Elaine Welteroth Spills the Tea on Mom Guilt & the Power of Saying ‘No'

Elaine Welteroth is an award-winning journalist, New York Times-bestselling author, Project Runway judge, and advice columnist for The Washington Post — but she’s also the mom of a newly-1-year-old son. And, like the majority of other moms, she is no stranger to the pressure mothers face to do it all, and do it well. If we don’t load every last obligation and request onto our already-heaping plates, we feel like we’re dropping the ball. Saying no can seem self-indulgent, a luxury that we’re sure a “good” mom would never ask for. We know that’s not really the case, though – so why is it still so hard to say no to the things that leave us feeling overextended and stretched thin?

“Guilt is what so often drives us to take on too much,” Welteroth told SheKnows, admitting that she’s no stranger to the struggle. “It’s very deeply ingrained — it’s almost surprising for my generation of millennial women who are so empowered in so many ways. I think we’re still inheriting these broken systems that don’t support us, and don’t allow us to thrive in motherhood.”

It’s a nearly-universal truth of being a mom: we feel we absolutely have to balance everything we’re asked to juggle (and even things we’re not), and that refusing any of that load — or asking for help managing it — somehow makes us less-than. Welteroth has not only experienced this herself, but has watched friends go through the same.

“Even the most independent, successful, ambitious women in my life become moms and lose themselves to feeling this insurmountable pressure of being perfect moms, perfect wives, and not being able to ask for help — not being able to delegate,” she says. This was one of the catalysts in her decision (and yes, it is a decision!) to ditch Mom Guilt for good.

“Mom guilt comes up internally and from external factors all day, every day. And I’ve just decided, like, I know what I went through to bring this baby into this world,” Welteroth told SheKnows. “And the last thing that I deserve after all of that is to guilt myself about any choices that I am making in the best interest of my child.” Does the guilt still bubble up? Of course it does; she just refuses to play into it, a valuable lesson we could all stand to learn.

“There’s a lot of unforeseen factors that play into your stress from day to day, being a working mom,” she says. “But one factor that I constantly say no to is mom guilt, because that’s something that I can control. I can control how I talk to myself, and I try to reframe throughout my day — to just, like, root for myself, to cheer myself on.”

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Naturally, when she got the chance to partner with Pure Leaf Tea for a special initiative that’s literally all about providing moms with the means to say no — without guilt — Welteroth couldn’t wait to jump on board.

“Moms show up like nobody else for so many of the issues in our world, and so many of the small things that it takes to run a household every single day,” Welteroth told SheKnows. “So this is one space in that dizzying kind of world where it’s like, ‘This is for you.’”

Pure Leaf’s “No” Grants award moms with money that they’re free to use on whatever allows them to say a much-needed no — or a yes to some valuable self-care. “This [grant] is for you to take a moment for yourself, whether that’s to get childcare, or a massage, a girls’ night out, or a date night,” Welteroth explains. “Maybe it’s to get a housekeeper. It’s really about whatever feels like support for you right now.”

We can listen to platitudes all day long about how moms should take care of themselves and be unafraid to say no, but all the empowerment in the world is meaningless without the support to back it up, which is what makes the Pure Leaf “No” Grants so special. Welteroth says it’s her favorite thing about the initiative, and why she wanted to be a part of it.

“[The grant] is about showing up for moms in tangible, actionable ways by giving them financial resources that will allow them to say no to all of the pressure, all of the responsibility that they’re carrying, and allow them to say yes to whatever fills their cup,” she says. “And I love that it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution that we’re presenting to the overwhelm. It’s about giving mothers the agency to decide for themselves how to spend this money in a way that will alleviate them, and really serve them and their family.”

There are so many systems working against moms that it can feel insurmountable at times, Welteroth tells SheKnows — whether it’s a lack of support in childcare, a lack of maternity and parental leave, or the unrealistic expectation that we should just be able to shut up and handle it.

“There are societal norms and culture that reinforces this inequity that places the greater burden on moms to carry the load,” she says. “For so many of us it’s generational … we’ve heard for generations messages that say, like, you’re not a good mom if you can’t manage it all. … There is this invisible tax of motherhood that we just don’t acknowledge as a culture.”

Welteroth was drawn to the “No” Grants initiative because, essentially, they put their money where their mouth is. “Privilege plays a really big role, which is why you can’t have this conversation without giving moms tangible, financial relief, you know, in order to alleviate moms of this overwhelm. It’s kind of like the ‘lean in’ messaging — without changing the systems that are in place that are that are unfair for women, you can’t just tell a woman to continue to lean in.”

This sort of initiative, she says, is powerful in two ways: first, providing actual, usable resources to help moms — but secondly, to shift the narrative and the culture around motherhood to make it okay to normalize saying no and relying on those around you when you need a hand.

“I only have this one baby right now,” Welteroth says, “But I already can see very clearly how support is the only way that I can navigate all that’s on my plate. And so I feel a responsibility to try to be a conduit for more women to have access to the support that that they deserve, that they may not otherwise have access to.”

Ultimately, she says, she wants her child to see her as a thriving, whole, fulfilled woman — and that means making space to take care of herself, too, the way all moms should be able to. Which, in turn, means accepting help without shame or stigma or feeling like it means we’re not succeeding at motherhood. On the contrary, actually; because what’s so terrible about having multiple loving, guiding influences in your child’s life — and a happier, less-stressed mom, to boot?

“I want [my son] to know the love and support from a village that is pouring into him,” Welteroth says. “I want him to see me at my best. And I know what allows me to be at my best is to continue doing the things that I love … whether that’s pursuing my career, and excelling in it, or being able to spend time with my friends, who inspire me and inspire the kind of mom I want to be.”

To apply for a Pure Leaf “No” Grant, click here.

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