Motherhood is my life.
And it’s not simply mothering my own children, but also educating and supporting other mothers. It’s what I do.
My days, my nights, my home life and my work are all about motherhood.
So what have I learned in just over a decade of mothering and supporting?
Motherhood shouldn’t be this hard!
No one ever said motherhood would be easy, but it shouldn’t be this hard either.
It shouldn’t leave us exhausted to our core. Or leave us broken and wondering why we aren’t stronger. It should never leave us questioning whether we are good enough as mothers.
Motherhood Shouldn’t Be This Hard – 6 Things We Need To Change
If you spend time with mothers, and really listen to them, you’ll know many are feeling this way. Sometimes, it even outweighs the good things they are feeling, and that’s simply not okay.
It’s not right for our mothers to be this broken – not even sometimes, and certainly not often.
What Are We Doing Wrong?
Where do I begin? I’m not saying we have some sort of terrible society, but overall, it isn’t really set up to support parenthood.
We don’t teach our growing children about their bodies, and about normal physiology, such as reproduction, losses, pregnancy or birth. They are left to learn about the hard stuff as it happens, which means they can feel shocked, lonely and vulnerable as they jump into motherhood.
That’s just one of the ways we’re failing our mothers. We can do better. We must do better. If we each do our part, we will start to see a change.
Here are 6 things we need to do to make motherhood better:
#1: Give Mothers Empowering, Evidence-Based And Safe Healthcare
Babies should enter the world in a way that gives them the healthiest possible start, but it isn’t the only important thing.
Women shouldn’t leave prenatal appointments feeling like they’re only incubators. They should leave feeling as though their wellbeing and health are important.
They shouldn’t be traumatised by birth. And they shouldn’t feel that things are being ‘done’ to them. Instead they should be treated as active participants in the birth of their babies.
This isn’t meant to be critical of healthcare professionals. Many of them are bogged down by heavy patient loads, policies and liabilities.
As a society, though, we can and must do better in this area. Women deserve proper prenatal care and evidence-based birthing experiences.
We shouldn’t be sending women into motherhood insecure, broken and scared. They should feel confident, empowered and ready to trust their own instincts.
“There is a secret in our culture, and it’s not that birth is painful. It’s that women are strong” – Laura Stavoe Harm
If you’re pregnant and wondering how to choose a provider who will help you enter motherhood with confidence, be sure to read one of these articles:
#2: Let Mothers Rest, Heal And Transition To Motherhood
A woman will spend nine months making a human being. Then she will give birth, and become responsible for a small and completely dependent individual.
If ever there were an activity deserving of rest and support, I’m pretty sure this is it!
Yet, more than 25% of US women go back to work within two weeks of giving birth. Not two months, two weeks.
Even if a mother doesn’t return to work quickly, she’s often expected to bounce back to normal life almost immediately. Guests arrive to get their ‘baby fix’ rather than to support the new mama. Well-meaning friends and family invite her to outings and activities.
We expect to give birth and jump right back into preparing meals and organising the house. After all, cousin Lisa just posted a recipe for a meal she prepared days after giving birth, so surely we should be able to do the same.
Mothers are missing out on the therapeutic power of postnatal rest. Society is making early motherhood much harder than it needs to be.
#3: Stop Making Mothers Feel Guilty
Staying home to care for your children? Oh, you’re just a mother, what do you even do all day?
Going back to work because you enjoy your career? How selfish!
Heading back to work because you have bills to pay? Well, I bet if you looked at your budget, you could find a way to stay home. I mean, are you comfortable letting strangers raise your children?
Exclusively breastfeeding? What about giving Dad a chance to bond with baby?
Formula feeding? Why didn’t you try harder to breastfeed?
No matter what choices a mother makes, or even what choices are made for her by life’s circumstances, somehow society finds fault.
Sure, we shouldn’t care what others think of us. But this isn’t a matter of one nosy neighbour or judgemental cousin, this is a societal problem.
These guilt trips play out on TV, online, and even in random interactions with strangers at the grocery store. Somewhere along the way, we decided it was okay to make thoughtless, guilt-inducing judgements about nearly every choice a mother makes.
