What is an acceptable amount of crazy for mothers?
I certainly identify with the idea of ‘normal crazy’, a term I discovered in my recent Master’s thesis proposal research. There have been times I have felt out of my mind during my matrescence. The researchers suggest that the struggles associated with matrescence leave mothers assessed as coping or not coping. There is little scope for a middle ground that acknowledges a place for struggle without pathology. However, I know there is a spectrum, and my crazy has edged past “normal” at times.
I pondered the crazy question many times as I prepared my thesis proposal, focusing on strategies for improving mothers’ mental health and wellbeing. My study coincided with the beginning of Mental Health Month, which comes off the back of R U OK Day.
During October each year, there is increased coverage of mental health issues and strategies for recognising and assisting those at risk. It’s an important campaign and valuable in lifting the stigma associated with mental illness.
However, I do believe mental health awareness has been too narrow and often fails to recognise the systemic drivers of distress and illness. Factors such as poverty, inequality, racism, ableism, violence, and, more recently, the uncertainty and unequal weight women carried as we navigated the pandemic.
My thesis research uncovered an emerging area of literature regarding postpartum mental health that explores the idea of ‘normal crazy’ and proposes that it should be accepted and acknowledged as a regular part of matrescence. After all, women are experiencing the most transformational experience of their lives with a lack of language and infrastructure to acknowledge this transformation, as well as systemic forces that devalue the contribution of mothering while actively undermining our ability to participate in valued roles such as those in the paid workforce.
There is undoubtedly a place for traditional mental health responses, and I have benefited from these. But I have also railed against the idea that me and my mind are the problems.
There is a long history of gaslighting women and mothers with genuine grievances. Rather than recognising their legitimate suffering and marginalisation, women were shuffled off to asylums and subjected to experimental treatment—worse for women of colour in a colonised world.
My lineage has hushed stories of mothers who “couldn’t cope” and had “nervous breakdowns”. When this happened, they were given a few weeks respite on a distant cousin’s property away from prying eyes. When they returned, it was back to raising four to seven children alone without family support, often while grieving the loss of babies and living with untreated birth injuries. Were they crazy? Or was their breaking a natural response to an unrealistic expectation of mothering that has existed since post-industrialisation?
My studies included an analysis of literature that illustrated the transition from collective mothering in pre-industrial times, when work was primarily undertaken in and around the home, to the post-industrial age, which took work out of the home and remade it as a place for women’s domestic labour and childrearing. In the western world, the home evolved into a place left void of intergenerational assistance and the father’s presence.
The pandemic presented an unwelcome but important opportunity to examine the split between work and care. Many mothers found caring for children was more manageable with increased partner support when white-collar workers’ commutes were eliminated, and five o’clock meetings began to be frowned upon as a long day of remote work drew to a close.
As all pandemic restrictions end, there appears to be a shift back to ‘normal’. Remote work is ok, but only for a percentage of total hours determined most often by the office’s needs, not the individual. Telehealth is ok, but you must pay the same as face-to-face. Sick pay is ok, but not for everyone.
My studies established the value of support for mothers, including recognition of the all-encompassing experience of matrescence. Examining the current supports available to mothers, I observe a disjointed system focused on children’s development with limited recognition or support for the developmental leap women experience when they become mothers.
My literature review also confirmed the opportunity for a spiritual leap as women connect to the universal mothering experience. However, the spiritual value of mothering remains largely unexamined in mainstream systems, although the sacredness of the mother/child relationship is comparable to that of worldwide religions. Researchers suggest a ‘spiritual awakening’ framework could emerge as an effective strategy for treating depression and anxiety in mothers.
I find a place of acceptance and commonality in Women’s Circles with other mothers. More than anything, it’s a spiritual practice. It’s not therapy, but it feels pretty good.
The next step in my studies is to explore how these ideas could translate into practice regarding state support for mothers. Until then, I will continue to apply these concepts to the matrescence support I provide through MGM.
Check out opportunities to join me in a Women’s Circle here.
If you need mental health support, please reach out to the good people at PANDA.