Depleted Mothers

Thin Soup of Resources
If the demands on a person grow, her resources should grow as well. We're sure that one sort of resource has increased since you had children: the emotional fulfillment of being a mother. But otherwise, have your resources grown since your baby was born? Probably not. We're not talking about money here, but things like a good night's sleep and healthful foods and strong support from your partner. For instance, the typical mother of a young child gets about six and one-half hours of sleep a day rather than the eight or more hours most adults need – losing over five hundred hours of sleep per year – plus she rarely gets a chance to sleep as deeply as she needs to. This diminishes the neurotransmitters her brain needs to regulate her mood and other physiological functions.

You're probably not eating all that well, either; according to studies, less than half of the mothers of young children get three solid meals each day. It's hard to find time to exercise with little ones around. And whether you're going off to the workplace or staying home, when you've got a young family, pleasures fall away, old friends drop out of your life, and you never seem to have any real time for yourself. Even if you're ill, you usually get little chance to rest. One mother told Jan this story: I was reading a nursery rhyme to Julie, the one about Mother Hubbard, and I had to sigh because that's how I was starting to feel: my "cupboard" was constantly being emptied and not enough was getting put back on the shelves.

Has your partner jumped in to fill this vacuum? Maybe. Some dads are great: committed to parenthood and skillful with the kids, they do their fair share around the house and are sympathetic and supportive. But let's face it: many are not. Numerous studies have shown that the average mom works about twenty more hours per week, altogether, than does her partner, regardless of whether she's drawing a paycheck – and a mother's stress jumps and her mood drops when teamwork with her partner breaks down. You probably also handle more of the high-stress tasks, like dressing a resistant two-year-old, and carry more of the "executive responsibility" for the family by being the one who worries, plans, and problem solves. And if you're raising your children essentially alone, as does one in five mothers, you're getting little to no help from a partner at all.

Even if your partner is a strong teammate, much research has shown that the arrival of children commonly leads to a dramatic decrease in positive interactions and marital satisfaction – especially for mothers. There is so little time or energy for conversation, fun, or affection that there's a good chance your relationship no longer recharges your batteries or offers a safe haven. As one mother commented to Rick: My husband and I work together well in terms of taking care of the kids and the house. But I don't know where he and I are when were we're without them. I feel lonely inside my own marriage. It's no wonder that couples with children report less satisfaction with their relationship than couples without kids.

Children are meant to be raised within a strong community, but compared to the times in which most of us grew up, relatives live farther away, neighbors are less neighborly, there are fewer kids nearby, and the average adult is affiliated with just one community group as compared to five in our parents' day. Compounding the problem, fathers have not entered the world of family to the extent that mothers have gone into the world of work, leaving a kind of vacuum, so there is less of the glue that once held neighborhoods together. As a result of all these factors, you're likely to have much less of the social support that could have provided practical help, lowered your stress, and buttressed your health.

In short, things have really changed, both in your own life once you became a parent and in the culture since you were a child yourself, and chances are you simply aren't getting the full support you need.


From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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