Transcriber: Eunice Tan Reviewer: Tanya Cushman
About a year ago, as I was finishing my research on motherhood,
I came across "The Feminine Mystique,"
written by Betty Friedan in 1963.
The title of the first chapter is "The Problem That Has No Name."
As I read through the pages,
I felt my heart bursting.
I thought to myself,
"Every mom needs to know what's in these pages."
It helps give meaning to where moms were back then
and where we still are today.
Betty Friedan was able to interview these mothers,
who shared with her that they felt unfulfilled,
and ashamed to admit that they felt lost in the midst of motherhood.
She called this "the problem that has no name."
The spread into suburbia,
with its green lawns and large corner lots,
was isolating for moms.
Their worries over smallpox and polio
were replaced by depression and alcoholism.
such as "mother's little helper,"
promised relief from boredom, unhappiness, and anxiety.
Sure, we've come a long way since the 1950s.
But the feeling of loneliness and lack of fulfillment
is still the same today.
In my practice as a child and family therapist,
I have heard a familiar story over and over:
mothers who feel exhausted,
and lonely in their lives.
I knew that I could relate to feeling exhausted and overwhelmed,
but I didn't think that loneliness applied to me.
Or did it?
I thought to myself,
"I'm still best friends with people from childhood,
I have a loving and supportive husband,
I volunteer in my kids' schools and in our community,
and my calendar is booked with dinners and parties."
So I thought I was doing okay.
Until one day, something happened that changed all of that.
A few years ago, after being in excruciating pain for two days,
I drove myself to the ER.
Once I was examined,
I was immediately admitted into a private room,
where I turned the TV on and settled in
for what I figured was going to be a long night.
And despite the fact that I was in a lot of pain,
I was actually quite content.
I was laying in one of those reclining hospital beds,
I had nurses coming in and checking on me,
I had a warm hospital blanket on,
and I was watching Sunday Night Football.
I had no kids to put down,
no dishes to unload,
and no laundry to fold.
It was just me, alone, in a room.
And then I had a light-bulb moment.
"Oh, I've heard about this before.
This is what people are talking about."
I was having a hospital fantasy!
A real-life hospital fantasy.
And it felt really good.
But after I found out that I was having a kidney stone attack,
the novelty did wear off.
And I thought to myself,
besides my family,
who could I call?
Who could I call right now
to simply say, "I am in the hospital.
I don't need anything from you -
no meals, no driving kids around.
I just thought that you'd want to know"?
And in that moment, I realized
that I was just as disconnected from my community
as the mothers I see in my practice.
I had gotten so busy doing what all of us do:
I moved around,
raising kids and advancing my career.
I was living my life in 60-minute increments -
going from school to soccer, home, and back to work.
I was feeling lonely,
and I didn't even know it.
50 years later, the problem that has no name is still with us.
It shows itself differently, but it's still the same problem.
Today, we have the rabbit hole of social media
that shows what all the other mommies are doing better than us.
If we're a working mom, we feel guilty.
And if we're a stay-at-home mom,
we feel judged.
We second-guess and stress over all the parenting decisions that we make.
And all too often, we feel like failures and frauds.
Somewhere in our frantic and overscheduled lives,
we might have a husband,
with all of his needs and demands as well.
Most of us somehow manage to maintain a career.
Back in the '50s and '60s,
mothers thought if only they could have a career,
life would be good.
And earning our own money and having our own careers
has been good.
But the problem that has no name remains.
If you're relating to any of this, you are not alone.
I started researching and asking the tough questions.
I found that since the 1970s,
women have been reporting less life satisfaction than men.
I asked myself, "Why is this?"
As I dug deep, one thing became clear:
women need closeness with other human beings every day.
And this is not the same as casual connections.
We are spending upwards of 30 hours a week online,
with at least one hour a day on Facebook.
Yet I found that over the past 40 years, our friendship networks have shrunk.
We move around, on average, 11 times throughout our lifetime.
And shuttling kids around
has caused moms to spend more time in their cars
rather than socializing with others.
And did you know
that social isolation is hazardous to our physical health as well?
One university study showed that patients were 50% more likely to survive disease
if they had close friendships.
And social isolation and the feeling of loneliness
is a major health issue that increases your risk of death,
more so than smoking or obesity.
So what do we do?
Do we say that this is the problem that has no name
and therefore has no solution?
I don't think so.
In researching this topic over the last several years,
I've come to think that if each one of the clients that I see in my practice
had a best friend,
my practice might be cut in half.
We need to spend some of those hours that we're online
with a female friend instead.
As I've shared with you today, I wasn't immune either.
So now, I reach out to others more.
And even when I'm tired and I don't want to go out,
I still meet that friend out.
And we share our stories
because collective stories create community.
And I've banned being busy -
I won't let "busy" build walls that keep me apart from other people.
in our small towns or our large cities,
we need to be a part of eliminating this problem.
So let's start by calling a friend anytime.
And when we kiss our kids goodnight
and we're tired,
let's still call a friend,
even if just to say,
"How was your day?"
Let's get together with a friend,
reach out to an old friend,
make a new friend,
resolve issues with people from the past.
As I think about the importance of friendship for all of us,
and especially in my own life,
I'm reminded of this beautiful line
said by Susan Sarandon in the movie "Shall We Dance?"
And it goes something like,
"We all need a witness.
There are a billion people on the planet,
so what does any one life really mean?"
When you have a close friend, you're saying,
"Your life will not go unnoticed,
because I will notice it.
Your life will not go unwitnessed,
because I will be your witness."
Moms of all ages and all stages:
this problem has been around for at least 50 years,
and it's up to each and every one of us
to make sure it's not around for the next 50 years.