On social media, mothers can occupy two completely different worlds.
One is a glossy, curated land filled with sweet photos and silly stories, childhood accomplishments and adolescent milestones. This is the highlight reel of motherhood.
We all know real life is messier than it appears on Instagram or Facebook. But moms raising neurotypical children, or ones without a mental health diagnosis, may not even know about the other world.
It's a place with countless parenting groups where the conversation is unfiltered and often desperate. The stories here are confessions of impending failures, repeated meltdowns and children whose behaviors are driving parents to the brink.
During the past year, I became increasingly concerned about the deteriorating mental health of children and young adults. I joined a few Facebook groups for parents of children who were struggling -- in school, in social relationships, at home. Many of these private groups are specifically created for parents of children with ADHD, anxiety, depression or a combination of issues that can be hard to diagnose and even harder to treat.
It was in these virtual communities that mothers -- largely strangers to one another -- revealed a side of motherhood largely unseen and rarely discussed among friends.
"I feel helpless and hopeless."
"Please help. I'm desperate."
"I'm just exhausted."
"I'm failing my child."
When your kid's difficult behavior is linked to a diagnosis that can't be detected by a scan or a blood test, it can feel like the world is judging you as a terrible parent. Why is your child missing so many assignments and failing classes? Why is your child acting out? Why is your child so withdrawn? Angry? Negative? Unmotivated?
It's not for the parents' lack of caring, effort or discipline.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders among children in the U.S., with an estimated 6 million American children affected. The pandemic has been brutal on these children and their families, along with those who already deal with other mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression. The lack of structure and in-person resources led many parents to seek support online from those in the same trenches. It's easier for parents to be vulnerable and honest when they're not afraid of being judged.
Every day, I have read posts from mothers bewildered about how to help their child accomplish tasks that seem to come so easily to other children. The other parents responding to these posts often suggest helpful books; they share articles and videos; they swap tips on medicines and on dealing with schools and doctors.
But perhaps just as valuable is the empathy offered. For those dealing with high levels of conflict with their children -- frequent outbursts, fighting, disobedience and neglected homework or chores -- that grace can be a lifesaver.
I've thought a lot about the appreciation we show mothers on the holiday dedicated to them. The pictures and testimonials that fill our social feeds are from the highlight reel.
But let's take a moment to also appreciate the moms whose children may not be able to appreciate them yet.
The mothers who cry at night or in their cars because they are so overwhelmed. The mothers who despair because they can't get their children to succeed the way schools expect them to. The mothers who are heartbroken by their child's loneliness or emotional turmoil. The mothers who love their child, but don't like their behavior or attitude. The mothers who worry constantly about whether their kids will "make it" and grow into independent, happy adults.
I want to say to those mothers: You are not failing. You are trying to navigate a situation that is hard even in normal circumstances, let alone in a global pandemic.
You are trying your best.
And it is enough.