Traditional Family Roles Contribute to Maternal Isolation and Depression

I recently read Julie M. Smith’s article on “The Anthropology of Providing and Nurturing.” She challenges the notion of a “traditional family” consisting of a father who works and a mother who stays home to nurture the children. As an anthropologist, she examines the roles historically taken by each parent.

What’s more, she discusses the risk to maternal mental health in continuing this model. She writes:

“It’s unusual cross-culturally and historically for mothers to go it alone in the isolation of a single-family household while dad goes off to work. It’s very difficult to figure out how to be a mother for the first time, without someone more experienced there to coach you along the way and give you lots of breaks. The isolation and the overwhelm contribute to maternal depression rates. “

The whole article is definitely worth a read. Find it here.

My two cents? If a mother is breastfeeding, then it is recommended she be home, primarily care taking, at least for the initial months. The cost of living is high in the United States, and Paid Family Leave is little to none (don’t get me started on that one!), so often the spouse/partner is working soon after a baby is born. The postpartum stage is challenging on so many levels. So how could isolation away from her primary support person NOT make things worse?

What are remedies for maternal isolation and depression?



  • New mom and breastfeeding support groups
  • Playdates
  • Finding a “mama tribe”
  • Therapy
  • Exercise groups/classes that involve/include babies
  • Online support

What suggestions do you have for decreasing isolation for new moms? Please leave them in the comments.





Image credit: Urbanist


About the Author:

Abigail Burd, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist practicing in San Diego. (CA lic #LCS26867.) Specialties include maternal mental health, parenting, addiction, depression/anxiety and personal growth. Abby is experienced providing counseling to others in the helping fields, college students, and graduate students.


  1. Joann Woolley February 8, 2014 at 8:49 pm - Reply

    Hiring a postpartum doula if you don’t have family in close living proximity.
    Develop a mantra that reminds you of how important self care is – and then follow it.
    Journaling or writing a blog or joining a mom community online – sometimes having anonymity in our new-to-us journey into motherhood can feel more safe.

    • abigail February 8, 2014 at 9:50 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much for contributing these suggestions, Joann.

  2. Elena Sullivan February 10, 2014 at 7:28 am - Reply

    Playdates, mama friends & exercise were definitely my saving graces after I had my first daughter…

    • abigail February 13, 2014 at 11:09 am - Reply

      For me, too, Elena.

  3. Joann Woolley February 10, 2014 at 8:45 pm - Reply

    OH and making it a point to get outside twice a day – even if one of those times is just to sit on the front stoop for some fresh air… the outdoors are so great at centering us. Not every outing has to be a big deal – so many of our “walks” were really just 10 minute strolls on our loop that was maybe 1/4 mile if that.

    I know some might laugh at this one, but I’m gonna say it anyways…. shower. Water has a great way of relaxing us and I think plenty of us experienced moms knows when we look back that things would not have gone awry if we had had a shower that day. Some moms make sure to get up a little earlier than baby before hubby leaves for work to make this happen – others make the time that dad gets home from work their time to hop in the shower. It truly is remarkable what a different person you feel like if you miss showering for 2 days…. and soon-to-be-moms let me just say it can all of a sudden be 3 days before you realize “Holy crap, when is the last time I showered?”

    • abigail February 13, 2014 at 11:11 am - Reply

      I had to laugh, Joann, because I have so much more appreciation for a shower now than I did before having kids.

  4. DiapersnHeels February 11, 2014 at 8:34 am - Reply

    Definitely getting out of the house and relying on friends helped a great deal.

    • abigail February 13, 2014 at 11:15 am - Reply

      Diapersnheels, regarding relying on friends… I couldn’t agree more. In modern American culture, there is so much value placed on self-reliance. I would love to empower pregnant women to proactively ask for exactly what they need… is it a hot meal? To have someone pick up older children? Help cleaning the house??

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