By Rhonda Norwood, PhD, LCSW
Have you ever been going through a rough time, and a friend or loved one tries to help with one of these old adages: “Focus on the positive!” or “Think happy thoughts!”? Doesn’t that make you want to just scream sometimes?
It is a deeply rooted, societal belief that having a baby is a time of pure joy in every woman’s life. Other beliefs that our society promulgates is that a new mother will experience overwhelming, immediate love for her new baby, that she will always know what her baby needs or wants, and that she will easily be able to juggle all these needs while cleaning the house, going to work, and keeping up with “date night” with her partner. Even many women who were a bit more realistic and expected to have the “baby blues” are often surprised when the blues don’t seem to end.
Because these myths of motherhood are so widely believed, mothers tend to use them as ideals against which they judge themselves. And, let’s face it, sometimes others judge mothers against these myths, too. As a result, mothers tend to internalize these thoughts of perfection. This unrealistic way of thinking leads mothers to feel even worse about themselves and their abilities to parent, and then they really begin to struggle with caring for and bonding with the baby, as well as just dealing with life in general. And, worst of all, these thoughts can prevent mothers from seeking help, since they’re not supposed to be struggling during this time o’ joy, right?!
If you have internalized those mottos above, and you find yourself feeling guilty because you can’t just “count your blessings” (that’s my all-time favorite) and be happy with your new baby, try to actively change those thoughts to much more realistic ones, such as “Parenting is really hard!” or “It’s OK that I’m not a perfect mother.” If you are feeling depressed or anxious before or after the birth of a baby, reject the myth that these feelings are abnormal; rather, accept that many women experience these same struggles and that it is a good thing to seek help and support. Those are the thoughts that will help you to become the healthy (not perfect!) mother you should be.