New Diagnosis for an Old Problem: ‘Mother’s Day Talk‑Induced Depression’
Each Mother’s Day, the sanity of mothers is dealt a blow by the last thing you’d ever expect. Ironically, far too many find the second Sunday in May to be discouraging rather than uplifting or relaxing. There are a variety of explanations for this, but I wish to highlight one that keeps resurfacing among church‑going mothers: the That’s‑Not‑Me‑So‑What’s‑Wrong‑With‑Me? syndrome.
Although I have been peripherally aware of the syndrome for some time, my mother recently reminded me of it when I told her of an upcoming Mother’s Day talk I was preparing. A saint (in my unbiased opinion) if there ever was one, my mother said she often feels frustrated and depressed by Mother’s Day sermons. (One of my mother‑clients was more blunt: “They should just ban the stuff!”).
Claiming that they tend to paint a false picture of who mothers really are, my mom noted that such eulogies typically describe angelic acts of kindness rather than painful feelings of inadequacy; they capture the woman‑in‑church‑dress, not the maid‑servant in rags; speakers like me often gloss over the struggles of motherhood, instead emphasizing saintly patience and unending virtue. Comparing her own failures and inadequacies against such a perfect backdrop of motherhood, many a mother is apt to conclude: That’s not me . . . so what’s wrong with me?
The answer? Nothing is wrong with you. You’re not perfect, and it’s high time you’re given credit for this. You simply want your reality understood and validated, a reality that includes losing your patience when mudpies are carelessly left out on the kitchen floor, your teenager teases your toddler, and your husband (click, click) remotes himself into oblivion while you separate the whites from the darks. It seems a true appreciation of all that mothers do and are is beyond the grasp of most of husbands and children; we are indeed well‑insulated from the stresses of your world.
Mothers take the lead in fulfilling children’s physical and emotional needs. This includes performing the daily rituals of cleaning, cooking, shopping, and doing the laundry; ensuring that schoolwork and extracurricular activities are attended to; and helping kids with the ups and downs of daily life. The sheer amount of time spent with children means that, compared to us fathers, you mothers are bound to deal with more conflicts, problems, and emotions with the kids. If the roles were reversed, I’m convinced that fathers would experience a similarly disproportionate weight of children’s complaints, frustrations, and misbehaviors.
To a husband who cavalierly asserts that his wife simply needs to be more organized, patient, firm, or consistent, I would remind: “We should be lenient in our judgment, because often the mistakes of others would have been ours had we had the opportunity to make them.”
A mother lives at work, putting in “overtime” every day of the week. She receives no pay, no promotions (that is, until she becomes a grandmother), no holidays, gets limited vacation days, and is even at work on sick days. Praise from “co‑workers” varies from family to family. Faced with God‑like expectations, a mother is the MVP of the home, yet often it is only in the absence of her acts of service and stabilizing influence that her true value as a mother is appreciated.
Mothers who work outside the home must juggle household tasks and other responsibilities (e.g., school, outside employment). For them, leaving work only means a second job awaits them. Full‑time homemakers face different challenges. For instance, a day with diapers, Legos, and whining often creates a hunger for adult conversation and attention.
Such mothers may experience times when they feel trapped, isolated, and “lost” in the endlessness of their mundane tasks. The adage, “A woman’s work is never finished” is an understatement. Imagine having a textbook that you must continually re‑read but that you never finish. That is laundry. That is cooking. That is cleaning.
On rare occasion, my wife takes a vacation (defined as a weekend free from the children and me). I used to think that such vacations allowed me a chance to experience life in her shoes. I soon realized, however, that I’m not even close, for a number of reasons.
First of all, when things get stressful, I can fall back on a very reassuring thought: My homemaking venture is temporary. Relief is just a Monday away. Second, I’m typically fresh and geared up for the task. Because her “vacations” typically occur on the weekend, there’s not a rush to do homework, and the kids and I often spend time getting out of the house or doing novel activities.
Third, do I touch the laundry? Do I take time to clean the toilet? Do I cook more than Ramen, hot dogs, or Taco Bell for the kids? I’m not so noble. Nor so bright. Nor so daring. Finally, I am invariably showered with praise for my valor, sensitivity, and chivalry in “allowing” my wife a reprieve. Whereas I am heralded for being a responsible parent, similar efforts by my wife are seldom noticed. If I leave on a business trip, it is unlikely that my wife will be showered with praise and admiration for staying home with the kids.
Now lest anyone think the world of motherhood is without its rewards, I admit that my focus here has been skewed towards the challenges of it. Clearly, the choice to become a wife and a mother is enticing, since so many women choose it. The number of moms the world over attests to the appeal women find in creating and maintaining a comfortable refuge for their families.
It’s just that, taking a cue from my own mother, I thought it prudent that the rest of us take a cursory stroll down the path most of our wives and mothers walk. As for you mothers who genuinely do resemble perfection, you know who you are. I have recommended that you both be quarantined with a group of ADHD children for the summer. Please check your Prozac at the door.
In spite of your mortality, the rest of you wives and mothers really are pretty neat stuff. Your maternal instincts cannot be taught, the bond between you and your children is non‑transferable, and no one understands or soothes like you do. Fluent in the language of love, you are simply among the best of God’s creations. Truly, as an old TV commercial states, you don’t have to be everything . . . to be everything to us.
No, there’s nothing wrong with you mothers. It’s speakers like me that need the help.
Steven M. Gentry, PhD., is a Child & Family Psychologist and the Executive Director of
Psychological Assessment & Treatment Specialists in American Fork, Utah