I often hear the following from new moms I work with: “No one told me how hard motherhood would be. Why didn’t someone tell me?” The tone is often indignant and occasionally angry. “What was I thinking?” might actually better capture many new mothers’ (and fathers‘) sentiments in the days following childbirth. These thoughts are common for any woman who is transitioning to the role of motherhood for the first time.
Somehow, we women have been birthing and raising children for centuries. We figure out a way to make it work. We learn how to be mothers from our children, from our extended family, culture, and society at large. But it is not an easy road, especially initially.
If we are raised to believe that women like June Cleaver, Carol Brady, and Claire Huxtable are the standard, then, boy are we setting the bar unrealistically high. Television programs, movies, and other cultural influences inform women as very young girls how the role of motherhood should look. Little girls dream of motherhood the moment they begin dramatic play with dolls, dressing and changing the baby’s clothes, rocking the doll, feeding her a bottle, etc. Those of you born in the 1970s might remember Baby Alive, that horrendous doll that made this gawd-awful motorized chewing sound reminiscent of The Exorcist when you pushed it’s chin to “eat” the powdered baby food. Of course the meal was then promptly expelled in its poopy diaper, only to have the diaper changed. Rinse. Repeat. Needless to say, that was my absolute favorite doll.sleep deprivation or projectile bowel movements. We romanticize and idealize this notion of a Hallmark-card image of a young mother joining hands with her children in a sunny meadow, wind blowing through her long hair, finding complete bliss and enlightenment in being mother. Think of the commercials that depict women looking joyful while wiping their sick children’s noses with Kleenex and simultaneously removing stains from a baseball uniform. She does it with ease, with a smile, in ironed clothing, and nary a complaint. Blissful. Motherhood. Yeah, right.
Believe me, I am not one to bash motherhood. In fact, my website is called EmbraceMotherhood.com. On that road to motherhood, however, I experienced some significant challenges that awakened me to the realization that being a mom wasn’t going to be that Hallmark-card image. These hurdles included infertility, perinatal loss, and postpartum depression. In addition, I have always worked in some capacity and somehow managed to do the juggle dance, balancing career with family, and not always with ease. These are things that happen to real women. Not Hallmark-card women. The challenges are what shaped me into who I am today. I am grateful for the personal growth that I would not have experienced any other way. Despite those bumps in the road, I can safely say I am truly an advocate of motherhood. Being a mom is simultaneously the most rewarding, challenging, difficult, fulfilling, and heart-expanding job I could ever imagine. Motherhood truly is a beautiful thing.
That being said, I am also often the first person to be honest with clients, friends, and family about how challenging motherhood can be. We do not do women any favors by painting images of motherhood as being perfect. I am reminded of one woman I worked with who was simultaneously dealing with a colicky infant, breastfeeding challenges, and postpartum depression. She recounted when her neighbor came by and asked her, “Don’t you just love motherhood? Isn’t it the greatest thing?” My client answered the door, covered in spit-up, having been up for three nights in a row, with an infant screaming in the background. Clearly, motherhood didn’t feel like “the greatest thing” to her at that moment.
Somehow in our society, we have set the bar so high for what a mother should look like, we have lost touch with what is really important—that of being a “good-enough” mom.
D.W. Winnicott was a child development/attachment theorist who coined the term “good-enough mothering.” He discussed how women do not have to be perfect to be great moms. In fact, children do just fine with moms who are “good enough.” We, as women, put so much pressure on ourselves to be all things to our children, that we are losing sight of enjoying the simple aspects of mothering. I have seen mothers get caught up on purchasing just the right flash cards for their child so that Junior can become bilingual by age three. Others over-program their youngsters in so many extracurricular activities (Baby Sign Language, Toddler Gourmet Cooking with Mommy, Let’s Paint Like Van Gogh! to name a few) so that, God forbid, their child misses out on an opportunity for synaptic expansion. What ever happened to getting on the floor and building a tower of blocks with our kids?
I am the first to admit I am also that woman. I am human. I have dealt with the guilt of juggling work and family and attempting to organize my household when I felt frazzled. I remember comparing myself to Suzy Q who sashayed down the street with her Buddha-peaceful baby who could sit for hours on end pondering a bumble-bee. I wondered why on earth my sons wouldn’t sit still for a nano-second. I am not perfect, but I embrace that imperfection; I laugh at it. My sons laugh at it. It’s taken me ten years and two sons to get to where I know it is okay to be “good enough” at this thing called motherhood. I learn as I go. My sons are my greatest teachers.
My wish for all new moms is to have a strong internal sense of being “good enough” for their child(ren), to learn from mistakes (there are many), and to be open to growing with their child(ren). Lose the comparisons and perfectionism and surround yourselves with other women who are authentic and honest about the challenges and joys of motherhood. Celebrate joyful moments. Know that the very difficult first few months pass in the wink of an eye (even though it doesn’t feel like it when you are there). It gets easier and much more rewarding as baby grows into a little person and begins to return that love back to you—first with gazing and smiling, then cooing, then touch and hugs, and eventually, “I love you, Mom.” It’s the best feeling in the world. And it’s worth all the challenges that accompany motherhood, believe me.
“I figure if the kids are alive at the end of the day, I’ve done my job.” Roseanne Barr
Some Helpful Resources:
Boy do I wish the following resources were available ten years ago when I had my first child. Please check out the following wonderful resources for moms wishing to get in touch with their authentic/non-competitive side, and get some validation for being “real” and “good enough” at mothering.
- www.realmomexperts.com. Psychologists Anne Dunnewold and Diane Sanford, PhD have created a fantastic website dedicated to self-care tips for mothers, banishing guilt/perfectionism, and truly being “real.” You can subscribe to daily self-care tips to nurture your inner mama.
- Life Will Never Be the Same: The Real Mom’s Postpartum Survival Guidem, by Ann Dunnewold, PhD and Diane Sanford, PhD—outstanding, honest book preparing moms for what motherhood is all about.
- Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juicebox: Cut Yourself Some Slack (and Still Raise Great Kids) in the Age of Extreme Parenting, by Ann Dunnewold, PhD—I love this book. So validating and entertaining.
- Journey to Parenthood, by Diana Lynn Barnes and Leigh G. Balber—Excellent resource for understanding the developmental unfolding of becoming a parent and all the emotional changes associated with this milestone.
- Mothering the New Mother: Women’s Feelings and Needs After Childbirth: A Support and Resource Guid,e by Sally Placksin. We need to nurture the nurturer. This book is all about that. Great baby shower gift.
- www.mommytracked.com. (Mommy Tacked: Managing the Chaos of Modern Motherhood website) for moms working outside the home, articles written with great humor on the “juggle dance.”
- www.workingmother.com. Working Mother Magazine—also for moms working outside the home.
For information and support on postpartum depression/anxiety, please see:
- www.postpartumprogress.com. (Postpartum Progress) Choc full of information and an inspirational Daily Hope for those recovering.
- www.postpartum.net. (Postpartum Support International) The largest nonprofit in the world dedicated to perinatal mood/anxiety disorders. Please read for the latest news, research, legislative updates, online and for local support. It is an excellent resource.
© Copyright 2011 by Andrea Schneider, LCSW. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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