Originally Posted in A Liberated Heart - Birth Services Blog on September 24, 2018. Original title: "Five Strategies for Postpartum, from Village Therapy"
So, often in my practice I hear moms tell me they feel like they are falling short in their role as mothers. They share that they aren’t feeling the way they are supposed to feel about motherhood and even about their baby. Moms tell me that unlike other moms on their social media feed who seem to truly be exuding confidence and joy, they don’t feel that way and therefore they must not be cut out for this mom gig.
The comparison trap and the expectations of what motherhood should feel like, often get in the way of women being able to enjoy their experience or at the very least accept it for what it is. We forget that the first year of our little one’s life, is also the year a mother is born. While your baby grows up and reaches new developmental milestones, so do you. Yet we live in a society where the only appropriate cultural narrative is that we should “enjoy every damn minute of motherhood”. So when we don’t - because truly no mother does - we tell ourselves stories about what that must mean.
I often talk with new moms about how motherhood is not unlike other jobs they have had. Any given work week might have a couple of great days, a couple average ones, and a few that were not good at all. But unlike motherhood, when you have a bad day at the office, usually you don’t start telling yourself stories like, “I am an awful employee”, “Why would I have a bad day, this is a good job, I must not be cut out for this”, or “I am the only employee that seems to be having bad days”. Sadly, when we have a bad day at home with our littles, we are far too quick to equate that to our own faults as a mother. We don’t chalk it up to a hard day at a demanding job, we start to tell ourselves stories about what kind of mother might hate being home with her kids, or want to nap instead of play Lego, or want to get in the car and drive away from it all. Then comes the shame. I have found in working with moms, the sooner we come to accept that some days will be good, some average, and some will be downright awful, the more easily we roll through the hard days.
Karen Kleiman, one of the leading experts in the area of maternal mental health hit the nail on the head when she wrote
“the prevailing notion that mothers should endlessly radiate joy, paradoxically, keeps them feeling sick, longer”.
As a culture, I think we have started to challenge the image of beauty that is presented in mainstream media. We realize that the women on magazine covers have been digitally edited and most women have come to understand that what is presented to us is not a realistic version of what we should aspire to. We need to begin challenging the myths of motherhood that are also perpetuated in our culture.
So, what can we do? Here are a few ideas about how women can start to settle into their new roles without self-judgment, comparison and shame.
1. Stop comparing your real-life challenges to another mom’s highlight reel
It might mean you have to take a break from social media for a while. Or maybe, go look at your own feed. Are you posting the picture of you crying in the shower because you are so utterly exhausted you don’t know how you’ll get through this day? Probably not. My guess is your grid also presents a pretty polished picture of motherhood. It’s not that it is fake, it just isn’t the whole picture.
2. Recognize and then ditch the shoulds
Anytime you hear yourself thinking or saying, “I should”, really stop to question it. Why should you? Who said you should? What if you didn’t? There is so much pressure on new moms to do everything the right way. Whether it’s how you feed your baby, where your baby sleeps, or how you discipline your toddler, there are always several camps you can align with. But the only right way is the way that works for YOU and your family. So, give yourself permission to parent in your own way. After all, no one really knows what they are doing, we are all winging it.
3. Know that it is totally okay, and actually really normal, not to love every minute of motherhood
Parenting is hard. Really hard sometimes. Not every stage will be your favourite. That’s okay. You don’t need to feel guilty that you want a break or that sometimes being a parent is such a drain you wonder why you ever chose this life. Every single mother feels like this at some point or another. It is hard work. It entails so much sacrifice. Being home with a baby is sometimes really lonely and really boring. Give yourself permission to love the parts you love and not like some of the other bits that come with the job. It doesn’t mean anything about the kind of mom that you are.
4. Take self-care seriously. It is not selfish, it is a necessity
Get out of your house. Connect with people that make you feel good. Push yourself to meet with other moms; even if they aren’t going to be your besties, they will still get what you are going through. Hang out with people who are confident enough to be real about their struggles. No one needs, or needs to be, the mom friend who is silently struggling but presenting the perfect image. Friends like this can make you feel judged and being this person will leave you feeling trapped and isolated. Trust me, your mom friends have been where you have been, so let’s all be real with one another. Rely on your support system. If someone offers to help, say yes. Think about self-care in a holistic way (nutrition, hydration, exercise, sleep, time for yourself). Sometimes, self-care is treating yourself to a pedicure or massage, sometimes it is going to bed early or asking for help.
5. Lastly, if it all feels like too much, seek professional support.
We are a generation of women trying to raise our babies alone. Years ago, women had their mothers, aunts, cousins, and sisters living with them or very nearby. Women weren’t alone to figure out how to parent. We had a village of support. Today, women feel most alone at a time when they have never needed more support. If you are feeling depressed, anxious, angry, or suicidal, you are not alone. Seek professional support. You can feel well again. Ask your doula, midwife or doctor for support. They can direct you to the most appropriate service.
Written by: Chelsea Smyth, MSW, RSW owner and therapist at Village Therapy