By Christina Katz
Imagine a mom standing in a superhero pose: hands cocked on hips, chest out, and chin jutting up towards the sky. Chances are good that this is not how you feel every day, mom. In fact, you may notice that you rarely feel this way. Why is it that motherhood, a status so desired, can often seem as challenging as it is wonderful?
Once a baby is born, our lives are no longer our own. We are transformed. We have much more on our hands than a new mouth to feed. According to the IRS, we have a new dependent. We are no longer an individual, or even a couple, and our scope of responsibilities expands to small group status. No wonder moms often feel overwhelmed and insecure.
What do veteran moms know that can help new moms feel reassured? Perhaps, instead of saying, “Congratulations on your new arrival,” we should say, “Welcome to the ranks of confident mothers. Here are our insider secrets.”
Give Yourself Pep Talks. The first few months—okay, years—of motherhood can be unsettling. Your little one needs you so completely and is growing and changing so quickly. Merely keeping up can feel challenging. Expect motherhood to put you to the test. You are up for it. You can do this. Take excellent care of yourself and avail yourself to all of your newborn’s needs. As you do, your baby will get off to a secure start in the world. Repeat: I feel overwhelmed and that’s okay. This feeling will pass once I admit it to someone and keep carrying on.
Practice Self-acceptance. With so much time going to baby and what little time is left going to practical duties, appearances may slip a bit. So why not lower the stakes? Wear clothing that fits comfortably, even if it’s not as fashionable as usual. Get your hair cut in a way that won’t demand styling for a while. Forego makeup and appreciate your natural glow. You can still get dressed up for an occasional date night or to socialize with friends. But on stay-at-home days, simplify your needs and save time and energy. Repeat: I look good enough to take care of this baby. I can let go of impressing the outside world temporarily and simply focus on meeting our needs.
Expect Co-parenting. Feedings, diaper changes, daily logistics, oh my! No mom can raise a child on her own. So if you are partnered, it’s important to co-parent. This means that you share care for your growing baby. And don’t think co-parenting will be a drag. Think of how much you will learn about each other. Start having conversations on an ongoing basis about how to juggle responsibilities. Repeat: Sometimes co-parenting is confusing. But if we take time to discuss our parenting hopes, dreams, and needs as we go, everyone’s desires will get addressed.
Weave A Network Of Support. They say it takes a village to raise a child and this is true, if parents are going to keep their sanity. You may think needing help is a sign of your deficiencies. But flip this thinking on its head. Creating a strong yet flexible network of supporters is your primary job as a new mother. Research resources at your disposal and do not hesitate to ask veteran moms who live in your area what was helpful to them. Don’t stop until you create an extended team of support. Repeat: There are ample services available in my area for pregnant women and new mothers if I seek them out. We can find all the resources we need.
Be Calmly Informed. If you suspect there is a problem with your baby, don’t wait for matters to worsen before you act. Place a few inquiries by phone so you can determine if you need to take any steps. Illnesses can progress swiftly in infants, and you might miss early signs and end up in the emergency room at 3 a.m. Keep a bevy of parenting books within reach, try swiftly polling other parenting on social media, and directly consult those more experienced when something concerning comes up. Above all, trust your instincts. Repeat: There is nothing wrong with asking questions. When I have a concern, the input of informed friends and professionals can quickly set my worst fears straight.
Stand Up For Yourself. Vulnerability is common feeling among new moms. Chalk it up to all the changes going on in your life plus fluctuating hormones. You may feel uncertain, confused, even lost sometimes. You may also find yourself on the receiving end of a barrage of advice, some of it unsolicited. Try not to get worked up about those who seem to know it all. They are usually well-meaning folks who are trying to help. And if their help is having the opposite effect, you can and should let them know how you feel. Repeat: When I am feeling shaky, and others are making me feel worse, I can simply say, “I am not looking for any more input at this time, but thanks for trying to help.”
Keep Your Balance. A mother’s life is not typically full of long stretches of free time. One baby needs a lot of attention and may sleep little. When you have more than one child, finding alone time becomes tricky. Smart moms learn how to find rest and relaxation in the nooks and crannies of each day. They accept that a messier home than usual is totally understandable. They remember that their happiness deserves preserving as much as possible. Repeat: When I take excellent care of myself I can go from overwhelmed to confident more easily. I value my own company, no matter how scarce, more than ever.
Author, journalist, and writing coach Christina Katz remembers the jumble of feelings that came with becoming a mother. She wants to remind all new moms that they really do pass.