Adjustment to Motherhood

Becoming a mother is a major life event that requires a thoughtful adjustment period – yet most mothers feel pressure to adjust quickly and love their new role without question.

Moms can develop an adjustment disorder after the birth of a new baby. Adjustment disorders begin within three months of the stressful event (a.k.a. your baby’s birthday) and can include symptoms like:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless or not enjoying things you used to enjoy
  • Frequent crying
  • Worrying or feeling anxious, nervous, jittery or stressed out
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Lack of appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Difficulty functioning in daily activities
  • Withdrawing from social supports
  • Avoiding important things such as going to work or paying bills
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior

In my years working with new mothers, I have recognized that many mothers struggle to reconcile their expectation of what they thought motherhood would be and what it actually feels like once they are in the role. Nearly all moms seem to get caught up in trying to hold themselves to unrealistic expectations and to be a “perfect mother.” From – Here are some of the big motherhood myths that many mothers need to unlearn :

Myth: Bonding happens naturally and instantly.
REALITY:  Bonding happens over a lifetime as mother and child grow and change. There is no magic moment at childbirth or in the early infancy stages where this relationship is sealed or broken.

Myth: New motherhood will be the happiest time in your life.
REALITY:  While there will be rewarding moments filled with joy and happiness, child-rearing is a demanding, serious, stressful, complex responsibility that can leave even experienced moms feeling overwhelmed and unprepared.  Motherhood is a 24-hour a day job with no scheduled time off, no training, no feedback, limited rewards, social isolation and no option to resign. Like anything else, some enjoy the job and some do not. It is perfectly okay to love and adore your baby and still dread the everyday tasks of feeding, changing diapers, etc.

Myth: You’ll never miss your pre-parent life.
REALITY: It is normal to mourn the loss of the person you were before you became a mother. Since babies are often called a “new addition” to your life, it’s easy to forget that you will have to make adjustments that include losing the freedom to spend time by yourself. You can no longer quickly and easily run an errand, catch a movie, grab coffee with a friend or even take a shower without first considering the baby’s needs.

Myth: Motherhood is totally fulfilling.
REALITY: Mothers often think their role is to devote all their time and energy to family, even if it means neglecting their own needs. It’s vital for moms to remember and honor their own goals, thoughts and emotions.

Myth:  Breastfeeding is natural, so it’s easy.
REALITY:  Many, many moms have difficulties with breastfeeding.  Why else do you suppose there’s an entire field of lactation consultants dedicated to helping mothers figure it out?  Breastfeeding can be frustrating, painful or just not feel right.  The ability to breastfeed with ease is not a marker of one’s ability to be a good mother.

Myth:  The Relationship with your partner will
grow and glow.

REALITY:  The perinatal time is a period of huge role, responsibility and other adjustments for both mothers and fathers.  Yes, the two of you may form a new, closer bond as parents, but not without work.  And, it certainly doesn’t happen naturally.  Typically women feel very overwhelmed and may feel that her partner is not very helpful, even if he is trying his best to help and be understanding.  Actually, the first year postpartum has the highest rate of divorce than at any other time during a marriage, likely due to the stresses of new parenthood.

Myth: Only “bad moms” complain when it’s hard.
REALITY: Many women find that motherhood is often too hard to handle, but downplay the negatives because they’re afraid of being labeled as bad mothers. You may feel guilty because you long for some time alone or become frustrated with your child. There is no shame in admitting that being a mother is not easy.

Myth: Other moms are your allies.         
REALITY: Other moms are just as afraid to look like a bad parent, so they also avoid talking about difficulties. Some women judge other moms unkindly and statements like, “You let him watch that much television?” or “She’s not walking yet?” It is best to avoid regular contact with these types of women. Instead, seek out supportive moms who are more open about their own struggles.

Myth: Read the parenting books, and you’ll know everything.
REALITY: New moms quickly find many books by so-called “experts” are unrealistic, highlighting the joy and minimizing the difficulties of motherhood. Their idealistic portrayal can add to a new mother’s feelings of failure when they have a hard time achieving the mythical “bliss” they’ve read about.

Myth: You can care for a baby on your own.
REALITY: Often women mistakenly think that the instant they deliver, they’ll become radiant and serene mothers that gracefully handle the cooking, shopping and housekeeping. That is an impossible ideal. Moms need to ask for help from immediate family, friends, other parents and neighbors. Letting supportive people into your life is a sign of strength not weakness. Accepting help prevents you from spreading yourself too thin, which is unhealthy for your whole family.

I work with women to clarify their values and goals around motherhood  and outside of motherhood so that moms can cut through the unrealistic expectations and feel grounded in their unique way of being a mother. Together, we will practice some radical self-care and self acceptance so that you can spend your mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional energy adjusting to motherhood, getting to behold and know your little one, and finding a good life balance that meets your unique needs…. not beating yourself up for being human.

I offer Adjustment to Motherhood counseling for women who are experiencing an adjustment disorder. I also offer Motherhood Coaching for women who may be wrestling with similar concerns but not to the degree where their functioning is impaired.

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