Many new moms, and maybe not-so-new moms, navigate motherhood by struggling inside while presenting a perfect image to the rest of the world. The messaging we see and hear from our family, friends, social media, and sometimes our partners, implies that women should instinctively know how to be a mother. However, when the time comes, they feel unprepared. They look around and wonder: where’s the bliss that is portrayed on social media? The real deal is that being a mother is not easy physically, emotionally, or mentally. At one point or another, most moms struggle and their struggle is usually silent.
Why is this so Hard for me, When Everyone Else Makes It Look So Easy?
In her book “The Gifts of Imperfection” Brene Brown, who has spent her career researching shame, offers this nugget of wisdom: “Comparison is the thief of happiness”. The more you compare yourself to others, the less satisfied you will be with yourself. Mothers are surrounded by other mothers who appear to have it all together. Their teeth are brushed and they are wearing pants that button, while you haven’t slept in 3 days and your baby has the same stained pj’s on that she went down in last night. Even though they may be well intentioned, mommy meet-up groups can be triggering when you’re struggling inside; prompting thoughts like, “I’m a mess and she has it all together” or “I must be weak to be struggling like this when they make it seem effortless”. Instead of piling on, celebrate your victories, even the small ones: fitting self-care into your day, eating a healthy meal, or checking an item off of your to-do list.
Speak Your Truth
Holding in your feelings, fears, and frustrations regarding motherhood only exacerbates feelings of shame and guilt. Try opening up to other moms and you might be pleasantly surprised that they share many of your struggles. This may even potentially allow for connection with other moms who can relate to and appreciate your authenticity. That feeling of universality and knowing that what you’re experiencing is “normal” can be therapeutic on its own. If being open about your struggles with other moms seems too scary, share your feelings with a professional who specializes in postpartum issues. Emotions are meant to pass through and not to stay within. Find a safe and healthy place to release them.
Limit Your Time on Social Media
We’ve all been hearing lately about the toxicity of social media and how it is profoundly impacting our mental health. While the recent spotlight has been on teens, mothers (especially new moms) are significantly impacted and bombarded by images of alleged perfection and bliss. Social media pages are highlight reels of someone’s best days, strategically compiled into one place. This is not to mention that some social media influencers profit off of projecting a sense of perfection, while acting like they’re just one of us. Do not let them fool you! They are no different than a celebrity who has more means, resources, and incentive to have a perfect home, and to create these dream-like experiences for their family. Pay attention to your feelings while you are scrolling through Instagram. Listen to your internal dialogue and if you’re finding that it is triggering negative thoughts or unhelpful comparisons, it may be time for a break.
Imagine running into a friend who confides to you that being a mom is really hard for her. Sometimes she wonders if she’s cut out for it; and even though she loves her kids, it’s not what she pictured. Most likely, there’s a lot riding on your reaction to her confession. If you treat her with disdain, she’s going to feel shame and embarrassment. If you treat her with compassion, she will feel supported, validated, and she’ll probably feel less alone. When we practice self-compassion, we share that same spirit of acceptance and understanding with ourselves. We silence the critical voice telling us that we are not enough. When you feel like you are beating yourself up, ask the question, “would I say this to a friend”? If the answer is no, try to reframe your thought with self-compassion. “Being a mom is harder than I thought it would be, but I don’t have to be perfect to be a good mom”.
We are STILL in a Global Pandemic
This means survival mode and additional stress for many. For experienced moms- we’ve been in a pandemic so long that it can be easy to forget that this job is harder in a pandemic than non-pandemic. New moms who entered motherhood mid-pandmeic don’t have any other baseline. Go easy on yourself. Be self-compassionate when you need to cut corners. Even though the pandemic is heading into its third year and it is easy to think of this as “the new normal”, there is nothing normal about the world we are parenting in right now…it’s okay to not be okay. Just make sure you let others know mentally and emotionally where you are right now.
Try to take one lesson from this post that you want to hold onto and apply to your week. What is a challenge or a mantra you can give to yourself based on something you’re taking away from reading this? Put it down on a sticky note and leave it visible on your fridge, car steering wheel, or even bathroom mirror. Retraining your brain and reworking your expectations of motherhood can take time. Start with just one reminder or plan on how to turn these words into action for you.