Being a mother is something you’ve always known you wanted. As you counted down the days until the baby came you fantasized about how wonderful it would be to care for your beautiful baby. You imagined holding your baby in your arms, pushing your baby through the park, kissing the tiny toes as your baby cooed. Now all your dreams have come true. You have a loving husband, a beautiful house and the much longed for children. You also have a secret: you don’t like motherhood.
Of course, you love your kids, but for you, life as a mother is far from enjoyable.
In your mind, motherhood was supposed to be a deeply fulfilling…even magical experience. Instead you’re deeply exhausted. You are never alone, not even in the bathroom. It seems someone is always touching you, sitting on you, grabbing at you, needing you. You are constantly hearing screaming and crying dealing with mess after mess and it never ends. Even when you go to bed you can’t completely relax. You are always on alert for a child to cry out in the middle of the night. You’re worn-out.
When you were in the hospital having your baby they made you watch a video about the dangers of shaken baby syndrome. You just couldn’t imagine how someone could do such a thing to a defenseless baby. Now it's not such a mystery.
When the toddler is throwing her breakfast on the floor and the baby is screaming and your husband is away and you have barely eaten or slept let alone showered in days, and the house is a mess and this is not what you thought being a mother would be and you just want the crying to stop…you suddenly understand the importance of watching the shaken baby video, and you hate yourself for it.
A good mother, a loving mother shouldn’t be able imagine such a thing. And with every dark thought you also feel incredibly guilty. You LOVE your children. You really do, and you would never hurt them.
It’s no wonder you’re at the end of your rope. You’re completely drained physically and emotionally. It is incredibly difficult to offer kindness and empathy when you are empty. In addition, you’re disappointed. Your expectations of motherhood did not match up with the day-to-day reality of caring for small children.
Our society romanticizes motherhood. Mothers are revered, but not supported. Mothers are expected to dive into this new role with little training, little to no experience and often alone. They are doing all of this while recovering from the physical trauma of childbirth and the hormonal shifts that come after. Many moms rarely get breaks let alone days off. It’s no wonder so many moms feel at once at their wits end and incredibly guilty for feeling that way.
Give yourself a break. You are not a bad mom. You are doing an unbelievably hard job, and you’re doing a lot better then you think. It is not unusual to feel this sense of maternal discontent, or even to have dark thoughts. Being able to understand the impulse to lose control when you are at your wits end is far from acting on it. Many people have dark thoughts when they are overtired and stressed, but few people act on them.
What you need is support. Every mother needs support.
Here are suggestions for easing the stress of motherhood and getting the support you need:
- Take a break: No one can continue to work effectively without ever getting a break. It’s important to have regularly scheduled time off. Whether it’s an afternoon to yourself or a weekend away. Take some time off.
- Connect with other supportive moms: Join a mom’s group, take a mommy and me class, go to the park or story time at the library, go to a mom’s night out. Talk to other parents who have been there and have gotten through it.
- Take care of yourself: Exercise (join a gym with childcare), eat right, meditate, leave the dishes and nap when your kids nap…do something for yourself.
- Acknowledge your feelings: There are parts of motherhood that suck…and it’s okay to admit it. Recognizing the unpleasant parts, allows to you to see that it’s not all bad.
- Be mindful of what you love about motherhood: Close your eyes and focus on your happiest parenting moment. See it in your mind’s eye, feel the joy it evokes, allow that joy to envelop your body. Sit with it for a few minutes. Now open your eyes and notice how you feel. Doing this exercise on a regular basis can begin to offset the negative thoughts that you’ve been having.
- Find help: Call your friends, call your family, call your neighbor. Find support wherever you can get it. Parenting is much easier when you don’t have to do it alone.
- Focus on the relationship: Shift from seeing motherhood as a burden to seeing it a opportunity to cultivate a relationship with your children. Take a step back and look at them as interesting individuals rather than the source of more work. Be mindful of what makes them special and what you love about them. Notice their smell, the sound of their voice, the feel of their skin, the way their eyes light up when they see you. Engage with them in something they enjoy, and introduce them to something you loved at their age.
- Call a therapist: Life doesn’t have to be so hard. If you find you are excessively unhappy or anxious or if the suggestions above feel overwhelming or impossible to do don’t suffer in silence. This week new recommendations came out encouraging healthcare providers to screen all pre-partum and postpartum women for depression. An experienced therapist can help ease your pain. If you need a referral call your doctor or your insurance company.