As the coronavirus pandemic trains a spotlight on critical services such as health care, food distribution and sanitation, Asheville author and life coach Beth Berry says one important group of essential workers is being overlooked: mothers.
In her recently released debut book, Motherwhelmed: Challenging Norms, Untangling Truths, and Restoring Our Worth to the World, Berry — mother of four daughters, ages 12, 15, 19 and 25 — examines the stressful state of modern motherhood and how an unsupportive culture keeps mothers from thriving. “Those of us who are doing it realize that we’re the most essential of essential workers,” she says.
Berry began writing Motherwhelmed six years ago during a four-year stint living with her then-husband and four daughters in Mexico, where the simpler, slower-paced lifestyle gave her a fresh perspective on family and society. “The [cultural] narrative is getting twisted right now so that mothers end up feeling like we’re not doing enough and that our inadequacy is the heart of the problem,” she says. “But I feel like that’s a dramatic distortion of the truth, which is that the culture is not set up to ensure the thriving of mothers.”
The pandemic, she points out, illuminates the heavy mental load mothers are expected to bear on a daily basis and the disparity between the demands placed on them versus fathers. “I’m hearing among clients all the time that, for example, a boss will say to the husband, ‘Well, you can work from home to be with your kids only if your wife can’t.’ The expectation is first and foremost that the wife will bear the burden of that,” she says. “We have these unconscious agreements that have been perpetuated by the culture that are keeping us locked in these roles.”
To alleviate the pressure created by those existing paradigms, Berry encourages moms to look for ways of reinventing family structures to eliminate nonessential demands. She also highlights the importance of parents working together to ensure that each gets a healthy dose of child-free alone time each day to allow frazzled nervous systems to relax and reset.
“Let’s examine the stories we’re telling ourselves about how we should be showing up right now, and let this be a time where we radically shift into a mindset of what’s best for our families,” she urges. “I’m hoping that one thing that will come of this is that we’ll no longer have the question of mothers of, ‘What do you do all day?’ [I hope] that will become more obvious, that there are always things being done, and even if they’re not being acknowledged by the culture as legitimate, they are essential.”
For more on Beth Berry and Motherwhelmed, visit avl.mx/75j.
This article is part of COVID Conversations, a series of short features based on interviews with members of our community during the coronavirus pandemic in Western North Carolina. If you or someone you know has a unique story you think should be featured in a future issue of Xpress, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.