I gave birth to my first child in 2012, and all at once, the world around me seemed to shut down.
I was consumed by caring for a baby who demanded so much of my attention, exhausted from interrupted sleep, and riding an emotional roller coaster that left me wondering if I would ever find my sense of self again.
The world around me may have been burning—and in many ways it was—but new motherhood swallowed me completely. Wars were ravaging countries in far away. Closer to home, Black people were continuing to be unfairly targeted and suffering from an unjust justice system, failed immigration policies were hurting families, and the recession of the earlier 2000s was still impacting the economy, leaving many unemployed or underemployed.
In short, the world was a mess, but in my bubble, I only had room for my new family.
This isn’t to say, I wasn’t aware of or didn’t care deeply about the problems of the world around me. I have always wondered and worried about things beyond my own life, and that is very hard to turn off. The difference was that while before motherhood, I had the empathetic energy to do the work to affect change, after I had my first child, I could barely wrap my arms around my new reality let alone do anything meaningful to heal the world around me.
Subconsciously, my mind knew to shut myself out from an overwhelming world and enable me to focus on the immediate needs of my new baby.
Another child and several years later, I am long out of the early daze (yes, D-A-Z-E) of motherhood, and able to view that time with much more clarity.
I reflect back and acknowledge the privilege I had to be able to shut out the world’s problems and focus my feelings on my family.
I also recognize the state I was in and forgive myself for not doing more, knowing I could only handle so much before having a breakdown.
Today, the U.S. and the world continue to suffer from racism, poverty, war, climate change, and more. The difference now, however, is I am now able to go beyond my life and make real efforts to try and help. I can read more, research more, and donate. I can participate more meaningfully in social justice causes and help things change, however small my impact may be.
Yet, as I work to do more to improve the world around me, I often find myself wondering why others, especially other mothers, aren’t doing more. I mean, mothers are supposed to be empathetic, right? After all, many of the greatest causes are championed by mothers.
I get so caught up in my self-righteous mission, I forget that not too long ago, I was a mom who barely registered the problems around me.
I imagine other moms at the time, exhaustively fighting the good fight were wondering why other parents weren’t stepping up more.
I also imagine—no, I know—that like me, these moms who couldn’t handle much outside the needs of their own families are stepping up in a big way.
So, for those of you who are in the thick of the baby and toddler years, are caring for a special needs child, or just dealing with some major stuff at the moment, I want to say it is OK if you can’t do much more than that.
It is OK to take a pause from social justice to focus on your own needs. This may seem selfish, but doing the amount of work necessary to make real change is a full-time job in itself. I don’t do half the things many of my peers do, and I am still often overwhelmed by it all. It is a lot, and it is not for those whose emotional bandwidth can’t handle much beyond their personal lives.
Of course, I understand that for many moms there is no real break from the fight. If you’re a Black mother, for instance, the struggle for racial justice and the end of police brutality is something that is deeply personal and can’t simply be tuned out. Likewise, if you are someone with family whose citizenship is uncertain, you can’t just shut off the fear that a loved one might be deported.
And, although I may not personally understand the struggles of BIPOC, as an American-born White woman nor do I have any authority to say what they should do, I feel emphatically that if any new mothers deserve some time for self-care and the space to find peace away from the battle for justice and equity it is these women. Being a new mom of color is tough enough without the burden of trying to battle a world which so often wants to push you down.
Which is why we more-seasoned moms, especially those of us who have the privilege of being White and benefit from all its advantages, have the responsibility to step up as much as we can.
We can support Black-owned businesses and donate to Black-run and Black-centric non-profits. We can listen more to our Black friends and colleagues as well as share and validate their stories. We can sign petitions, write letters, and attend rallies to amplify Black voices.
We can fight to make our communities safe and welcoming for ALL families.
So for the moms who are exhausted from trying to care for their families and trying to heal the world, go ahead and take a break.
We’ve got you.