4 ways society subtly stereotypes moms and why it’s so damaging

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We all get messages from our culture about how we’re supposed to behave in our specific roles as parents, whether they are overt or subtle. For example, my mother, mother-in-law, and mom friends, overtly (but kindly) express their views on parenting and what it means to be a mom and usually this advice is helpful and necessary as we are social beings and can learn from each other and those who have been there before us. However, sometimes even these expectations about how we should behave as mothers can be confusing. Then layer on top of that the subtle cultural messages that we receive from TV, ads, labels, arbitrary mom categories, and expectations of how moms should behave from social media and we have a recipe for self doubt and misery. These messages shape the way we view our roles as mom and are unhelpful and may even be damaging for moms who don’t fit into those stereotypes or want to choose a different life for themselves.

Below are some examples of situations where these stereotypes occur in society and why they are so damaging to our confidence as moms.

1. Negative mom stereotypes on TV

There are two main types of moms represented on TV: the overly controlling OCD mom who has no life outside of her children (Elsa on Atypical, Claire on Modern Family, Beverly on The Goldbergs), and the frazzled, annoyed mom who complains about her kids and husband relentlessly (yet usually hilariously – Maria on Disjointed, Roseanne on Roseanne, Peggy Bundy in Married with Children). Both of these stereotypes would be unhealthy psychologically if they were played out in real life (and they are more than they should be), and would make anyone miserable. But watching these types of moms so often on TV can makes us subconsciously feel as if this is an acceptable way to be: that complaining about how our children are horrid and are just getting in the way of us doing what we want in life is totally normal. One of my clients actively avoids talking to the parents that gather at her bus stop because of their relentless complaining about their children and spouses. She has decided that she does not want take part in the pity party because she knows how damaging this kind of gossip can be to her emotional health and her relationship with her family and friends. But everyone does it, and it feels normal. Do you ever think to yourself when your kids are acting up, “This isn’t fair! I wish I was watching TV and eating bon-bons right now! Why are my kids so annoying? My life sucks.” This type of thinking sometimes results from those messages we receive from TV and empathizing with complaining friends. They confirm our bias that are children and spouses are getting in the way of our happiness and there’s nothing we can do about it.

2. Putting moms into hard and fast categories, with no room for gray areas

You’re either a working mom or a SAHM, you breastfeed or you use formula, you had a natural births or c-sections, you are ambitious in your career or you take care of your kids. There’s no gray areas and there’s no way we can have it all; we are required to define ourselves these ways, black and white. Then there’s the ever present, if not real, social media “mommy wars” where it’s acceptable to judge other moms for being in one category or another, which erodes our support systems and is completely unnecessary and damaging.

3. Expecting moms to be frazzled and have everything under control at the same time.

This one KILLS me. How contradictory!!! No wonder moms never feel good enough! I already wrote about the Glorification of Busy and how acceptable it is to say “busy” when asked how things are going with us, but add to this the idea that we are expected to be busy and balanced all at the same time?! This is an impossible and completely backwards idea that keep us moms fighting our whole lives with the expectation that we need to figure out how to plan our lives perfectly. Instead, we need new goals, with new focuses: How can we still do what we want (or have to) in our lives while being at peace? How can we enjoy our families and our work and hobbies without guilt? How can we have a good relationship with our spouse without it being another task on our to do list? How can we stop wallowing in overwhelm and start loving?

4. Misrepresenting mom life on social media and in ads

We all know how damaging this one can be to our psyche. As we scroll through Instagram or Facebook, we notice all the moms with perfectly clean and decorated houses, well coiffed and matching kids, a runner’s’ body with 6 pack abs, great hair, makeup and skin, and impeccable fashion, and we think, “Why don’t I have my life together like she does?” Of course, this ideal is unrealistic and we know this, but the damage that it causes is subtle and it shows up in our lives as negative self talk. We can easily become unaware of these thoughts that are running through our heads, that put us down, and can cause low grade depression or low energy or anxiety.

So now what?

First of all, it’s important to just even be aware when these false judgments and beliefs from society enter our thought patterns. It’s critical that we notice thoughts that come from these societal expectations and label them for what they are – thought errors. Once we are aware of them, then we can actively choose not to believe them. For example, when we scroll through Instagram and start to put ourselves down, we can make a conscious decision whether or not we want to believe these negative thoughts. Of course, there’s always the option of not looking at social media for a day or a week and see how you feel. I always notice that after I scroll through Facebook, I have this vague depressed feeling that takes me a while to shake. But if I concentrate instead on what’s happening in my life, I have much more energy, joy, and motivation. In addition during your social media/TV break, consciously focus on spending that time connecting with your family by showing love through eye contact, smiling, hugs and snuggles, and goofing around.

Another way we can move past these social biases are to make a list of 25 things we want in life, including all the things we want in our lives that we already have: for example, a loving husband, healthy children, a nice home, health, etc. It is helpful then to look at the list frequently when the self-doubt creeps in and remind ourselves we are in a place of abundance.

The reality is that everyday we only have so much time, energy, and love, and we need to choose, without guilt, those things that bring us joy and those things that help us live our minimum baseline expectations, so we have time for the important things, like connecting with our kids and spouse, spending time with friends, and cultivating our hobbies. Owning our how we chose to spend our time on helps free us from the guilt of being not good enough.

In addition, taking the “shoulds” out of our vocabulary and replacing them with “wants” feels so much better and helps empower us to be happier.

Life coaching teaches us to be aware of the thoughts that are coming from outside sources that can be so damaging, especially because they can be unconscious. Coaching helps us to discover what kind of mom and person we want to be. It helps us to clean up and manage our minds, and to carefully chose and curate thoughts that allow us to enjoy our lives, without the harmful filter of the society’s expectations of what it looks like to be a mom.

If you want help rising above the stereotypes and expectations of society to become the mom and person you want to be, sign up below for a free 20 minute mini session with me. Click here to claim your spot on my calendar!