As a mother it is easy to feel isolated in a ghost town.
Stress passes through the same body, which was strong enough to house another human, like oxygen. With questions like, “Do we have enough money? Is that playground safe? And what will the neighbours think?” stir panic as efficiently as the TV chef you expect yourself to be. Nightmares of our precious little angels having their arms amputated resulting from splinters inflicted by wooden park equipment. If it will make you feel better, you’re not alone.
“Mothers are supposed to be able to do it all,” said Kelly Campo, a mother of two adult children from Toronto.
“Work, take care of the kids, housework, groceries; it is a tireless never ending job. And believe you me, you better be willing to make a lot of sacrifices. The main one being yourself.”
“Before it used to be a good wife,” said Alyson Schafer, Canadian author of Breaking the Good Mom Myth, Honey, I Wrecked the Kids and Ain’t Bisbehavin’ in addition to hosting The Parenting Show.
Have things really changed?
“I definitely think there is a huge amount of stress today on a parent,” said mother of two adult children, Jean Willis; who moved from England to Whitby, Ontario.
“The need to work and be a good parent must be difficult. Finding the time to get everything done, and finding time for themselves is hard.”
Stress can seriously hurt our mood, body and mind. Research found by The Heart and Stroke Foundation found a link between psychosocial and marital stress and heart disease in women.
Statistics Canada found that over half of the Canadians who reported feeling stressed are women, the majority being working moms. Single moms are less likely to work, and have $60,000 in assets on average. Single fathers have $200,000 on average.
“Being a single mum for so many years, I feel the highest expectations placed on me were the ones I placed on myself,” said Jenine Daubney, mother of two and a freelance photographer. “As a single mother you live in fear that people might be judging you.”
Couple Savannah Watters and Jesse Cullen are preparing their Oshawa home for their baby due in June. Watters isn’t a single mom but she is perceived young at 20 and has already been judged for how she parents her unborn child.
“People aren’t judging because they care that much but, because they want to be right,” her eyes rolled, “Because I’m young and they want to be wise.”
When people lecture her on caffeine consumption or question her decision on having a baby at her age, she wants to sarcastically ask, “Are you going to save my baby?” she laughed before letting out a sigh, “I hate having to take the energy to explain myself.”
Competitive and aggressive nature is not solely up against the mother, but the child too; with words like “gifted” and “enriched” thrown around like a schoolyard ball.
Free the Children founder Craig Kielburger co-wrote a book with his brother Marc and writer Shelley Page called, The World Needs Your Kid. In this book Kielburger shares an anecdote from his youth where he was asked to appear on television with a nineteen-year-old pharmaceutical executive who had already completed his master’s degree and Ph.D. The subject of the show was accomplished youth. The pharmaceutical executive emphasized that he was “gifted”, something he was told all his life.
When Kielburger was asked if he was gifted he simply said, “No.”
“I wasn’t even that articulate,” he laughed at 2011’s Parents as Partners conference in Whitby, “I said, ‘nope.’”
Gifted or not at the age of twelve Kielburger founded Free the Children and is the face of We Day; if Kielburger could do all this remarkable philanthropic work, not being gifted, why the emphasis on enriching our children? Why are three-year-olds expected to have resumes to get into prestigious pre-schools?
Danielle Grandmaison has been a social worker at Oshawa Community Health Centre for 20 years and offered her findings. “There is a push to raise super children,” said Grandmaison.
“They talk about getting your children into university really, really young.”
Dr. Fraser Mustard and Margaret McCain did research finding that the first six years are extremely important in a child’s development. These findings were of great use and began the openings of government funded Early Years Centres in 2005. The downside to this great work, said Grandmaison, was some parents thought this meant they had to push their children harder during their younger years.
Parents are scared their children will not be able to keep up and be successful enough in a world where jobs are scarce. Knowing their children’s first six years are crucial seems to add more pressure to some parents.
Schafer believes it is less about job scarcity and more about a parent’s self-interested pursuit of one-upmanship.
“You can’t enrich if you don’t have the basics.” Schafer points to Wayne Gretzky as an example of a success story who became as such from something as simple as playing shinny with his family.
There is fear our toddlers aren’t academically measuring up, fear of abduction, suffocation, drugs, food, peers, playground equipment, toys and even other parents.
Lenore Skenazy has embraced being “America’s worst mom.” She is a columnist, author of Free-Range Kids and is the host of Bubble Wrap Kids. Skenazy wrote about letting her nine-year-old son take a New York subway home in The New York Sun April 1, 2008. After mixed public reactions, she made a career of assessing how parents allow worry to dilute their children’s childhoods.
“We are living in a society that only sees life through a lens of risk,” Skenazy said. She puts a lot of the blame on media, saying people will see something on the news and perceive it to be the norm; the little girl who was nearly abducted from a west Georgia Wal-mart, for example.
“When we base our everyday decisions on exceedingly rare events, we are not making ourselves safer,” Skenazy wrote of the subject on her blog after the news of the girl went viral.
In an interview Skenazy referred to a parenting.com article where there were tips on how to avoid your child sleeping over at a friend’s with the friend’s single dad at home.
Skenazy says this is telling their kids that everything isn’t safe. The same message, said Skenazy, is being sent when parents sign waivers for sleepovers or don’t let their children play outside.
“Kids are fat and bored with no playground to play in because they’re all ‘unsafe’,” she said.
She laughed when talking about a recent Build-A-Bear recall where a toy was found to have fabric that could possibly fray, causing a button to maybe fall out and then do damage only a worried parent’s mind could imagine.
“You think you’re doing it because you love them, and you are,” Skenazy says of the caution. But at the same time she said she often finds herself wanting to yell, “Get a grip!”
Grandmaison questioned whether crime rates have really gone up before saying because of the media we are all aware of every instance of crime – ever.
Despite the “big bad world” out there, enough stress is found in the home and in our social circles. Watters is having a girl which will be raised in a nuclear family. This scares her because she was the daughter of a young, single mother and theirs was a tumultuous relationship. She also fears her daughter will adopt the same insecurities she had growing up regarding self-esteem and body image. All Watters can hope is, “That she has the confidence to be her own person.”
In the mean time the issue of friends is a hurdle for the mom-to-be. Watters smiled when she saw the positive pregnancy test, so did her boyfriend. The baby wasn’t planned, but not unwelcome either. Though one of the first questions many of her friends asked her was, “Are you going to keep it?”
She says she is making new friends during this life change but her eyes tear when admitting to seeing some old friends go. “It’s hard to find your own way. They’re almost a picture of my youth going away,” Watters said.
Then there is the ever-looming guilt. Tiffany Noth is a mother, blogger and founder of blogging community, Bloggy Moms. Noth admitted she finds herself doubting her mothering abilities and sees this same insecurity echoed among fellow mommy bloggers.
“I think we all want to be and do what is right for our children,” she said.
“We all can look back at a moment where we don’t feel we were quite as good as we could have been. I think we all find moments where we are disappointed in ourselves.”
Campo shared calming advice, “All you can do is hope the morals, support and love you have shown them all their lives has paid off, and they will make the right decisions.”
Seasoned mommies Willis and Campo stress the importance of personal time for things like reading and seeing friends.
“If mom isn’t happy,” said Campo, “No one is happy.”
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