Maternal Miseries – False Expectations of Motherhood and Why They Don’t Matter
Motherhood is not always a happy state of affairs. The very fact that this is a controversial statement, liable to provoke a few sucked breaths and raised brows, is one of the reasons. Our society has a deeply defined image of motherhood, and has inundated women with expectations about maternity which can be distressing if a mother finds her experience differing from what she was led to expect. At the same time, opinions on how to actually be a mother are often fiercely divided and defended with vicious vigor, causing stress and anxiety. Rather than being allowed to simply enjoy mothering their children in a way that works for them, mothers are instead subjected to worry that they are in some way deficient because they do not fit the pattern society expects of modern mothers. This can lead to misery and feelings of inadequacy. However, such stress is entirely unnecessary, and can be avoided by simply maintaining a sense of independent perspective and understanding that, often, the personal knowledge of a mother regarding her child is more valid than the opinions of others. Motherhood should be a happy experience – and it can be, if mothers are more inclined to trust their own instincts and experiences regarding their children. Every child, and every mother is different. There is no ‘one size fits all’ pattern for child-rearing. Remembering this, and having faith in yourself as a mother can eliminate a whole lot of heartache.
Mothers are told that they are meant to be happy. The internet and media are drenched in tales of the all-encompassing love and joy which are supposed to overwhelm a woman when she sees her child for the first time. Of course, this is often the case – but not always. Sometimes the experience of birth is too confusing and painful and exhausting to fully process, and the maternal love comes later. Sometimes a bond between mother and child can take a long time to develop – although this does not make it any less deep. However, the mythical wonders of the instant, infallible maternal love-rush is so deeply entrenched in Western culture that many women feel profoundly inadequate and disturbed when it does not hit them, immediately, with the strength they were led to expect. They worry that they lack ‘maternal instincts’, and are scared for the future of their child burdened with such an emotionally devoid monstrosity of a mother. This is worrying, saddening, and damaging for many women. However, it is a completely needless fear. Many women do not get an immediate, hormonal love-rush when first they see their babies, and these women always grow to love their children with the same depth and intensity as any other woman – so simply lacking that experience at the moment of birth is absolutely no reason to write yourself off as a bad mother. It means nothing except that you had a different birth experience to the one the media likes to portray – and your love for your child is no less valid because of that.
Nurturing a baby is hard work, much of which needs to be learned. In the past, more experienced female relatives and friends would have rallied round to help the new mother and teach her the nurturing skills she needs. Nowadays, the implication given to us by society is that nurturing skills lie dormant in every woman and are activated when she has a child. She will know exactly how to care for her baby, know when something is wrong with it, and what its cries mean. If she does not – well, something has clearly gone wrong. This is not at all the case, yet many women feel left adrift in a new world they do not fully understand – and dare not ask for help lest they be seen as a bad mother. These feelings of confusion and inadequacy, combined with the madly fluctuating hormone levels following pregnancy and birth can bring on profound misery at what should be a happy time. Sometimes, it can turn into distressing postpartum depression, which is a serious condition affecting more mothers than society is prepared to admit. Those struggling with this, and wondering how to cope with postpartum depression should seek aid, for the sake of both themselves and their child – but it may be of some help to realize that motherhood comes absolutely naturally to very, very few women. Everybody struggles – but the convention is to pretend that you and your baby are both doing great. Not knowing instinctively how to nurture your child, and asking for help with it does not make you a bad mother. It makes you a good mother, who cares more about the welfare of her child than how she appears to others.
The Myth of the ‘Perfect Childhood’
Once upon a time, motherhood was a thing that happened to almost every woman, and it passed with nary a comment. One reason for the intense expectations piled upon today’s mothers are to do with our idolization of childhood. These days, children are viewed as semi-sacred beings, to be preserved in a state of Peter-Pan stasis. There is an obsession with creating the ‘perfect childhood’ for children, rather than seeing childhood as a preparation for adulthood. In fact, the very concept of ‘childhood’ itself is really quite new There was a distinct lack of sentiment – even from parents – about young children right up until around the 1700s. While it would certainly be going too far to state that the parents of earlier generations did not love their children, they were not expected to provide a wonderland for their offspring to indulge in during their preteen years as they are today. They were expected to prepare their children for adulthood, to give them the support and emotional coping skills they would need to become happy and successful adults – not to concentrate purely on the transient, momentary happiness provided by an indulgence. While the enhanced status of children in today’s society is mainly, of course, a good thing, it also brings about a huge amount of pressure and expectation for parents. Today’s parents are hit right, left, and center with preconceptions – often contradictory – about how they should be treating their children. Mothers especially are subjected to intense, unhelpful scrutiny. This scrutiny is best ignored. Worry about the judgment of others detracts enormously from the pleasures of motherhood, and can be damaging for both mother and child as stressed parents struggle to make their parenting and their child live up to the (often unrealistic) expectations of others. Remembering that these judgements are based upon the opinions of people who are far less educated in the ways and needs of your child than you are can go some way towards alleviating this stress. Try, if you can, to focus on learning about your child and what works for them on your and their own terms – not struggling to force your maternal style into a pattern influenced by others. Trust your own instincts, do what you know is best for your child, and you will find motherhood a much happier and more fulfilling experience!
Happy Mothers Mean Happy Children
It is important to remember that every women is different, and every child is different, and thus no parenting style can fit neatly into a societally-proscribed box. Rather than falling into depression and anxiety because your experience of motherhood is not like those you have seen on the television, or heard about from your friends, remember that only you know what works best for you and your child. Only you know best how your emotions work, and, as long as you are doing what is best for your child, do not worry about the opinions of others. A happy mother will have a happy child! So trust in yourself. Have faith in your abilities, and love your child as they are, not how others expect them to be. No matter what anyone else says, you’re doing just fine!