There is no room for mom guilt in the resistance

By Ilyse Dobrow DiMarco

Here’s a mantra I’ve adopted for myself about rising up against this new administration. There is no room for guilt in the resistance.

As a psychologist, I’m also sharing it with my patients, a lot of whom are mothers. Today’s moms are in a unique position. We haven’t had to live through the political upheaval faced by past generations and so, up until this point, have had the luxury of being able to focus on our own lives and families. But now, with Trump as President, it feels incumbent upon us to shift some of our attention towards resisting a hateful and dangerous agenda.

I absolutely agree that change is in order, that mothers can and should play an important role in preventing the government from dismantling our civil liberties. Plus, as a cognitive-behavioral therapist, I know that action is an important antidote to fear and anxiety. The more we act to make change, the less worried and helpless we’ll feel. 

And yet, I also know it’s not always that simple. Many moms with whom I work—as well as many of my mom friends—are feeling guilty about their participation, or lack thereof, in the resistance. They want to help, but they just don’t have the time/energy/resources to do so, either practically or emotionally.

This guilt seems to come in three forms. The first is about “not doing enough.” You can’t turn on a smartphone these days without being bombarded by multiple calls to action: to sign petitions, make phone calls, join marches. Many moms, in the thick of caring for their children, are overwhelmed by the myriad of things they’re being asked to do, and feel guilty because they don’t have the wherewithal to do it all. Or even some of it.

The second kind of guilt is about doing other, seemingly frivolous things when you could instead be fighting the good fight. Like the other day when I had some time between patients and was looking online for something to wear to my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah. At some point, while I was scrolling through 10,000 black dresses, it occurred to me that I could have spent those free moments making phone calls to my representative and senators. Instead I was contemplating which dress would work best for our family picture. How could I be thinking about tulle when the country was falling apart?

The third form of guilt, and one I’ve been hearing about a lot in my practice, comes from not feeling able to do the specific types of things civil rights groups need us to do. The idea of calling government representatives on the phone, for instance, is absolutely terrifying to someone with Social Anxiety Disorder. Same goes for someone with Panic Disorder, who is asked to march in a crowd. Several people with whom I work want desperately to help fight injustice but literally don’t feel able to respond to many of the calls to action because of anxiety or other mental health issues—or because they have personalities that don’t lend themselves to the social and public nature of activism.

There are many concrete ways for moms to manage the guilt they feel when they are asked to “rise up.” Here are some ideas about how to make this possible, informed by Mirah Curzer’s How to #StayOutraged Without Losing Your Mind:

Pick and choose what you do. You don’t need to respond to every call to action. Pick those actions, and those issues, that are most meaningful to you, and that feel most comfortable. If you have a full-time job and five children, don’t expect yourself to spend two hours on the phone every day. Instead choose a task that takes relatively little time (i.e. one of the daily calls to action) or can be done at off-hours (i.e. writing postcards to your Senators). If you have a new baby, it’s okay to opt out right now. It’s also okay to stay on the sidelines if you’re struggling to balance your kids’ 8000 after-school activities or if you’re dealing with a personal crisis. It’s up to you to decide what you feel capable of.

Recognize that you don’t have to do everything that is asked of you. If you are someone who is fearful of crowds or speaking on the telephone, don’t pressure yourself to partake in those particular things. If you’re already stressed about the state of our country, adding more worry to the pile is counter-productive. There isn’t only one form of activism: writing letters or emails or signing petitions or sharing links to activist websites on social media will work too. And activism should be fun;  you won’t be able to sustain the fight if you aren’t enjoying what you’re doing.

Allow yourself to live your life. Okay, so I need a dress for my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah. Donald Trump’s Presidency does not change this. Nor does it change the fact that I have to plan my son’s Lego birthday party or get the oil changed in my car. If I feel guilty about devoting my free time to anything other than the resistance, I have four years’ worth of paralyzing guilt ahead of me. I, and all other moms, have to recognize that our normal lives as parents, partners, children, sisters, employees, friends still need to go on.

Take care of yourself. Self-care is critical. In her article, Curzer stresses the importance of getting sleep, eating well, taking time out for yourself, seeing the doctor regularly, taking a hiatus from the news when necessary, and getting outside. If you are overwhelmed with anxiety and hopelessness about the state of our country, talking about it will help. As a therapist, I can speak to the benefits of having someone in your life who can help you process your feelings and figure out how to effectively translate them into action.

Moms, as you’re preparing to rise up, please remember that there is no room for guilt in the resistance. We are already made to feel guilty, as mothers, about so many things, we musn’t add political activism to the list. We need to find a way to balance caring for ourselves and our children with caring for our country; to participate when we can, and give ourselves a break when we can’t. If each of us can figure out how to make it work for our individual families, we will all be able to stay in this fight for the long haul.

Ilyse Dobrow DiMarco, Ph.D. is a mom of two and a psychologist specializing in motherhood-related anxiety. She also boasts extensive personal and professional experience with guilt. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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