The Toxicity of “A Mother’s Strength”

The Toxicity of “A Mother’s Strength”

A mother playing with her child

Our mothers are strong. From providing for all of our needs and sacrificing her joys, she has always shown that we come first. That is exactly where the problem lies. Our mothers ask so little from us and choose not to put themselves first. How many of our mothers are happy? Should the strength of endurance be compared to the mental strength of a person? According to The Swaddle, housewives accounted for the second-highest percentage of all suicide victims in India in 2018. In other words, every sixth victim of suicide in India is a housewife.

Struggles faced by Working Women

A considerable percentage of women quit their work after bearing a child if not right after marriage. Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo CEO, stated in an interview :

“a woman’s career clock and biological clock are in total conflict. If you somehow managed to get back to work post-maternity, that innate gut-wrenching guilt of not being a good enough mother will ensure you give up your career for your child. In progressive societies, there is very little family support and more so today given the increasing instances of nuclear families. Hence the dependence on outside help to take care of their little ones is more stressful for new mothers. This is further complicated when the spouse is not supportive.”

According to a report from 2016, the participation of women in the workforce had declined by 27% by 2014, ranking at 16th lowest in the world. In a country like India where gender disparity is at large women often have to compromise their goals and aspirations. When one takes away a person’s financial freedom, the person automatically becomes dependent on others for their needs and that affects a person’s mental health. The Times of India has stated in a report:

“A 2016 study from Columbia University shows that women who have lower income than male counterparts (when matched across age, education, industry, marital status and other factors) are twice more likely to be depressed and six times more likely to suffer from anxiety.”

Mothers, being the primary caregivers in the majority of cases, have an impact on their family members according to the UN. Her well-being positively impacts the family members. However, because of the taboo around mental health and the toxic notion of the invincibility of a mother’s strength, we neglect the happiness of the person who contributes the most to our lives. This toxicity also overflows into a child’s life. Every time a child is in mental distress the entire society advises the child to be as strong as the mother and honour her sacrifices. Hence, generations continue to pass down the taboo.

Fighting the Taboos

Certain ways in which we can battle the taboo and make the lives of our mothers easier:

1. Shared Care
  • An initiative by Jessica DeGroot, a quality of life theorist. She talks about unlearning the conditioning that a particular gender is supposed to do a particular type of care work. She works with couples to help them divide household responsibilities and emotional labour by charting out goals and increasing gratitude.
  • According to the report by the Times of India, women spend 6 hours doing unpaid care work while Indian men only do 1 hour.
  • For several women, rejoining the workforce can be a huge boost to their independent identity and financial independence can help them feel more self-sufficient and secure.
2. How corporates can help
  • Mental health care programmes specifically address the different issues faced by women. This will help break the taboo and increase awareness.
  • Insurance that covers therapy costs and incorporates a workplace counsellor.
  • Flexible hours and work-from-home facilities for new mothers.
  • In-house child care facilities.
3. Corporates in India who have taken steps:
  1. Oyo – They not only have in-house daycare facilities (titled Little O) but they also provide reimbursements for parents who avail of other daycare facilities.
  2. BYJU’s “Mothers for Mentors” campaign which began in 2017 helps mothers take on the role of mentors and guide students, thereby helping them restart their careers.
  3. Schneider Electric – A programme known as “Her Second Innings” has been designed to help new mothers smoothly get back to work. They have flexible working hours and are additionally granted paid personal time during moments when it matters the most. The organization assigns them a buddy to keep them informed about organizational developments during their absence. They allow the secondary parent to take a two-week paid leave as well.
Shame and Guilt

According to the University College of London,

“Mothers do not harm their young children emotionally or socially by going out to work, according to research that offers reassurance to women worried about juggling jobs and family responsibilities.

In fact, girls seem to gain from being in a household where their mother works, according to analysis of families with children born in 2000. In a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, a team from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London found no evidence of detrimental effects on the young children of mothers working part-time or full-time.”

Research establishes that the link between working mothers and children growing up emotionally deprived does not exist. Nevertheless, people often use this claim to shame mothers into quitting their jobs. This idea stems from the belief that a girl child is born with the responsibility of sacrificing herself for every joy of the family, especially after marriage. This mental step up not only sends the mother guilt-tripping if they choose to continue their career but also looks down upon husbands who contribute to household responsibilities. More often than not mothers have to manage both the house and their professional lives.


Women who choose to be a housewife because of this extra struggle also face taunts from society for not building a career and contributing financially to the family. Marriage brings with it the perception that their household work is not legitimate work but rather a duty or responsibility. The type one can not complain about nor should try to get rid of. Our fight to smash patriarchy should not lead to double standards where a woman has to manage both her work and household singlehandedly nor should it take away her freedom of choice to be a housewife. Our country should treat the mothers with much better care and respect.

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