Tips to Support the Mothers in Your Life Year-Round

Although the mothers in your life probably appreciate cards and flowers on that one special day in May, supporting them really should be a year-round effort. Instead of a day’s worth of presents, it’s better to offer consistent, ongoing assistance and affirmation to the moms you know.

We spoke with Margo Nathan, MD, of the UNC Center for Women’s Mood Disorders about ways that partners, friends and family members can help mothers.

How to Support Moms

Motherhood is a huge responsibility, and the easiest way to support a mom is to ask if there is something you can do to make it a little easier.

“Moms juggle a lot of roles and have a lot of demands placed on them,” Dr. Nathan says. “It can be hard to ask for support, so it’s important to reach out and see what moms need.”

Those needs will vary based on a mom’s situation and stage of motherhood, but because our society often expects mothers to do it all, it can be difficult for them to articulate what would lighten the load.

“Ask and give the mom time to reflect on routines to identify times when they may need extra help,” Dr. Nathan says. “Be sure to follow up to get their thoughts if you’ve said you’re willing to support them.”

There is always something that can be done to support parents, but if a mom seems stumped, Dr. Nathan recommends freeing them up to do basic self-care, such as getting sleep or eating a meal uninterrupted, or to pursue restorative activities, such as walking with a friend or reading a book.

Besides offering physical help, give them encouragement.

“Express gratitude for all the work moms are doing,” Dr. Nathan says. “Let moms know that you appreciate them, see them and validate them.”

Ways to Support Moms at Any Age

Supporting a mother isn’t a one-and-done gesture. Be sure to connect with the moms in your life regularly, especially as their situations change.

“We need to think about offering support, validation and gratitude with frequency,” Dr. Nathan says. “It has to be an ongoing discussion across the lifespan.”

With that in mind, here are some things to consider for moms at different stages of life:

How to Support Expecting and New Moms

Helping a mom can start before the child arrives: As you congratulate them on expecting, let them know that you’re there and available to support them as they get ready for the baby.

New moms often need a helping hand so that they can rest in the postpartum period. Providing a meal, taking the family dog for a walk or holding the baby so mom can shower are all practical ways to support someone adjusting to parenthood.

Also, look after mom’s mental health; 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression.

“Acknowledge it’s a challenging time and be a listening ear,” Dr. Nathan says. “If a person is struggling, approach them in a nonjudgmental way and tell them these issues can be treated so they feel better. If they’re willing, you could help facilitate care by making an appointment with their primary care provider or helping to get a referral to a specialist.”

How to Support Moms of School-Age Children

People may be eager to help with a new baby and then assume that the mom has everything figured out by the time the child goes to school. Don’t let your support stop just because a mom has a few years of experience.

As kids go to school, moms might need help to focus on career goals or to re-establish social ties that broke during the newborn and toddler years.

“Moms’ needs change,” Dr. Nathan says. “At this point, you could check in and see if they need help with school drop-offs or if you can facilitate time for more social connection.”

Although new moms get plenty of advice on caring for newborns and toddlers, they may need to talk through issues that can happen during the school years, from learning challenges to bullying. Offering a sounding board can be welcome, even if you can’t fix a situation.

“Moms need to feel heard and validated,” Dr. Nathan says. “Try to understand what they’re saying and reflect it back.”

As children grow, they have opportunities to be involved in support, too.

“If a mom has expressed that cleaning up after dinner is important, then a partner could involve the entire family in that task, if it’s developmentally appropriate for that age range,” Dr. Nathan says.

Partners can also express their appreciation for the mother of the family in front of their children. Simple words of affirmation and appreciation teach children about expressing gratitude on their own.

How to Support Moms of Older Kids

A mom’s job is never done. Just because children go to college, find jobs or live on their own doesn’t mean a mother won’t have concerns or need support.

“There may not be the day-to-day worries, but that change in routine can be a stressor for some,” Dr. Nathan says. “It’s helpful to acknowledge that it’s a big change and see how it’s going. Sometimes the initial shift is OK, but that change sits heavier down the line.”

A mom with older kids may be dealing with the effects of perimenopause and menopause, making it another crucial stage to ask about mental health. This is also a time when many moms are faced with the concerns of aging parents and other family members alongside those of their newly adult children.

“Always see where the stress is, and provide ongoing ways to be helpful,” Dr. Nathan says.

Acknowledging Nontraditional Moms and Mother Figures

As you consider the moms in your life, remember that it’s not just biological mothers who may need support. Consider foster mothers, stepmoms and mother figures, too.

“There are lots of ways to step into this role,” Dr. Nathan says. “Everyone needs to be seen and heard to feel supported. It’s important to validate and acknowledge that it’s not always easy and to find out how things are going.”

Moms, if you have concerns about your physical or mental health, talk to your doctor. Need a doctor? Find one near you.