There are several myths about motherhood that are communicated through the media and by other people. If you strongly believe these myths, and then find the reality of motherhood to be quite different, you can be left feeling like you’re failing or not measuring up. No one likes to feel inadequate. Understanding what these myths are, and having a balanced understanding of what motherhood is really like can help relieve unnecessary guilt, shame, anxiety, frustration, or inadequacy. Common myths include:
- Mothering comes naturally
Mothering is not necessarily wired into women, and there will be times when mums don’t know what to do. It’s common to seek help and advice, and many new mums turn to their mothers for help and support. The fact that there are a truckload of baby and parenting books available also demonstrates that you won’t automatically know how to parent; people learn how to be parents over time.
- Bonding will happen instantly and naturally with your baby
When your baby arrives, you might not feel bonded to them- and that’s ok. Your relationship with your child is not cemented (or broken) in one magic moment when they first arrive. It can take time to develop and feel the bond with your baby, and it is a process that happens over a lifetime as you interact. Activities such as feeding, playing, and enjoying your baby can help build the bond. It is entirely possible to care for your baby well while not feeling bonded to them yet.
- Motherhood will be a happy time
Motherhood can have rewarding and happy moments; it is also demanding, stressful, and a significant life change. There is a high level of responsibility with multiple demands, without time off or training for the role. The tasks involved with being a mother can be quite mundane and repetitive, and you’re often exhausted or sleep deprived. You also don’t have the option to quit. You lose the ability to do what you want when you want: what a culture shock! Even experienced mothers can feel overwhelmed and unprepared. Like anything, some women will enjoy it and some won’t. Just because you aren’t loving it, or aren’t enjoying it 100% of the time, does not mean you are a bad mother. Even women who desperately wanted their babies can have complicated feelings about their role. It is perfectly normal to miss your old life or struggle with parts of your new life. Give yourself permission to not feel happy all of the time- you’re not alone, and taking some of the pressure off can create room to relax into motherhood more.
- Being a mum is fulfilling and rewarding
No matter how much a mother loves her baby, it can still feel like caring for them is hard work. Being a mother can be difficult, for example when your baby is upset, and you feel powerless to help or settle them. You’re exhausted and sleep deprived. You may feel alone. Women often feel like they need to take care of their babies, children, and family at the expense of their own needs- what is fulfilling about this? Remember that self-care is essential to be able to provide the best care to your family. Also bear in mind that while you will have moments or periods of feeling rewarded or fulfilled, you probably won’t feel this way all of the time.
- Good mothers sacrifice their own needs to care for their baby
It is true that having a baby is so demanding that it seems difficult to get time for yourself, whether it be to shower, eat, sleep or rest, or anything else. Throw in the increased housework, and it can seem just about impossible to attend to yourself. Many mothers fall into the trap of becoming martyrs, choosing to neglect themselves in order to avoid being selfish and a ‘bad’ mother. But…. why does mothering have to come at the expense of your needs? The housework is not as important as you. It’s not selfish to take time out to eat, shower, rest, or go to the bathroom. It can be tough to find the time for self-care in the early days with baby, although it certainly is possible. Practising self-care means that you will have more emotional and physical reserves to care for your baby when the going gets tough, as well as feel happier on a daily basis. It’s also important to make time to do enjoyable activities every day- these help relieve stress and improve coping.
- Breastfeeding comes naturally and will be easy
Breastfeeding may be natural, but that doesn’t mean it comes easy to all women. Some women have no difficulties. Other women face problems like cracked nipples, yeast infections, painful letdown, mastitis, difficulty latching, leaking milk, low milk supply, flat or inverted nipples. And, the biting as your baby gets older! What is easy about this? Breastfeeding difficulties are so common that there are lactation specialists to help, as well as counselling support (e.g., the Australian Breastfeeding Association on 1800 686 268). It’s essential to bear in mind that finding breastfeeding tough is not your fault, and if your baby needs a bottle, they need a bottle- this is not a measure of how good a mother you are.
- You won’t miss your old life
You go from being free and able to do what you want when you want. Spend time with friends. Eat. Drink alcohol or have a hot cuppa. And all of a sudden- your world is focused on your new addition. There are so many extra demands, less sleep, and no time alone. Things you were able to do quickly and easily now take a lot more time and work. You now have to coordinate and consider the baby when you want to do activities. With any change, there is an adjustment period. With any loss (such as the freedom of your old life), there is mourning. You will likely miss your old life- and that’s ok. It doesn’t mean that you don’t want your baby; it means your life has changed in a big way, and you’ve noticed this.
- Having a baby will make your relationship even stronger
Research shows that marital satisfaction declines for most couples after they have a baby and that this can last years. This is the case for planned pregnancies and is often worse for couples with unplanned pregnancies. Sex is off the menu in the immediate period after birth. Demands and household chores increase, but this is often divided unevenly, with mothers doing the bulk of the work, even when they return to work. It is common to feel overwhelmed and that your partner is not helping, despite his best attempts. On top of this: you’re sleep deprived and exhausted, and most likely irritable due to being stretched thin. Doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, does it? Assuming that your partner will naturally grow with the changes and pick up extra responsibilities is not always realistic. It takes work to navigate and negotiate these changes.
- Good mothers don’t complain about the difficulties
Many women struggle with motherhood but may minimise this to avoid looking bad. Women may feel guilty for wanting time alone, or for getting frustrated or anxious about the baby. There is no shame in admitting that being a parent is not easy.
- Other mothers will be sources of support
A lot of mothers are afraid to look like failures or bad parents, and so may avoid discussing difficulties. Some mothers can also judge others’ parenting. It is more helpful to spend time with mothers who are supportive and open about their struggles.
- You can do mumlife on your own
It is not realistic to expect that once your baby arrives, that you can take care of everything- help from others is often needed. This also prevents you from spreading yourself too thinly, which won’t help your family. Letting supportive people in to help can improve your relationships and also requires real skill and strength (it is not a sign of weakness!), particularly if you are not used to doing this.