After a while, many mothers toughen up, but why should they have to? Why is it okay for us to undermine the confidence of new mothers who are making the best decisions they can for their families?
We need to stop, and we need to give mothers our support.
This isn’t about sharing information, or helping mothers to make informed decisions. This is about talking to them, or about them, with zero intention of supporting them.
#4: Stop Encouraging Mothers To Work Themselves To Exhaustion
The latest big trend, known as ‘self-care’, is a band-aid on a much bigger problem. Obviously, we need to care for ourselves, but why are we in the position of having to make a huge effort just to meet our own basic needs?
Why do we constantly strive for a break, or to escape from our daily reality?
I’m not suggesting mothers should never need or desire a break. But why aren’t we encouraging and helping mothers to build a lifestyle that incorporates self-care naturally?
Why do we tell mothers to keep going, and keep pushing, even when they’ve reached the point of exhaustion?
Why do we make them feel guilty for taking steps to meet their own needs on a regular basis?
Motherhood is a marathon, not a sprint. Yet we encourage women to sprint through it every day, and then are left wondering why mothers are burning out.
We’ve all fallen for the myth that ‘busy equals successful’ and that pushing beyond our limits makes us stronger.
In reality, we’re creating lives we feel the need to get away from. It’s time to tell mamas they matter. We need to tell mamas they’re a priority. They need to know there’s zero guilt in proper self-care.
Stop encouraging burn out. Focus on building a healthy lifestyle – one that affords you the ability to rest, live in the moment, and really cherish your life and your children.
How do we prevent burnt out mamas? Read What Is The Secret To Resilient Mamas? to learn how to avoid burnout and build a life with less stress.
#5: Build Up, Don’t Undermine
The undermining of a mother’s feelings, intuition and judgement starts at point #1 above, and it simply continues. Why?
I’m not sure how or why it started, but as a society we constantly undermine mothers.
“I think something’s wrong, I can’t keep any food or even water down”. Oh, you’re just pregnant, it’s normal. Don’t be so dramatic.
“I haven’t felt her kick as much this afternoon”. Don’t worry so much. Worrying isn’t good for the baby.
“I want to get up. This position hurts, I can’t push like this”. This position is fine, you’re making progress. Birth hurts – it’s not a walk in the park.
“I really want to breastfeed. Can I see a lactation consultant before we look at supplementing? She’s only a day old”. It’s just a bit of formula. You don’t want to starve your baby.
“I know my son. He’s sick, and you need to find out why”. I think you’re overreacting. He doesn’t seem that sick. Just calm down.
And yet, if you talk to new mamas, nearly every time their instincts, or initial gut feelings, are right. But we’re pushed, time and time again, not to trust them. Mother are told they’re simply emotional, dramatic or overthinking it.
Even when we have a fabulous birth team, paediatrician and circle of friends, we still see mothers presented in the media as overbearing, over worrying, and over dramatic.
Eventually, some of us stop hearing our instincts. Sometimes, it happens even before our babies are in our arms.
This needs to stop. We need to build mamas up. They need to be encouraged to trust their instincts. We need to remind women they are incredibly capable of making good decisions for themselves and their babies.
Mothers shouldn’t have to worry and doubt themselves constantly. There shouldn’t be a moment of panic about choosing the right type of diaper, or figuring out when to start solids.
Many of us have been undermined for so long, we start to feel incapable of making even simple, let alone major, parenting decisions.
#6: Support, Support, Support – Did I Mention Support?
Where do we start? How do we change society? By supporting one mama friend at a time.
Be open, and be informative. “You deserve a care provider who respects you. I know some wonderful midwives. Would you like their information?”
Don’t pass judgement.
Lead by example, if you can. Say no to overworking yourself. Don’t feel guilty about self-care. Build a life you can cherish, not one you need to escape.
Don’t fuel the ‘mommy wars’. Remind your friends it takes a village to raise a child, and become each other’s village.
Our society won’t change overnight, but we can begin by supporting our friends. Then they can support their other friends. And we can hope our children will see our example and enter parenthood feeling better about it than we did.
Feeling exhausted by motherhood? It isn’t your fault. Be sure to read Exhausted Mothers, You Are Enough for a reminder of how amazing and capable you are.