Good news, you’re not alone.
This is the second installment of our “New Mom” series: New Mom, New Struggle.” If you haven’t read the first part of the series, you can access that by clicking here.
In the first part of our series, we opened the floodgates on this whole new world called “motherhood.” We looked at some of the most common things new mothers experience that no one talks about, including ALL the tears, that feeling that you’re not doing enough as a mom, and the best thing you can do for your newborn even when you’re feeling uncertain and overwhelmed at all the “new mommy advice” swirling around the internet.
It’s amazing how many people read all the books, attend all the parenting classes, talk to all their friends and family, and STILL feel ill-equipped as new moms. The doctor hands them this little human swaddled in a blanket, and then it hits, “I’m a mom, so now what?” If you’ve found yourself thinking, “Wait, can someone else do this first while I just watch? I’m not ready yet!” Good news, you’re not alone. You may not believe it yet, but you’re already a great mom.
There’s this thing called “mom-guilt,” and it’s toxic to your confidence.
It’s normal and natural to feel a bit unsteady as you’re getting used to your new role as a mom. It’s also natural and understandable to seek out reassurance and encouragement from supportive others you trust. It’s very common to want to “look out” and compare what you’re doing to what other moms are doing, especially if that mom seems “successful” or if her kids seem “perfect.” However, comparing inadvertently gives a good one-two punch to our confidence levels, feeding into our self-doubt and belief that we don’t really know what we’re doing. You may also have run into the experience of others offering you unwelcome advice or opinions on your choices as a mom. So-called “mom-guilt” is pervasive among mothers. It can strike at any time and can show itself in any number of “mom” situations: nap time, potty training, diapers, bottle-feeding, organic vs non-organic toys, daycare, staying at home, housecleaning vs time with your kids, disciplinary issues, and the list goes on.
Pretty much anything can bring on this suffocating feeling of “guilt” for our choices as new moms. It’s no wonder, then, that so many moms struggle with feelings of guilt, doubt, and shame about being moms. And, if left unchecked, these doubts and guilts can set us on a downward spiral toward depression, anxiety, perfectionism, burnout, and addictive or compulsive behaviors.
“Motherhood often feels like a game of guilt management. Sometimes the guilt is overwhelming and debilitating. Sometimes just a low simmer, but it always feels right there. There is never any shortage of fuel to feed the beast, so the whole mechanism is constantly nourished to administer shame and a general feeling of incompetency… Meanwhile, if we developed the chops to tune out the ordinary complaints of children, we’d see mostly happy kids, loved and nurtured, cared for and treasured.”
—Jen Hatmaker, Of Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight Out of This Wild and Glorious Life
Since the feelings of guilt and shame are so rampant and toxic, what can you do as a new mom to build resilience and confidence? There are whole books and seminars likely written on this topic, as the search for answers is deep and wide. Yet, one of the tenets of resiliency and confidence is (perhaps counter-intuitively) self-acceptance, compassion, and vulnerability. One of the best things to remind yourself when you’re feeling like you’ll never be the “expert” at momhood, is the reality that NO ONE is the expert at being a mom. There are a million different ways to raise happy, healthy, and successful families, and no one knows how to raise your family better than you do. Further, when you do make mistakes, learn to embrace them. As author Brene Brown says in her book, Rising Strong, “Owning our stories is the only way we get to write a brave new ending.”
You won’t necessarily “fall in love” with your baby in every moment.
Call it heresy, but it’s actually normal if you don’t feel instant “warm and fuzzies” for your baby. At the same time, NOT falling in love with your newborn at first sight isn’t an experience that’s readily talked about in the circle of motherhood. Consequently, many moms feel deep shame and guilt if they don’t “fall in love” with their baby right away, and have intense fear of being “found out” by their friends and family. In reality, like any relationship, it takes time to form a strong bond with your new baby. Additionally, it’s common for feelings of anxiety about being a new mom to “override” some of those warm and fuzzies, especially at the beginning of motherhood. Many moms feel shocked bringing their new baby’s home, overwhelmed that this new human is depending on them to survive. Many mom’s struggle with “fussy” babies or colicky babies, making them feel like failures as new moms, or prisoners for not being able to get out of the house with their newborns. There’s no magic recipe for falling in love with your baby, and no exact timelines for when it will happen, or what it will feel like. At the same time, you can rest assured that you’re not defective as a mom if you’re “still waiting” for that moment when your baby takes your breath away. Just like Rom-Coms can distort our expectations of “true love,” our expectations of loving our newborns can be distorted by Social Media, and our own experiences and expectations for motherhood.
“I remember feeling extremely strange because I expected this wave of warmth and love for my baby to overcome me, but instead, I was petrified. I didn’t connect with my son right away. He was this…alien who just landed on me and expected to feed off me. He cried A LOT. But so many family members and friends expected me to just embrace motherhood with open arms, so I smiled and played the part of a happy new mom, afraid that they would find out how I really felt...Many moms feel the pressure to immediately bond with the baby moments after delivery. The truth is, motherhood is a major adjustment that takes time.”
—Betty Bioron, Mother of two and author of the Terrific Five parenting and lifestyle blog.
You are allowed to put the SELF back in self-care.
Self-care is becoming increasingly trendy nowadays, which is great! It’s important to value and prioritize self-care, especially as a new mom. However, one of the consequences of self-care’s rise in popularity, is the rise of false beliefs about self-care. For new moms, this can easily fall into the bucket of “not enoughness” and “mom-guilt” talked about earlier. You may feel that taking time for yourself isn’t the best decision, or increases your guilt as a new mom. Or, you may feel pressured to have a “gal gang” of new mom’s and “mother’s day out” evenings, because that’s what mainstream media says you’re supposed to do. However, if you feel more guilty, overwhelmed, lonely, pressured, and exhausted after engaging in your self-care activity, it’s not self-care for you.
Wondering how to get started with finding out your self-care style? Try asking yourself the following questions:
- How do I feel when I’m refreshed and rested?
- What things (people, places, activities) make me feel more like what I listed above?
- Am I introverted or extroverted? How can my self-care routin reflect this?
- What are my expectations for self-care? Are these realistic, true, and helpful for me?
- What are my 5 favorite memories from the last 5 years? Can these memories provide any clues to my self-care style?
“We don’t have to force ourselves into a box that someone else has created for us to fit in. We can make up the rules ourselves on how to be a happy mother. We get to make the self-care box, decorate it and decide what goes inside. Once you understand what works best for you, it makes self-care so much easier to do and fit into your busy life.”
—Shawn Fink, creator of the Abundant Mama Project.
Ultimately, self-care, like being a new mom, is something you’ll get a lot of opinions about, but none of those outside opinions can replace your gut instinct, the people who know you best, and your values. This journey of motherhood is sacred, and you have embarked on the greatest adventure and opportunity for self-growth of your life. Remember, you cannot pour from an empty cup. If you need a break, take it. If you need a hand, hold it. If you need help, ask for it. Treat yourself like the amazing human and mother you are.
If you would like to learn more about the services we offer new mom’s at Harmony Therapy Group, visit our About Us page. You can also schedule your first appointment with us here, right from our website!