Have you ever felt like before having kids, people around you would be super negative about having kids?: “Oh you’ll never sleep again”; or “Bye-bye career!”? Has it ever turned you off about wanting kids after hearing negative comments in regards to children?
Or, on the other hand, has someone ever been overly positive about being a parent, and left you with these unrealistic expectations as to what motherhood can really be like? And maybe sometimes, as a mama, you were given words of encouragement when you were simply looking for validation and looking to be seen.
Toxic positivity and toxic negativity are very present in motherhood, especially with the influence of the Internet. If you’ve ever felt bad about comments related to motherhood or feel like your exposure to certain people or media is harming your motherhood experience, then you might be surrounded by toxic positivity or toxic negativity.
What is Toxic Positivity?
Toxic positivity is a pressure to excessively display happy and positive emotions and feelings. It’s a portrayal of exaggerated optimism that ignores subjects with a negative connotation. In other words, it can be you or someone else forcing positive thinking and suppressing or denying “negative” emotions or experiences.
Being positive is definitely good for one’s health. But enforcing positive thinking all the time leaves little room for acknowledgment of feelings. At that point, it becomes toxic.
What Does Toxic Positivity Look Like in Motherhood?
More specifically related to motherhood, toxic positivity is where happy moments in motherhood are highlighted. It’s also when mothers are given words of encouragement when truly they’re suffering and looking to validate some of those less happy feelings that they’re experiencing.
The more real aspects of motherhood, such as feeling isolated, postpartum depression, the feeling of guilt, or the feeling of not being enough as a mother, are sometimes suppressed or shamed. Those “negative” emotions and experiences are brushed off.
A mother could feel burnt out and irritable, but made to feel guilty about those feelings because she believes that mothers shouldn’t experience such emotions; a mother should always be joyful and grateful in her motherhood role. Or she’s told to think about all the positives in motherhood.
“But you’re doing great mama! Your kids are loved, that’s all that matters.”
That is a typical toxic positivity statement: Where mothers are so drawn to seeing the good parts of motherhood; feeling like any “not-so-good” parts aren’t normal; or to have their feelings be ignored.
It’s because of this toxic positivity that us mamas are made to feel like we should only talk about the good in motherhood, that we’re doing fine; having kids is no biggie. We love our kids so much and we chose to be mamas, so we’ve got this…right?
We’re conditioned to avoid talking about motherhood in all of its glory.
Us mamas feel like if one negative thing about motherhood comes out of our mouths we’ll be judged, we’ll be told that we’re being ungrateful or that “we’ve got this, we’re doing such a good job!” Truly, that only makes us feel invalidated and that our feelings aren’t acknowledged. It can make us feel SO alone.
Then What’s Toxic Negativity in Motherhood?
Toxic negativity is an excessive portrayal of negative emotions and feelings; denying any good ones. Here, it would be an exaggerated use of pessimism. Toxically negative people can be draining to be around.
In motherhood, you’ve probably had someone talk negatively about having kids; like “you’ll never sleep again”. Such comments can really affect the experience of motherhood; by making mamas feel like they’re being told that they need a reality check and that there’s no hope in sight.
Motherhood is one of the hardest seasons of life, and to be surrounded with negative talk from peers and the media can have a dampening effect on the whole experience.
Is Social Media the Culprit?
Social media is probably not the prime mover, but it definitely is a driving source for toxic positivity and toxic negativity in motherhood.
Both toxic positivity and negativity in motherhood have existed for a long time. Whether you’ve heard older adults talk about parenthood when you were younger; or whether you’ve heard a friend, family or stranger talk about it in adulthood…you’ve heard it.
“You think you’re tired now…just wait until you have kids”.
“Don’t have kids…your career will take the back burner”.
“Having kids will make you broke”.
“You’ll have no life anymore…”.
“Kids are easy; it’s really not that bad”.
“Enjoy every moment, it doesn’t last forever”.
“You’ve got this, mama!”
Yes. Most of you are probably familiar with some of these comments.
The Motherhood Realness Movement
Various social media pages were created by mothers themselves to counter the toxic positivity surrounding motherhood; that it’s OK to be sad; that it’s OK and normal to find it hard; and that it’s OK to not enjoy all seasons of motherhood.
Is This Motherhood Realness Movement Good?
However, this is where it gets tricky. Sometimes, these pages try so hard to counter the effects of this toxic positivity that they end up creating the other extreme; becoming a little too negative.
For example, some accounts might only be showing the harder parts of motherhood (the feeling of loneliness, sleep deprivation, kids creating a mess, not catching a break, etc.) because they feel like mothers aren’t being shown this part of motherhood enough.
And of course, it also goes the other way around. Some showcase only the good parts (being happy and playing with their kids, clean house, going out on walks for fresh air). You can read our article about Motherhood on Social Media, where we talk about this in more detail!
The thing is…each extreme produces its own forms of toxicity, and this can be harmful.
The World of Two Extremes
There doesn’t seem to be enough in-betweens here. Or, if there is, it’s hard to come across or to find a balance of how much positivity or negativity you can take.
The whole idea of toxic positivity in motherhood seems to have created the other extreme; motherhood is “depressing” or “too” hard. This happens a lot, where society tries to balance out an extreme by creating another – which clearly isn’t any healthier.
How Are Toxic Positivity & Toxic Negativity Impacting Mothers’ Mental Health?
- We’re made to feel ashamed of our personal experiences in motherhood;
- It can make us feel like whatever we’re going through isn’t normal;
- It can make us start second guessing ourselves as mamas: “Am I doing enough for my kids, like all the other moms are?”;
- It can be draining and lead to a lot of stress or feelings of depression and isolation;
- It can make us really believe that our motherhood reality isn’t the “norm” & this can start making us feel very alone.
How to Find Our Own Balance
- Remember that what you see online can sometimes betray you; things can often be exaggerated;
- Try to build your own support system; people with whom you can share everything and anything about motherhood without feeling judged;
- Try to mix up your following a bit; don’t get too caught up on one side vs the other;
- Remember that most people who are being “negative” are trying to help mamas, in a way; they’re trying to provide a little reality check to counter all that positive talk. This is the same for those who are being too positive; they’re just trying to counter the negative;
- Take comments with a grain of salt. One reality isn’t everyone’s reality.
Mamas are constantly surrounded by comments or advice (sometimes unsolicited) in their role as a mother or in their life prior to becoming a parent. And sometimes, it can become too much.
If we only hear about the positive parts of motherhood, then we’re left with unrealistic expectations and that can really backfire. It can make us feel ashamed or like we’re not made to be mothers if we’re finding motherhood hard, for example.
On the other hand, if all we hear is the negative or the harder parts of motherhood, then we can become so absorbed into a negative self-talk and start feeling very alone and miserable in our role as mamas. It can actually burn us out.
It’s so important to find that golden mean; that balance – however that may look. We, mamas, should get to feel validated in all of our motherhood experiences.
Mamas! How do you feel about toxic positivity and toxic negativity in motherhood? Has it affected you? Comment below!