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Momma Made the Difference: Celebrating Mothers & Mental Health

And there’s no way I can pay you back
But my plan is to show you that I understand
You are appreciated

Lady, don’t you know we love you? (And dear Mama)
Sweet lady, place no one above you (You are appreciated) 2 Pac Shakur 

With Mother’s Day quickly approaching, many of us who are fortunate enough to have our mothers in our lives, find ourselves making those tried and true wish lists and checking them twice for that special lady in our lives. If you are blessed to have a healthy and enjoyable relationship with your mother, you may find it difficult to encapsulate just how grateful and appreciative you feel into a single day. Personally, I look forward to seeing the sublime excitement and sheer delight in my beloved mother’s face when she learns she is being treated to a luxurious day at her favorite retreat spa followed by a decadent dinner downtown. Going above and beyond by showering her with a special weekend is the least I can do because she, like so many other incredible Black mothers truly made a difference in my life. If it were up to me, Mother’s Day would be a year-round celebration.   

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Mother’s Day is the perfect time for mothers around the world to pause, sit back, and finally relax. Sunday is a day for mommas to be doted on, thanked, treated, honored, and taken care of by their loved ones. One of the quintessential characteristics of being a mother means taking care of everyone else—from spouses to parents, grandparents, children, grandbabies, and pets. Unwavering selflessness is one of the many attributes that make our matriarchs so fabulous. As Oprah Winfrey once said, motherhood is by far the most difficult job in the whole world. 

Oftentimes, mothers are selfless to a fault. Doing everything in their power to assist and encourage those they love, moms around the world often go unnoticed and do not get enough opportunities to rest, recharge, and rejuvenate. Fortunately, there are some basic steps that mothers can take in order to effectively care for themselves—mind, body, and soul. The following are some helpful suggestions adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): 

  • Eat healthy: A diet rich in fruits and vegetables decreases the risk for obesity and cancer. 
  • Stay active: Routine physical activity reduces the threat of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, depression and anxiety. A minimum of 2.5 hours of moderate activity each week is recommended.
  • Get regular sleep: Sleep hygiene is a major component to maintaining a good mood and warding off feelings of depression. Sleep is a natural cure for both physical and mental health. Experts suggest an average of 7-8 hours per night. 
  • Prioritize mental health: One of the best ways to manage stress is to seek professional help in order to recognize signs of depression or anxiety. Working with a mental health professional helps diminish stress, offers new perspectives, and affords new coping skills.
  • Share family history: Regularly discussing family history (e.g., genetics, behaviors, mental illness, and chronic diseases) is helpful for all members of the family to better understand existing conditions and patterns that may later serve as a risk.

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In addition to implementing healthy lifestyle approaches, it is equally important for Black mothers to begin having the sometimes complex or difficult conversations surrounding mental health with their children and grandchildren. Many daughters witness their mothers juggling a myriad of responsibilities while navigating different social and relational roles with people within and outside of the household. Daughters quickly learn about the various tightropes of the work-life balance moms have to walk. Sadly, self-care is not a staple piece of the motherhood puzzle that most moms routinely demonstrate—let alone articulate. Women put themselves at the bottom of their to-do lists and fear prioritizing their self-care and mental wellness out of feelings of unworthiness, guilt, fear, and shame. It is important to ponder the significance of emotional wellness and mental health whenever we think about motherhood. 

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Statistically, Black women are overwhelmed and underserved, as only 10% of Black Americans actually receive mental health treatment when overwrought with distress. Accustomed to carrying a heavy emotional load, Black women, namely Black mothers, carry these invisible emotional backpacks with limited resources and means to cope. Black women constantly grapple with feelings of sadness, worthlessness, stress, and despair. When it comes to mental health, it is never too early to broach the conversation, as only 30% of Black adults who feel mentally stressed receive clinical care. Mothers from all walks of life must lean into conversations about depression, anxiety, stress, self-esteem, trauma, and family challenges. Research continues to prove that the superhero myth of the strong Black woman perpetuates stigma and causes Black women to shy away from self-care. 

Mothers can begin to break down barriers to mental health by leading by example at home. For starters, mothers can teach children that asking for help and reaching out for support are signs of strength and brevity. Asking for help does not make one weak. Now is the time for Black women to stop pushing themselves so hard and simultaneously pushing away any and every form of support (counseling, group therapy, retreats, and medication). Mothers can model self-compassion and mental health by example. Concrete and consistent actions will speak to the importance of not always putting the needs of others ahead of their own. Below is a list of helpful ways Black mothers can bridge the gap between generations and strategically begin to lead both children and grandchildren to normalizing their mental health:   

  • Discuss why it is okay to put yourself first. Carve out time in the day to practice mindfulness or spiritual practice to help you manage some of life’s challenges and tough moments instead of putting your feelings last. 
  • Cultivate your own sister circle: Seeking connection and relationships with like-minded women can be very life-giving and edifying. 
  • Teach your children to tap into their emotional hot spots: Help your children begin to recognize and label their primary emotions. Next, discuss healthy ways he/she can begin to cope with difficult feelings of fear, sadness, and anger. 
  •  Facilitate monthly emotional check-ins: The family that feels together heals together. Be sure to normalize emotions and discuss what emotional needs are, and how your child can have those various needs met in healthy ways. 
  • Lean into vulnerability: Practice having intentional and transparent conversations as a family. This is solid practice for subsequent adult relationships and exchanges your child will experience as they continually grow.
  •  Become familiar with care: Begin to get better acquainted with employee assistance programs (EAPs), types of medical insurance coverage, and area mental health providers who either take your insurance or can offer a sliding scale fee-for-service.

Simple and intentional conversations at home can be game-changers. One of the reasons mental health problems are so prevalent within the Black community is because for so long, we have been too afraid to talk about mental health. This Mother’s Day, mothers have the power to make an even bigger difference. As families and children salute and honor their queens, mothers can feel empowered by changing some of the conversations around the dinner table. Make this year’s celebration all the more special by speaking up and advocating for the fate of your loved one’s emotional health and stability. Mothers, you have the power to create a new normal at home by engaging the family in an honest and candid conversation that pertains to all things mental health. Emotional wellness for Black families will prove to be the gift that keeps on giving. Happy Mother’s Day to all!   

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013, October 31). CDC – Women’s Health – Mother’s Day. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/women/mothersday/index.htm.