The other moms at your “Mommy-and-Me” class are lying.

My new mothers,

Things are not always as they seem. You know that stunning picture of your high school friend that she recently posted on Facebook? 30 minutes before she posted it, she was crying. You know that Instagram post your neighbourhood friend put up of her and her daughter cuddling in bed? What you didn’t see is that she cropped out the messiest apartment on the block. Social media profiles give mothers the wrong expectation of what parenthood is going to be or is like, which is something that has taken me 11 years to figure out. But, what I’m more passionate about is how mothers put on this same false display face-to-face with each other.

Why I care so much is because being dishonest with each other about how hard new motherhood is isolates and further perpetuates poor esteem and confidence. Of course, in the worst of circumstances, can add fuel to the postpartum depression fire.

Let’s just get this out of the way with – You are doing a great job and there are some realities we need to clear up:

You will not know what you are doing instinctively.  You may hear some older people say, “You’ll just know once the baby gets here”. I call bull! You wont know how to breastfeed and you wont know what sleep training is or how to do it, for example. Do not feel ashamed that you have to buy a book or WikiHow anything!

Your friend’s online posts are deceiving. People work hard at creating a larger-than-life image, but work harder at hiding what they don’t want you to see. There is another side, so simply enjoy the post or photo for a fleeting moment.

You will struggle with body image issues. After you give birth, you would think that everything would go back to normal. Not so. You will likely be disappointed, and frustrated.   Your “new normal” will take months and months of getting used to, and accepting. Of course, some women will hit the gym right away, but this is not everyone, and you should not beat yourself up for it.

 The relationship with your husband will become strained. The lack of sleep and the emotions you are feeling, the absence of your old life in combination with the new responsibility you face will create interpersonal tension with your spouse. There’s no getting around it. You may even plan dates to try and keep the connection going, but you’ll most likely think about your baby at home. I hate to bring it up to be a downer, but please know that this is normal and you can recover from this hiccough.

 You will have to let go of expectations. In the 9 months of prep time you had to think about how life might be with your new baby, you thought about many topics. Like, if you are going to breastfeed, what kind of formula is the best, all the toys are to be BPA-free, and so on. I don’t mean to be patronizing, but things will not go as you planned. You’ve likely heard this before, but I only bring it up again to internalize this for you. Does it suck that you had to compromise? Of course, but we all did it.

The cute cherub baby that you see is the exception, not the rule. On the Internet, and in Disney movies, this is how babies are presented. They certainly can be that way, but expectations should be that they are messy, cranky and in constant need for you to be at their side. 

The emotional side of motherhood is the hardest part. The lack of sleep, lack of freedom, exhaustion, failed personal expectations and the mental pressures is the dragon you have to slay in the first 6 months (or more).

 Certainly, I am aware that there are sweet moments within new motherhood. Moments that you will treasure the rest of your life. I apologize to the mothers who aren’t experiencing this – if you aren’t struggling with any or some of this – all the power to you! I am well aware that these have been my experiences, but find a common thread in the women I talk to.

But, for those of you who are experiencing these things, pretending you aren’t does a disservice to you and other mothers. Do you see how this creates the culture of loneliness within our social circle? I would encourage you to be painfully honest when asked about your new life. I did not have family close by when I had my first born, and could have found solace in knowing I was not alone. I didn’t want to hear how your child is the best thing that ever happened to you (even if that was the truth). What I wanted was to hear how your house is a mess and you can never seem to keep it tidy, or how you rarely have dinners made for your husband at night. What I wanted was honesty and to see myself in you. Did you have to lock yourself in your walk-in closet in order to have a 4 minute conversation on the phone? Say it outloud!  Look at the picture I included of my daughter.  The bed is not made because she threw up on it, just got out of the bath, and she’s harassing the cat!  I didn’t have it all together although that was the expectation I had for myself.

As much as this has been my experience, I would still like to know I am not alone. I keep my heart open to friends who have had babies recently, since I know how much value there is in that. I encourage you to use compassion with other mothers, and show them they are not alone. Tell me what other things about new motherhood you had to deal with or currently wrestle with that you never expected? Let’s help the new moms out there feel encouraged and supported.

With an open heart,

Ellen Campbell

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3 thoughts on “The other moms at your “Mommy-and-Me” class are lying.

  1. Hi Ellen, As a soon-to-be new mom I really appreciate this post. My husband and I are thrilled to be expecting, but as you noted, it’s hard to understand the real picture of what to expect in the first year. You hear horror stories and then you hear the perfect ones…finding it difficult to find the middle ground.

    I am happy to know that as naive as I feel while I search the internet for breastfeeding for beginners, or what you can and can’t have in the crib, that I am not alone in this feeling. It is overwhelming, and those comments that you will just know when the time comes are more frustrating than reassuring. I’m an anxious person as it is, so I’d rather have resources available to me then to assume that at some magical moment my mom-mode will just kick in and I’ll have everything under control!

  2. Even though I am not a mom, or expecting I can relate to this post a lot and completely agree with you.
    A few years ago I spent the holiday season working at the Wal-mart portrait studio and I experienced a very similar phenomena to the one you are describing. I sent people home with beautiful photos to give to their grandparents and put in their wallets, but the process of creating them was usually any but.
    I had single moms coming in with toddlers, awkward and explaining to me that it was just the two of them getting the picture taken. I had young couples with new babies who were exhausted and short with each other and me. I had screaming, SCREAMING, children that took over 45 minutes to calm down for a smile – but we eventually got there.
    Some days it really got me down, but two weeks later when their photos came in and the people returned, they were always so happy. All the stress and chaos it took to get there seemed to be completely forgotten. And well, I don’t know, but I suppose parenting must be kind of like that too.
    So in that way, documenting these things on social media can be a blessing and a curse, because as you said it gives others a false impression of what parenting or raising children is like, but for the person posting, provides a positive aspect of a difficult day you can look back on and smile.

  3. Thanks for posting the truth about what it is really like having a baby! No one told me how painful it would be to even go to the bathroom after tearing several inches and having to endure an episiotomy…I cried for weeks!!

    But let me try to present another perspective. Some people DO put on their game faces in times of hardship or difficulty and it is not because they want to ‘put on any airs’, pretend to be something they’re not or appear to be the perfect parent with the perfect life and perfect child. For some people it is a coping mechanism or a survival strategy – and they use it to build up their own strength and their own character. Trying to be positive while having a rough time underneath is in itself not a bad thing – the old saying “never let them see you sweat” is the underlying message – as long as the person can deal with the issue or get the help they need in their own time and space.
    -Donna

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