May 1, 2024

What You Need to Know About Mental Health & Motherhood: A Q&A with Dr. Anita Phillips

an image with a woman / mother staring out the window reflecting on mental health and motherhood

May is a time that churches are especially thinking about moms in celebration of Mother’s Day.

Barna’s recent Motherhood Today report, produced in partnership with The MomCo by MOPS International, highlights both some of the ways moms would like the Church to serve them and the pressure and overwhelm they often experience in motherhood.

As Mother’s Day and Mental Health Awareness Month converge in May, you have a unique opportunity to support and uplift the moms in your life. In this Q&A, mental health expert and trauma therapist Dr. Anita Phillips offers insight on what this can look like.

For a deeper understanding of the state of motherhood and the powerful, untapped potential of Christian mothers, get your copy of Motherhood Today or subscribe to Barna Access Plus for digital access to this report and Barna’s entire research library.

Motherhood Today

The State of Moms and What It Means for the Church

Q: A strong majority of mothers says it is true “I usually find myself worrying about something” and “I feel tired most of the time.” What might it look like to help a mom face mental health challenges like anxiety and exhaustion?

A: Find some way to have support groups for moms, maybe providing opportunities for babysitting so moms can have breaks when they need it. [Give mothers] the opportunity to connect. Also, once a quarter, I encourage all churches to have a mental health fair. Bring in a few therapists from the community. Let them hang out in the lobby, give out their cards and maybe run a group for moms. Reach out into your community, pull in those resources.

From the pulpit, [it’s also] very important to present multiple models of motherhood and family life as acceptable. Often, the pastor is male and he and his wife become the model. But this can leave other moms and other families [outside of that model] feeling less than. … I would encourage pastors to make sure they are presenting and speaking about multiple [family] models as acceptable. I’m not talking about models outside of what scripture says. I’m talking about moms who work, moms who don’t work outside the home, moms who homeschool, moms in school and so on. Don’t let the model be so narrow that moms who don’t fit that model feel less godly.

Q: What are some unique challenges that moms of color face today that church leaders should be paying attention to?

A: Moms are facing similar challenges, [but] when you add being a mom of color, you add other issues that are unique to having a racialized experience in this country. Moms worry about their kids at school. But I’m a Black mom … Black boys are being expelled from preschool.There are research studies [on this]. There is bias in the system in places that we would not expect it. So, there is added pressure of wondering if my child is being treated fairly. Is my child safe?

For any church, any leadership, your key is always to listen. Listen to what people are saying they are experiencing, and always give people you are leading the gift of your belief. Not your skeptical response, not your requirement for data, not even a redirection. Don’t spiritually bypass people’s emotional experiences. Listen and then go to God. … We can always do the right thing when we listen, when we believe and when we seek God.

Q: More than one in four moms say they are not satisfied with their mental health. In addition to this, half of Christian moms feel the Church should support the mental well-being of mothers (the same number says the church should support a mom’s spiritual well-being). What’s your advice to pastors for talking about mental health from the pulpit?

A: It is not a difficult translation process from the language of scripture to the language of mental health. Beliefs, heart, mind, behavior, knowing, feeling, thinking, doing. These are the aspects of the human experience. And we see so much about this in scripture. [When] the Bible talks about the heart, that includes our emotional lives. When the Bible talks about the mind, that includes our thought lives. We’re talking about the same things.

Dig into scripture and look for those examples, [rather than giving] quick, cultural answers [like] “renew your mind and you’ll be fine.” “Take those thoughts captive and you’ll be fine.” [You can do these things] and still be tormented because it’s not just about what is going through your mind. … If we can encourage people to take care of themselves emotionally, they will be stronger mentally.

Her reminder to mothers:
Every year that ticks by in our children’s lives brings back to our remembrance that time in our own life. When we have unresolved [childhood] trauma, it can really surface whether consciously or subconsciously when our children hit the ages that we were when we experienced that trauma. If we haven’t brought it to the forefront, been open about it, done some of the work that we need to do to heal, [it’s] possible for that trauma to repeat generationally because we are not on top of it. I know that’s scary [to think about] because we moms are already trying to do everything right. Now, I have to worry about my childhood trauma coming back. But I truly believe the best gift we can give our children is our own healing.

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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