Motherhood! One word that holds so much diversity, power, stigma, stereotype, love, depression, exhilaration, joy, despair and hope. One word; one role, that can be the most empowering role we take on, and one which also has the power to be the most detrimental role for some.
So, what is it about motherhood that is so provocative? Of course there are many theories on this, so much research into the role of the mother, parenting, attachment and learned behaviours, etc. The list really goes on. However, I am going to take a little peek into what I feel is a major player in society's issue with motherhood, and why many women are drowning in what could be the most liberating opportunity they have for growth, connection and love.
In my professional life, I come across mothers on a daily basis. As a mother myself, and also being surrounded by friends and family who are mothers, I have begun to see a clear pattern running through each and every mother I come across who feels she is struggling. That is feeling "not good enough".
So, if I had the power to choose one thing I could change about how mothers feel, I think it would be to bridge this gap between the expectations of being a mother, and the stark reality of it! I do believe that the void which lays between how we think we "should" feel, and how we honestly feel is at the root of so much pain, insecurity and isolation that mothers often feel deep down.
Now, I'm sure there are more than a few reading this who cannot relate, and have never felt any of this insecurities I write about; I know there are happy, confident, supported mothers out there, and I am so grateful that there are. However, unfortunately, from my experience in helping women, there seems to be more mothers secretly struggling than there are quietly confident ones.
Was this always the case? No, I don't believe it was. At the risk of sounding like an "old school", old fashioned expert who blames modern technology for all our woes, I do believe that social media has played a detrimental part in widening the gap between how we are expected to present ourselves as mothers, and how we truly feel. There seems to be no "off" button. Well, none that we feel comfort in using, anyhow. Of course, there are many other factors, and social pressure has always been a player; however, it has been intensified by social media.
Before we become mothers, many of us had a fantasy of what it would be like - the joys and fulfilment of the role, and how we are definitely not going to repeat the mistakes of our parents, that's for sure! And what we see reinforces that fantasy. We see people in the public eye "bouncing back" after giving birth; we see the happy smiling families, and how women take to motherhood without effort. What we don't see is the sleepless nights; the mothers weeping in the middle of the night alongside their crying infant with colic; the stitches; the stretch marks; the exhaustion, and most importantly, the isolation. The isolation is deafening because, when we look around, we are unable to see a reflection of what we are going through, so we feel we are alone in this - and, therefore, "not good enough" as mothers.
So, what will help all those mothers who feel isolated and not good enough? It is remembering that although you may feel it, you are in fact not alone. You are doing the best possible job for your baby. You are learning this amazing new role at the pace that is just right for you. You are the most important person in your baby's life. Keep this as a daily reminder, even at times when you don't feel it. Remember that you are your baby's first connection with life and unconditional love. Be gentle with yourself as a new mother, just as you are with your new baby.
Take a few minutes at the start of each day to check in with how your body is feeling. If you're exhausted, what help can you ask for? If you are sick with worry, what helps to calm and reassure you? If you just don't feel up to looking after your baby for a little while, then who can you entrust to mind them? Try not to judge what you feel, just respond to it. And above all else, remember that the love you give to your child is more important than anything else you can give them.
Psychotherapist and Parent Coach