This quote by a father from Naomi Stadlen’s book ‘What Mother’s Do’ reflects my own experience of becoming a parent to my twin girls and is a shared sentiment among a lot of new parents I work with. As a parenting speaker and educator, obviously my focus is on the next chapter - after the baby is born.
My own journey into motherhood was the most miraculous, challenging, life-changing event to date. Prior to having my children, I was secure in my identity. I knew who I was and where I wanted my life to head. I was confident and in control of every aspect of my life. And although I had already been married for 13 years, I lived a life of independence and autonomy. I was confident and in control of all aspects of my life. The decisions I made mainly only impacted on myself and my husband.
Once we became pregnant, I expected nothing much in our lives to change – that our children would simply fit into our existing lifestyle – become additions to our already fabulous life! I had visions of placing the babies in their car seats under the table of restaurants and enjoying dinner together with my husband and friends, strapping my babies on to us and going on camping trips and hiking, images of jogging strollers and mommy and me fitness classes filled my daydreams.
The reality of life with newborns was nothing like I had expected. For the first time in a long time, I questioned my identity – the reality of who I now was did not match what I had previously been nor my expectations of myself as a mother. It was a long journey to embrace my new self – the mother that I was becoming that didn’t exist before.
I resisted my natural instincts and resisted change until I no longer could. I found myself in depression and I was forced to truly look at who I was.
Had I better prepared myself for the change that was to come after becoming a parent, perhaps this transition to my identity as a mother may not have been so difficult and I could have more easily enjoyed and embraced all that early parenthood has to offer.
Early parenthood and particularly motherhood has been reduced to a series of practical tasks by so-called parenting experts and certain segments of our society.
Many books for parents convey a false sense of what being a parent really involves. They encourage people to check with the book before responding to their babies. Well-meaning friends and relatives are quick to offer advice and opinions about how you are creating a rod for your own back or about getting your baby on a schedule straight away for your own sanity. It is easy to be influenced when we don’t feel like we know what we are doing.
In my opinion, mothering doesn’t necessarily magically kick-in at the moment of birthing. Mothering is a process, something that takes time for most mothers to grow into and embrace.
Many, if not most, new mothers may not trust that they have maternal instincts. But that element of uncertainty is important. It allows new mothers to be flexible, to try different things to find the right one to meet their baby’s needs. It may feel uncomfortable or alarming to not be in control, however this uncertainty is actually a good starting point for a mother. Through this, a new mother can begin to learn – about her child, and herself.
A mother’s knowledge of her child is unique. Traditional societies acknowledge this. Our society is starting to forget this, as we lose connection with our extended families and maternal role models and as we raise our expectations of mothers to do it and be it all – “yummy mummy”, “super mom”, “crunchy mom”.
Becoming a mother can be one of the most joyful and at the same time tumultuous experiences. Feeling out of control, lonely, bored and having a sense of not achieving anything can be common for new moms.
Here are three ideas to help with the adjustment to your new identity as a parent:
- Accept that becoming comfortable with mothering is a process – it’s not something that necessary kicks in instantly at the moment of your child’s birth
- Trust that you do have maternal instincts and that you are the only person who knows what is best for your child
- Recreate the village, it does take a village to raise a child but more importantly it takes a village to support and value a mother – surround yourself with supportive people
It’s in the small acts of love and selflessness that a mother truly finds her identity – and although it may not be seen as so by the outside world – it is the most important work of all.