible to feel competitive with other moms and to feel as if you are not doing all that you could because someone else seems to be doing more. Media sources are very good at painting rosy pictures of perfect motherhood in advertisements and on television shows and these can be impossible to live up to. Perhaps most of all, it’s the pressure you put on yourself to be the best mom you can be.

The pressure to mother well can take its toll and can lead to an intense form of parenthood that may originate with the best of intentions, but not create the healthiest of environments. Intense mothering seems more prevalent these days and includes a child-centric philosophy. This means that intense mothers put their children above all else, and certainly above themselves. They believe that children are sacred and fulfill a mother’s life. They are also, according to research, more likely to suffer from mental health issues.

The Research

A study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies investigated the consequences of intense mothering practices on mental health. This is not the first study to do so. Previous work found that women view taking care of children more stressful than going to a daily job. They also report that motherhood causes guilt and stress. In this more recent study, earlier findings are confirmed and intense mothers, in particular, are examined.

The study authors investigated intense mothering and mental health among 181 mothers with children under the age of 5. An online survey that the participants took asked about each mother’s beliefs when it comes to parenting philosophies and the extent to which they are intensive parents. They were asked to respond to statements such as, “parenting is more difficult than working,” “a parent should always sacrifice their needs for the needs of the child,” and “mothers are the most necessary and capable parent.” They were also asked to react to statements about their mental health and about symptoms of mental health disorders.

The Results

The findings in the study came from examination of the surveys and concluded that most of the women were satisfied with their lives in an overall sense. However, they were also experiencing moderate levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. Nearly one quarter of the mothers surveyed had significant symptoms of depression. The negative mental health symptoms correlated with attitudes about intensive mothering. Those who described themselves as intense mothers were more likely to have negative mental health consequences.

The study also took into account the level of family support and how it affected the mothers’ mental health. Those women who believed that mothers are the most important and the primary caregivers were less satisfied with their lives. Furthermore, those women who described parenting as challenging and as more difficult than work and other tasks, were much more likely to be stressed and to have symptoms of depression.

If being an intensive mother is so damaging to well-being and to mental health, why do women pursue this type of parenting? Many feel pressured to do so by any number of sources. Increasingly, society as a whole seems to believe that mothers, and to some extent fathers, are to sacrifice everything for the well-being of children. It is viewed as an almost sacred duty to raise a child and to sacrifice oneself in the process.

Unfortunately, for too many women, this means suffering from mental health problems. While intensive mothers believe that they are making a noble sacrifice for their children, to raise them to be emotionally, cognitively, and socially well off, they are damaging themselves. And, further evidence may indicate that this type of mothering philosophy actually harms the children as well.

Because mothers are more often cast in the role of the intense, super parent, women suffer more negative health consequences from parenthood than men do. To address the problem, women and men must both face the facts and understand how mothering affects health. Women with support and more moderate parenting philosophies have better mental health and as a result, their children are better off too.

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