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10 Reasons to Take Good Care of a Mother

Having a child is a big deal and there's no longer the strong network of social support for it - from relatives, friends, and neighbors - that there was in generations past, let alone in the hunter-gatherer groups in which humans evolved. And many fathers have not stepped up to fill the vacuum: the average mother is working away about 20 hours a week more than her partner is, whether or not she's drawing a paycheck. As result, the day-to-day minute-to-minute activities of caring for a young child usually fall mainly to the mother.

Precious Work

It's precious work, certainly. But like everything in life, it has effects. Over time, everything you pour out, everything you do, adds up. Most mothers report feeling pretty worn out and often frazzled by the end of their baby's first year, and our experience is that actually the deepest slump typically occurs a few years after the baby is born, especially if there's been a second child or another significant stressor (like a move, mom goes back to paid work, or the child has a challenging temperament).

Inevitable Effects

As a result, studies have shown that having one or more children - especially when there's not much support for her role - increases the chance that a woman will experience physical or mental health problems, including fatigue, depressed mood, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, Type 2 diabetes, nutritional deficits, or autoimmune illnesses. Lack of support also wears on a relationship, breeding resentments, the sense of being let down, no interest in sex, and lots of quarrels. The bottom-line: many mothers get physically and psychologically depleted during the early years of parenthood, some to the extent that we have proposed that there can be an actual Depleted Mother Syndrome (DMS).

Impacts on the Family

None of this is good for the mother, to be sure. And it cannot help but spill over onto the children, both in terms of less patience and energy for them as well as the impact on them of problems in their parents' relationship. And it naturally affects fathers, too. Researchers have found that fathers who are more involved in the daily life of the family and strong teammates with the mother have better mood, more sense of pride in their competence as a parent, and a closer and more satisfying relationship with their partner. Not bad!

A Crying Shame

Even though the effects of maternal stress and depletion are plainly visible in well-documented research - an affect society as a whole through increased healthcare expenses, lost workforce productivity, and the social costs of divorce - there's been shockingly little attention to the needs of mothers.

Many new mothers feel that they disappear off the radar of the healthcare system after their final postpartum appointment and whether they had a child became medically irrelevant. At the National Institute of Health or the Centers for Disease Control, there's zero attention to the long-term health and well-being of mothers. Few psychology graduate schools teach anything about how to help women with the unique and chronic stresses of raising a family or how to help couples with kids be strong teammates while preserving an intimate friendship.

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