Feelings of Failure

Much has already been written about the pressures mothers have been under during the pandemic.  Although everyone has been struggling in different ways, mothers have felt the primary brunt of child care and household responsibilities while also trying to keep up with paid employment.  Many have lost employment opportunities because of these responsibilities.

As a result of the pandemic, with school attendance occurring remotely at best, mothers are back to full time child care, while feeling responsible for maintaining the health of their family including making sure that children are following required safety precautions such as mask wearing and distance from others.

Mothers also feel responsible for supervising their children’s remote learning in order to make sure they keep up educationally.  This has also meant dealing with children’s resistance to the attention required for remote learning and filling in for the role of teacher whether qualified or not.  Children feel the lack of usual activities and the inability to socialize with their friends. Their behavior has reflected the changes they have experienced, resulting in irritability, restlessness and difficulty attending to tasks.

But what about the behavior of mothers in reaction to all the pressures they have been under?  Jennifer Senior, as a parent who writes about parenthood, asks why it is that so many mothers feel like failures at this moment.  The problems they are dealing with are not of their own making, so why are they blaming themselves for the inevitable consequences of historic mayhem?  She wonders if it is to be explained simply by the propensity of mothers toward self-recrimination.

Feeling of guilt due to self-recrimination, come in part from the changing tasks that have been assigned to mothers over the years.   The division of labor following the industrial revolution, assigned responsibility for child-care to mothers.  Over time, the perceived nature of child care has become increasingly complex in terms of the desired behavior of mothers toward their children.

Research and theories of child development have put forward ideas about desirable responses to children that are necessary in order to assure optimal development.  Mothers are held to these standards and are regularly criticized and blamed for perceived failures.  The blame is not merely self-blame.

Senior offers another hypothesis for mothers’ widespread feeling of failure.  Her idea is that what the pandemic has done is made many mothers feel more insecure about aspects of their parenting that they were already most insecure about.  Mothers worry that one’s actions as a parent have dire consequences for one’s child.  The fear is that one’s behavior as a parent might damage a child in a way that would interfere with his functioning in the future.

Mothers assume great powers in believing in their capacity to damage their children by what they say and do.  The assumption is that children are so fragile that a wrong word from mom can do irreparable damage and leads to the feeling that children must be protected from anything that seems unpleasant, frustrating or upsetting.

This suggests that it is possible to go through life without having such experiences, and that mothers are responsible for making that happen – for creating a perfect life for one’s child.  But no matter under what circumstances children are raised, life itself requires the ability to withstand hurts and obstacles.  As parents, we wish we could protect our children from pain, but that is an unrealistic goal.

Dealing with the reaction of others to our behavior is a fact of life.  Children develop  the needed skills to function with others, having learned early that even parents have emotional reactions.