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Perfect parenting expectation bad for mental health

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Posted: August 22, 2014 6:47 p.m.
Updated: August 24, 2014 11:59 p.m.

            Parenting takes on a new level of stress as "mommy bloggers" take over the Internet and Facebook becomes stocked with perfect pictures of parents with their children at the park.
    Many people are aware of the postpartum depression that inevitably occurs with many new mothers. The stress of caring for a baby and embracing a new stretch-marked body is enough to break anyone down.
    However, Carrie Wendel-Hummell, a University of Kansas researcher, believes postpartum depression isn't the only thing new mothers — and fathers — should be concerned about. She suggests the pressures to be a perfect parent are affecting the mental health of parents.
    Wendel-Hummell studied the health disorders that come with the perinatal phase of a mother's life. Perinatal is a term that defines the time before, during and after the birth of a child. During this time, parents must pay particular attention to their mental health. In Wendel-Hummell's study, she conducted interviews with 30 new mothers and 17 new fathers. Most of the interviewees were from Kansas and Missouri. Their incomes varied from low to middle class, and each candidate reported having issues with a variety of the following symptoms: postpartum depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosis, and bi-polar disorder.
    The goal of the study was to determine the cause of postpartum depression in new mothers. The former belief held that mothers changed solely because of the hormones in their body that occurred during pregnancy. However, Wendel-Hummell believes otherwise following completion of the study.
    Pregnancy brings change and stress to parents' lives. She suggested this as the cause of postpartum depression more so than the hormones that come with pregnancy.
    According to the American Sociological Association, "Distressed mothers and fathers in the interviews generally voiced concerns about social problems, including cultural expectations of parenting, relationship stress, family-work balance issues, and struggles with poverty."
    The low-income parents described their concern to provide food and shelter for their new baby. The study also pointed out that when low-income parents use Medicaid to provide for their child, they are cut off after a post birth appointment for the child. Therefore, the therapy to cope with postpartum depression becomes impossible for low-income parents.
    Middle-class parents were more likely to put vast amounts of pressure on themselves to attain a level of perfect parenthood, "Middle-class mothers often try to do everything to balance work and home life, and fathers are increasingly attempting to do the same," Wendel-Hummell said. "This pressure can exacerbate mental health conditions. If everything is not perfect, they feel like failures — and mothers tend to internalize that guilt." The pressure from people who influence middle-class parents seems to be too much for the parents' mental health.
    In addition, the middle-class fathers tended to stress when they worked in environments that didn't have family friendly leave policies. Fathers typically aren't getting any sympathy when it comes to having a new baby in the family. The mother and the baby receive most of the care and concern. Because of this, fathers don't have the opportunity to express their concerns and stresses involving the baby.
    According to the American Sociological Association, "Wendel-Hummell said focusing on implementing social policies (e.g paid maternity and paternity leave, sick pay, and accessible health care coverage) that address the mental health challenges many new parents face is essential. She also emphasizes the need to adjust the cultural expectations around parenting, including reducing pressures to be the perfect parent who can do everything on his or her own, and encouraging parents to accept support from family, friends, and their community."

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