As a Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist, I get to spend much of my work day in conversations with many Moms. There certainly are some fathers who come to the appointments, but the overwhelming majority of appointments take place with Mom. I have been in full time clinical practice since 2002, and I have had the privilege of working with thousands of families. In my many interactions, I have come to the conclusion that there are an increasing number of women who are suffering from American Mom Syndrome (AMS).
The most significant symptom of AMS is a constant feeling of being overwhelmed and stressed out. There is always the sense that there just aren’t enough hours in the day. AMS presents as generalized anxiety; it is exhausting both mentally and physically. There tends to be lack of adequate sleep along with frequent feelings of fatigue. Some of you who are reading this know exactly what I am talking about. You frequently feel short-fused and irritable with your kids, spouse, the person driving next to you, your co-workers, your assistant, etc… You get the idea.
There aren’t enough hours in the day to get through your “to do” list. There is barely any time for meaningful conversations with friends. Trying to go out on a date night needs to be scheduled weeks in advance. AMS is present in many Moms who work out of the house, in the house, full time or part-time. This can be especially severe if you are a single-Mom. You always feel that other Moms are doing a better job than you. Everyone else seems to be able to get everything done without a problem. I actually believe that many women are really good at hiding their struggles due to shame and fear of being judged as inadequate. How do I know this? From the mothers I meet with. Many of you feel that you should be able to do it all. The reality of course is that this is a vicious set-up. There is only one of you and there are only 24 hours in the day.
Here is the reality: You can’t have well behaved kids who excel academically, who do dance, sports, art and music while you maintain a great career, great marriage, great body, great face, perfect house, great vacations and meaningful friendships. It is not possible so stop trying. It is not that you are not trying hard enough or that you are not smart enough or strong enough or whatever enough.
AMS is driven by unrealistic expectations both from you and from society at large. I know that in my own life and in my own family’s life that we can’t have it all. It is not possible for my wife to drive the three kids from activity to activity while managing household chores, food shopping, making dinner, going to the gym, helping with school work, dong laundry and working outside the home.
The good news about AMS is that there is a cure. It all starts with realizing that you can’t have it all and it is actually OK. Your kids will be just fine not getting to play every sport they want or not getting piano lessons. The pursuit of the so-called perfect life will make you miserable and resentful. Stop trying to keep up with everybody else. It is actually good to say no to good opportunities both for you and your kids. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you base your life on the pursuit of the so called perfect-life you will highly likely develop American Mom Syndrome.