How to manage your fears, and make the most of motherhood
Parenting starts before the birth. That’s right, in fact parenting starts when you’re a child, growing up watching and learning from the adults around you (especially your parents). We learn how to look after children by the way we are looked after ourselves and watching our friends experiences. Then we have society giving us messages on parenting through the media, school, people on the street, work, everywhere.
By the time it comes to start our own families we have a million voices swirling around in our heads: what to do, what not to do, what a good parent is, what a good child is, what school to go to, what food to buy (organic? homemade? shop bought?) what milk to give (breast? formula? soya?) what nappies to use (disposable? washable? both?) the list goes on, no wonder new parenthood is overwhelming! So before you have even given birth, you have this enormous (and often conflicting) list of expectations, and no direct experience to help you make sense of it. The key to managing your fears, is in fact to manage this vision of the “perfect” mother, so that it doesn’t overshadow your happiness at being a “real” one!
Here’s how to sanity check your (and everyone else’s) expectations:
- No one is perfect, and most people are far from. Ask yourself, do you want to be a perfect mum, or a HAPPY mum? If you want happy, you need to let go of perfect, right now!
- In a new job you usually get around 6 months to get the hang of it. Give yourself permission to LEARN. That goes for your partner too. You need to give them the same permission, they are just as new as you to this. Criticising their methods will only divide what needs to be a solid relationship.
- Humans have survived for millions of years. They have survived despite all manner of natural disasters, insanitary conditions, famine, war, and crazy fads. Babies need milk, physical contact, sleep and clothes. That’s it. If you’re giving them those things, you’re doing good. And if they eat a little Sudocreme now and then when you’re changing their nappy, or poo so hard in their tights that it spreads up their back to their neck – they’ll survive ! (I have proof in the form of an 8 year old)
- Last but not least – you don’t have to love your baby. This one will sound controversial, but it’s a very very important part of managing your expectations, Everyone has a different birth, a different relationship, and a different set of circumstances. I wish someone had told me that I didn’t have to love my baby straight away, that it comes in time for some, and that that is okay.
- We all process what happens to us in the best way we can. Some people are overwhelmed at birth, it is a huge emotional trigger and can release all kinds of unexpected things, so please make sure you’re kind to yourself. Remember – “comparison is the thief of joy” – all the mums who seem to have everything under control, who seem to be “naturals”, are struggling too in their own way, and usually in private. The more willing you are to share your challenges with others, the more you will realise that in one way or another, everyone is in the same boat.
And here’s a “how to make the most of it” list:
- Take the opportunity to travel around on maternity leave. Even if you’re on a budget (and even though it can take hours to leave the house!) make the effort to get out and about especially to things that stimulate you (yes you – don’t worry about the baby, they are stimulated just by being with you!) A trip to an exhibition, or to a shop you love, or to a beauty spot, or just for coffee. Whatever makes you feel like you’ve had a (well deserved) treat.
- Take some time to work out a way you can get some alone time (if you want it!) at least every other day. Even if it’s just for an hour (but try for a few), make sure you are alone. A sleeping baby in a pram next to you is not the same as being alone. It’s easy to mistake the snatched napping hours as your quality time, and it can be, but it’s simply not the same as not being in the same space, and space can make a huge difference to your enjoyment of the time when you are with your baby.
- Love yourself. When you look at your baby and feel that connection, recognise that the connection runs both ways, and not only that, but your baby is your mirror. Whatever you give your baby, give to yourself. That means time, attention, care, food, cuddles, comfortable surroundings, and play! (and yes when they’re older, have a go on the soft play things yourself – it’s good to regress!)
- Last but not least, take pictures of your babies in silly outfits for later use (perhaps in the teenage years) – it’s the very least they can give you after all your hard work! And if you’re short on cash (and still have a trace of toilet humour) why not baby powder their bottom and see if you can catch a powdery trump at nappy change time – You’ve Been Framed still offer £250 per clip!
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