13 'Harmless' Comments That Shame Moms With Mental Illness
Motherhood can be one of life’s most joyful experiences, but you can’t know sunshine without the rain. Even though it’s rewarding to many, motherhood isn’t easy.
Let’s be real, being a mom makes you hyper-aware of everything you feel like you could be doing better and that you could be doing “wrong.” This can be especially true for moms struggling with mental illness. And when you add the scrutiny of other people projecting their beliefs about your illness onto you — the shame that follows can make matters worse. It can be incredibly harmful.
To shed some light on “mom shaming” we asked moms in our mental health community some of the “harmless” comments people have said to them that made them feel shamed.
Here’s what they had to say:
1. “I feel so sorry that your child will be affected by your mental illness.”
“I was told by a friend, ‘I feel bad for your child, your anxiety/panic disorder must really cause him issues.’ Thanks, because I didn’t worry about that already. This stigma that is put on mental illness is brutal.” — Ana A.
2. “Think about your kids.”
“When feeling suicidal I was often told, ‘Think about your son… he needs you.’ I know their intentions were good, but I would feel this overwhelming guilt. I almost felt obligated to stay here and ‘just exist’ and then that caused resentment towards my son. Thankfully, I am in a better place now and want to be here for him, but during the dark times, I found it extremely hard to hear that.” — Kristy S.
“‘Just think about your kids.’ As if I don’t. I constantly think about them and they are the reason I haven’t ended my life. I think about them constantly and the ways I have failed them…” — Lexi H.
3. “You should have considered your mental illness before having kids.”
“‘You should have taken your ‘issues’ into consideration before procreating.’ When I posted in a mom group asking for recommendations for my daughter’s anxiety and explained while I also have anxiety. I’m not equipped to help her on my own.” — Joanna G.
“I got told I shouldn’t have had children because I’m mentally ill and have chronic physical illness as well. However, my child is doing great and is loved so the people who think that way can bite me.” — Jessica H.
4. “Being a mom is stressful. Everyone feels like that.”
“I have high-functioning depression and anxiety and I don’t like to talk about it because I always seem to get, ‘Having a baby is stressful. Everyone feels that way.’” — Joy T.
“I’ve got multiple mental illnesses. Luckily, I am able to manage them most days and live a somewhat normal life, but every day is a struggle. Nothing makes me feel more invalidated than when someone tells me that everyone has similar struggles. Yes, I understand that everyone knows what it feels like to be anxious or depressed sometimes, but not everyone struggles with it daily or to the degree that I do. I know they are trying to come from a good place but it really is so invalidating.” — Rachel B.
5. “It could be worse.”
“‘It could be worse’ or ‘You should really cherish every moment time goes so fast.’ Thanks! I know that and I feel guilty about it already! Some days, we pow-wow on our devices in bed because Mama can’t deal. But you know what, those days are my little man’s favorite because we hang out all day snuggling.” — Rebecca M.
6. “You should really breastfeed.”
“Being shamed over not breastfeeding. I’d love to but I know I couldn’t mentally handle it.” — Cori J.
7. “Your house isn’t very clean.”
“I get comments about my ‘laziness’ and my house being untidy. The truth is, I try so hard to keep my kids happy, to get them to school on time and make sure there’s food in the fridge for them, that I just don’t have the energy for much else. A bit of understanding would be really appreciated. I feel guilty enough already for not being the perfect mum, other people pointing out my failings makes me feel even worse.” — Nicola G.
8. “Why can’t you feel happy?”
“My husband asked, ‘Why can’t you just do something to make you feel happy?’ Or I get the, ‘Well, I’m stressed too and I would trade being a SAHP [stay at home parent] any day over working, but someone’s gotta pay the bills and put food in your mouth…’” — Mackenzie P.
“One thing I get a lot is, ‘How are you not happy? You have everything you could possibly need in your little boy!’ And then I feel guilty. And then it becomes a vicious cycle. And it’s so painful. And degrading. Makes me want to disappear.” — Missy M.
9. “Once you have kids, it’s not about you anymore.”
“‘Once you have kids, it’s not about you anymore.’ This hurts on such a deep level because they have no idea what I would give to be able to be present 100 percent of the time. All it accomplishes is making me slip even deeper into my anxiety and depression. I fear my kids suffer because I have anxiety attacks attending their events and it depresses me to no end to not be able to overcome it on my own. I wish more people understood that I can’t just switch it on and off like a switch. I don’t pick and choose when anxiety and depression will rear its ugly head. I just hope my kids know how much I love them, even on the days I’m drowning.” — Suzanne S.
“‘You need to get over yourself because it’s about your baby now, not you. You don’t have time to have PTSD and [postpartum depression] PPD.’ I have been coping with my PTSD since I was about 12 or so. And I can’t help that I got PPD, I’m getting help so that I can take better care of my baby.” — Barbara L.
10. “Just breathe.”
“I have ADHD, anxiety, PTSD, [and] borderline personality disorder. My mom told me during a panic attack, ‘Just breathe, you’ll be OK.’ [That] made it worse because it hurt… She’s a nurse. Also had CPS call my parenting into question because of my BPD: ‘Does she have the capacity to parent properly?’” — Jlu Y.
11. “Pull it together for your children.”
“The one I hate is, ‘Pull it together for your children.’ Are you kidding me? You think I don’t want to pull it together? You don’t think that I have spent much of my adult life trying to pull it together. At least I am on proper medication and yes, I may have my ups and downs, but my children will never see their mother self-medicating like she was before they were conceived.” — Brianne H.
12. “Why didn’t you ask for help?”
“Someone said to me, about my postpartum, ‘Why didn’t you ask for help?’ That cut deep. When you are in deep depression, you are incapable of asking for help because you don’t feel worth it. Why didn’t she see my struggle and offer help? I felt blamed.” — Michelle B.
13. “You’re overreacting.”
“‘You’re overreacting.’ I have severe PTSD and BPD and it’s hard because I do react to the little things and they don’t understand that when my daughter goes to her dad’s, I can’t handle my own thoughts.” — Destiny M.
Being a mother can be a beautiful, transformative experience. But being subjected to the way others view your parenting can make you feel the exact opposite: guilty, inadequate and low. Whether intended or unintended, doing things like accusing a mom of passing “issues” onto their child or calling into question their ability to parent is assigning shame they don’t deserve.
If you find yourself struggling with your mental health or in need of support, check out these additional resources:
Unsplash photo via Katie Emslie