Scrolling through my Instagram feed the other day, I came across a video featuring a well-known motivational speaker, who this person is doesn’t matter, as the message shared is pretty much the same for the lot of them:
“I worked hard, came from nothing, did this all on my own, became successful, and you can too, if you just tried.”
At face value, this is an encouraging sentiment, and provides us with that “can-do” attitude we need to achieve our dreams.
Yet. when we dig deeper, we find that success is never achieved in an isolated vacuum, and this message is dangerous no matter what you are pursuing, but it is especially true for parents — women and mothers in particular — who are taught we most work harder, better and smarter, with little or no help from society at large, because this is the American way.
Suck it up, pull up those proverbial “bootstraps,” and do what you gotta do.
This toxic message roots itself deep in our psyche and tells us that asking for help is a sign of weakness.
Stay-at-home moms are encouraged to have a side gig, or take classes, or do anything to prove they aren’t “just” watching children. And while they are expected to do it all, they are viewed as more honorable if they do it on their own.
For working moms struggle just as much.
Instead of being encouraged to pull back and take the time to accustom themselves to new motherhood, women are expected to forge ahead and not let a little thing like a baby derail their careers. For fathers, it’s even worse, as the stigma of being a primary care-taker is still very much a thing.
Lest anyone complain about how quickly they have to return to the workforce after having a child, someone is always eager to jump in and chastise them for not “planning better,” or told “this is what you asked for.”
And while working parents are “leaning in,” others, most often women of color, are taking on the burden of child care. Rarely are these women acknowledged for the role they play in keeping other women in the workforce, and, at worst, these hard-workers suffer unspeakable abuse at the hand of a broken system.
These “helpers,” whether paid domestic workers, teachers, high school babysitters or grandmothers, are crucial to the upbringing of our children. All of us parents, no matter if we work full-time or not at all, rely to some degree on the assistance of others to raise our children.
Not one of us can do it alone.
Yet, we are shamed for expressing vulnerability.
We are shamed for being overwhelmed.
We are shamed for needing help.
“Help” is not a dirty word, and admitting that you need assistance shouldn’t be seen as a sign of weakness.
People who have achieved success, whether they have kids or not, need to embrace the help they had to get there.
They can start by acknowledging the advantages, such as racial, gender and economic privilege, which aided in their achievements. They can stop dismissing the help they got from friends, family and financial institutions, and instead admit that this help is why they were able to be so successful.
I am beyond fortunate to have access to family willing and able to help my husband and I out with childcare. Though I am a stay-at-home mom, this extra support is a blessing for which I am grateful. This support enables me to take time for myself and for my husband and I to have time together. My kids also have the benefit of knowing others care for them.
Perpetuating a narrative of do-it-yourself, may sell books and seminars, it also sells the notion that needing help makes you weak, and this message hurts parents.
It takes much more than a village to raise a child, it takes a society committed to supporting new parents, not just in word, but in action. Until there is a cultural shift in America, however, this will be hard to come by.
I don’t know if the solution comes in the form of better government-subsidized programs for parents, such as a maternity leave long enough for women to actually recover from childbirth, private companies stepping up to offer such services as in-office daycare, or some combination of the two.
What I do know, is nothing will change unless we acknowledge parents need help, and providing that help is imperative for the greater good of society.