Surveys of new mothers have shown that between 50-70% felt guilt and shame related to the pressures of being the mother they were expected (or expected themselves) to be. In fact, a quick Google search will show the multitude of opinions on the best way to give birth, to feed and to care for your baby.
The truth is, the answers to none of these questions should be viewed as absolutes. But with the constant exposure to be what is expected of us as mothers, it’s very easy to start believing that there actually is a “right” way – and that you’re failing at it. The overexposure to the myths and expectations can make a new mom spiral into feelings of self-doubt, insecurity and overwhelm.
Through Mommy-SOS, it is one of my goals to help bring light to the common myths of motherhood. As you read the myths below, take a moment to review them yourself - and find what resonates for you. Let’s challenge the myths of the good mom, remove the guilt and enjoy motherhood in our own unique ways.
A good mother feels an instant bond with her baby.
It’s an unspoken truth, but it often takes some time to feel connected to your baby. It’s normal and it’s OK. This can be especially true for mothers who had a traumatic birth experience or for those whose baby went directly to the NICU after birth. Research has shown that feeding, caring for and cuddling your baby (essentially, "fake it till you make it") can help that bond develop over time. So, if you aren't feeling as bonded as you would like - or just having trouble bonding in general - know that all is not lost. There is plenty of time to love of your child. The important thing to remember is that you are not alone. There is nothing to be ashamed of – the bonding will come in time.
A good mother instinctively knows how to care for her baby.
Everyone likes to say babies don’t come with a manual (though in France they actually do!), but then mothers feel expected to know exactly what to do all the time. For most of us, that’s impossible. The majority of mothers I know and have worked with are constantly doubting themselves (again, the myths!) and asking their friends, family and Google what to do. The expectation that a mom will know what each of your baby’s cries means - or how to nurture your baby right from the start - is entirely misleading. It often takes time for a mom and baby to get to know each other, but even as they grow it's likely you won't always know the "right" answer. It happens to everyone - even maternal wellness specialists like myself! I consider myself an intuitive person and I recently completely missed the mark when my daughter was diagnosed with walking pneumonia. I honestly thought it was just another cough and didn't take her in at first. After she was diagnosed, the guilt ensued...until my support network reminded me of just how possible that mistake was. There is a reason why there are SO many parenting books and experts out there - and this is exactly why finding your own motherhood support network is so important! (Join ours here) or at the link in the sidebar.
A good mother puts the needs of her children before her own.
You know how flight attendants tell us to put our own oxygen mask on first? Motherhood is the same. It’s nearly impossible to care for another when you’re not cared for yourself. If you’re unhealthy, exhausted and overwhelmed then how will you have anything left to give? I can't tell you how often I've lost my temper because I was hungry or tired myself. Also, moms often feel guilty about mourning their lost (pre-baby) identity, but it’s a completely realistic feeling. Your whole way of living has changed – your freedom, finances, body, social life (and often career). Instead of feeling guilty about those feelings, take some time to develop your new identity, make room for your own free time and hobbies and get some sleep. Your needs do matter - even once you're a mom.
A good mother enjoys every moment.
Unfortunately, I think this myth puts the biggest burden on us and can leave moms who are struggling with postpartum depression or anxiety to feel intense and overwhelming emotions of guilt and shame. But I have yet to actually meet a mother who enjoyed every moment - especially during those first few (very challenging) years. Most of us lose our patience, yell and cry. I know I’ve slammed my share of doors over the years and shed way too many tears in frustration. Mothering is a hard job – and enjoying every moment would be it’s own form of insanity.
A good mother can do it all, all at once.
The feminist movement created a world in which we could “do it all” but that doesn’t mean we actually have to. And I don’t think that was the intent anyway! Still, for many moms I know and those I work with, this pressure is something we continue to put on ourselves. Whether we work outside or inside the home, it often continues to be our responsibility to do the majority of the childcare, cooking and cleaning. As women, there is also something I call the “invisible burden” that leaves moms feeling overwhelmed and drained. The invisible burden is the expectation that we will stay on top of all of the extras too – like planning your kid’s birthday party, buying your baby’s new clothes, sending thank you cards, calling the grandparents, booking the family vacation, etc. All too often this is because we think we are the best – and only – way these jobs will get done. But we can’t do it all. Not well. And the best thing you can do for yourself and your family is to divvy up the tasks and ask for help. Even with help, you are still a good mom!
Learn more about how I can help you too! Check out the services page or schedule a free 20 min consultation here.
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Jennifer Howard, CLC, CHBE
As a maternal mental health and pediatric sleep expert, I am passionate about helping tired mamas thrive throughout the many seasons of motherhood. I'm a Nationally Certified Professional Life Coach and Masters Level Therapist specializing in parental mental wellness, marriage/partnership strength and pediatric sleep and soothing.
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