Mothers as care takers and care givers are a neglected lot. As health managers of the family their own health is at risk. Most mothers put the concerns of the family members on top priority and consider themselves as secondary nobodies. Renuka’s anxiety levels shot up as her husband suffered his first heart attack. She put herself in top drive taking care of his dietary and life style requirements and ultimately suffered herself by acquiring stress induced ailments. She forgot herself and her own needs as she continued to care for him much beyond the sickness. He was fit and fine but she had fallen ill worrying about him constantly. She also felt pangs of guilt when people questioned her about his heart and what caused it. Was she not a good wife and a good health manager she often questioned herself?
Nalini was already exhausted caring for one hyperactive child, her eldest son. Her second child who was nearing two years of age also showed signs of hyperactivity as he had started to walk and run around. She was tired of cooking, cleaning, organising and disciplining the two children. She could not admit to herself and her husband that she was actually stressed out with both the kids and was feeling like a failure in mothering. She had begun to doubt her own capabilities as she was often reprimanded by her husband and her in-laws for mismanaging the kids and failing to control them. Nobody in the family seemed to understand her dilemmas and blamed her instead for the bad behaviour of her kids. They were becoming a social embarrassment as well as people would notice their mischievous conduct. She had to curtail her social visits to her friend’s homes. Until, one day, she was brought for psychological therapy for moderate levels of anxiety and depression. She had fallen ill due to the stress of handling not one but two hyperactive boys.
Mitali’s position is unique indeed. She has a divorced daughter who has come to live with her with her son and she already has a mother-in-law who is old and bed-ridden with multiple ailments. Her husband too has mild health problems and needs dietary precautions. She herself is undergoing the menopausal phase. Her day begins by worrying for everyone’s health as she finds herself thinking and planning for everyone’s daily diet, she tries hard to provide them some variety in food with all the constraints of low fat low sugar low salt specifications! Of course everyone is quick to pounce on her for the monotonous and hence tasteless meal. She gets a feeling of being inadequate and incompetent however hard she works. It’s a thankless job she decides many times but continues the grind. There is no way out of the deadly situation. She herself has forgotten what tasty food is as she eats whatever is left over and in whatever time she gets.
Caring for the spouse, the children and the old and planning and organizing their daily needs are a challenge far superior to any routine office job. Mothers in their effort to perform up to a particular standard and live up to the family’s expectations can induce silent stress that can hurt her. The symptoms of stress can go unnoticed or are often ignored as menopausal blues or typical women’s moods but the truth is otherwise. Women either internalise the stress by feeling some sort of anxiety and depression, low enthusiasm, loss of sleep or excessive sleep, losing weight or gaining weight and becoming obese etc. The women who externalize their stress become the typical nagging women, having high degrees of irritability, shouting and being critical of even small actions of the family members etc. All these mental signs of stress would eventually lead to physical symptoms and ailments which we politely call ‘lifestyle’ diseases.
Mothers should not try to be supermoms and should learn to balance out their own priorities along with the needs of the family. Mothers must become aware of the specific sources of her stress and its symptoms and work towards alleviating it. She must learn to relax and care for herself too. Of course this may sound easier than it can be done. But it is also an imperative for all of us as part of the family. The members should be aware of the needs of the mother too and ask her about her health and welfare. We as sensitive humans should care for the one person who constantly cares for us all. After all there are better ways of commemorating ‘Mothers Day’ than just sending her goody messages and flowers!
Published in The Hitavada – Womens World – 19 May 2010