Mother’s Day looms again and we are surrounded by joyful pictures, phrases, cards and roses. It really is a lovely and deserved celebration of motherhood, which really is a beautiful thing.
But it’s not like that for everyone. For some women, these cards and love hearts are aching reminders that while they love their children dearly, they are not entirely happy parenting them.
My attention was caught a couple of years ago by an email read out on a radio chat show. It really stayed with me. The woman who wrote highlighted a huge but still largely unspoken about issue for women: she was a mother, she loved her kids, and she was miserable.
As a woman, and as a therapist, I am sadly familiar with the pressures that women experience once they transform suddenly from ‘woman’ to ‘mother’. With no “how-to” manual on how to navigate the transition!!
What this woman spoke of so honestly is something we have all either heard about or felt. But we don’t really talk about it. We are expected to ‘take to motherhood’ much like the proverbial ducks to water. Has it been that easy for any of you? Has it been endless hours of fun and joy and wonderment at the beauty of the high pitch scream your bundle of joy emits just as you managed to drift…off… to.. sleep…??
The truth is that not every woman does enjoy motherhood. And it can be experienced as traumatic when that dawns. Then the guilt sets in, and the feeling of being weird and abnormal. Of being less than. Why? Because no one explained to you that they felt the same, or of they did, you put it down to postnatal depression, or you didn’t really take them seriously because they seem to be coping just fine.. but really, there is no preparing for this. It’s hard.
The fact that so many women choose to have children and then choose to rear them does not automatically mean that the whole experience will be easy or pleasurable. For many of course here will be moments of intense joy!
For some though, bonding with a newborn is impossible, or at best, difficult. This does not mean you are a freak. It means you are finding this tough. You are literally at your most vulnerable when you give birth. Your body may be in shock, maybe the birth didn’t go as planned, maybe the birth triggered feelings of loss of control, or of a grief or bereavement that you were previously only barely conscious of. Maybe the birth triggered an awareness that all is not well with your partner. These are the things that interfere with our ability, or even desire, to bond with a tiny dependent squeaky noisy demanding new person.. doesn’t that make perfect sense?
SO we need to acknowledge and value these feelings and emotions. Even if they seem out of left field weird, illogical. This includes valuing our feelings of loss or rage or anger or boredom when we make a lifestyle change like becoming a parent, spending time with babies and small children, when you never have before.
Not like this anyway. Not with full responsibility – and that’s scary right? You may work with other peoples’ kids, love them even! But this is actually different. So if you feel differently now that you have your own, that’s normal. You’re no longer clocking off at 5.
This. Is It. And that is why so many women feel trapped some, maybe even all of the time.
Note: It is really important to know that loving your children and loving (or not) parenting them are two entirely separate things. It is entirely possible to love your child but not feel bonded (like in the warm and fuzzy parenting Facebook sunshine filled memes). It is utterly plausible that you can fiercely love your child but dread spending the day with them.
Fact: Parenting is not the same for everyone
Parenting is absolutely rewarding and joyful for many women. Equally though, it feels like grief for others, because so much has changed. (Same goes for men who primary parent of course, but this is Mother’s Day!)
That might be enjoying your status at work, and the feeling of achievement that brings, contact with colleagues, friendships, grown ups, time for recreational activities, dancing, laughing, reading quietly (!!), going to the hairdressers, having clean clothes, having long baths (alone – remember that?) writing that blog.. I’m sure you could add to that list – in fact, feel free to do so, it will help other people feel normal!
So what can we do?
*We can stop judging ourselves and each other and expecting mothers to be superwomen. Because, well, they’re not.
They are women.
Just, human, women.
*Next, let’s avoid the temptation to overuse the labels ‘depression’ and ‘post-natal’. My mother said to me recently, wise woman that she is – “Sally, why are there so many people diagnosed with post natal depression these days? In my day we used call it “being a new mother”.
Now, she’s not a psychologist or a doctor, but what do you think?
Many listeners to the chat show I heard ‘diagnosed’ the woman as depressed and suggested antidepressant medication was all she needed. But there was no audible evidence of clinical depression.
She was reacting normally to what is, for her, an abnormal situation.
* If this piece resonates with you, and it feels safe to do so, check with your friends to see if this resonates with them. Talking it out with them will probably help, that is my hope for you.
* If you feel like you are going crazy and that you’re faulty in some way for not loving every minute of parenting, then I hope you can relate to this piece, especially the “you’re normal” bit.
Seeking support, help, advice from a friend, parent, mentor, therapist, it’s all good.
* If you are deeply concerned about your behavior or of you feel you are at real risk of actually hurting yourself or your children then definitely seek professional support. You do not have to go through this alone and people are trained to help you. They’ll have seen this before.
And contrary to what you might believe, it’s a sign of strength to seek help. It is in fact, good parenting and good modeling for your children.
You are teaching yourself and the people around you that you are after all, human.