For my first blog post, I’m going to get straight to the point with my number one pet peeve. The idea that a mother should “enjoy every minute of motherhood because it goes by so fast” is inherently flawed.
Mothers are Human
Mothers are human, just as human as the rest of us. Regret is a very human emotion; we all experience it. We’ve all felt the haunting emotions of shame and regret. It happens when we embarrass ourselves in front of others, or when we do something foolish that hurts ourselves or those close to us. But for mothers, the stakes are higher, because they have more than just themselves to look out for. The shame from a mistake made with one’s own child can be overwhelming; these are not easy moments to overcome.
New mothers can feel the consequences of a poorly perceived choice or action even more—I’ve been around enough new moms to know they can be incredibly vulnerable, sensitive, overwhelmed, emotional, and overjoyed all within ten minutes. Those feelings are even more intense at 3 a.m. These feelings aren’t just limited to new moms—even confident veteran mothers can have all those feelings (multiplied by their number of children, of course).
Telling mothers to enjoy every minute is simply not a reasonable suggestion—sometimes it may do more harm than good. This suggestion sets an unrealistic standard of what motherhood should look like. When compared to a mother’s reality, it can cause anxiety and depression, and make new mothers feel like even their best efforts aren’t enough, or that they are inadequate.
Motherhood Can Be Really Challenging
Motherhood can be emotionally draining, physically exhausting, and when it comes down to it, downright terrifying. These feelings are okay to have. Motherhood can also be incredibly lonely and isolating. Rather than telling a new mother how you think she should feel, try to listen to how she feels. Sometimes the best course isn’t to give unsolicited advice, but to listen and try to understand where the other person is coming from.
A long time ago, I read a book where the author was discussing gas and digestive issues for babies. Her explanation was great: The reason babies start to show more signs of discomfort and crying at approximately three weeks old, is because humans developed it as a survival technique. It is how the baby communicates their needs, but sometimes those needs are hard to decipher, and can be misinterpreted. At this point, seeing your baby in distress can be challenging, and it is easy to shoulder the blame and assume your baby is unhappy because of something you did. By the third week, mothers are usually completely smitten, head-over-heels, and would give everything for their baby. Loving anything this much and feeling like you are somehow responsible for their suffering can be a painful feeling. It’s okay to feel this pain. Feeling pain for others’ suffering is an important part of love.
The sudden change of having a child can be an uncomfortable experience because change is sometimes uncomfortable. Sometimes the first moments of motherhood are not what you expect them to be; being handed a screaming, purple, angry baby right away can be intimidating (especially when you’re expecting a gentler, quieter baby)—mothers might even question, “Is this really my baby? Did I do it right? Did I do something wrong?” Flashes of self-doubt, anxiety, and even regret, just beneath the surface, are not necessarily bad emotions to have in the moment; nobody is perfect, and it’s okay to feel alarmed when reality doesn’t meet your expectations. Not every moment needs to be perfect, and it’s important for mothers to forgive themselves in these situations.
Each stage of life comes with new milestones, celebrations, and challenges. It is so satisfying to overcome these little hurdles. In life, there is always balance. For the moments of happiness to really matter, we must sometimes endure sadness. To accomplish anything, we must first have a challenge to overcome. When raising a child, these hurdles are endless, and often arrive when we least expect them—usually when we think we’ve mastered a moment in our children’s growth.
Figuring out the way your child works during a new stage of life can be very satisfying; in those moments, mothers will find happiness. But babies change, sometimes faster than we expect them to. As they change and grow, new challenges arise, and it’s easy for a mother to find herself feeling nostalgic for the times when she thought she had everything figured out. It’s okay to feel the sadness or frustration that comes with sudden change.
Mothers Have Needs, Too
It’s okay to want your little one to just settle down a bit so you can exhale. For mothers, self-care is important, too. Holding yourself to unrealistic standards can be harmful, not just to yourself, but to your children. Acknowledging when your mental and physical health is not at its best and making time to find help will ultimately benefit you and your child. Whether seeking therapy and counseling, seeing a doctor, tending to underlying health concerns, or just taking a much-needed mental health day, taking care of your needs will give you the tools you need to better address future challenges.
Finding help is not always easy. Not every mother has access to the same social or medical resources for attending to their personal health. Single mothers and mothers with fewer financial resources may feel particularly affected in this regard. The barriers to entry for seeking help are sometimes great enough without perpetuating the idea that their concerns are invalid—that they should “enjoy every little moment” despite obvious hurdles and challenges.
In short, seek help when you need it. Accept that things will not always be perfect; accepting this reality will help equip mothers with the tools they need to successfully raise their children while staying sane. Accepting your emotions, and having your emotions accepted and validated by others, even when you can’t “enjoy every little moment,” will work out better than idealizing an unachievable fantasy.
Babies truly are little bundles of wonder and joy. Mothers know that few things bring more happiness than seeing those little smiles on their precious faces. No doubt the first person that said mothers “should enjoy every little moment” probably meant it with innocence; it is a sentiment that contains deep feelings about how precious our babies are to us. They deserve the very best of what we can offer of ourselves, so of course we must devote ourselves to our children. And while it may not be possible to constantly enjoy every little moment, it is helpful to remember and value those precious, meaningful moments that make all the struggle, pain, and sacrifice so very worth it.
—Joan is a Certified Gentle Sleep Coach, Certified Lactation Educator, and Certified Postpartum Doula at Sleepytime Support.