Finding Your Own “Right Way” as a Mom
Mothering is HARD. It’s physically, emotionally and mentally exhausting. One thing that can make it more difficult is when moms find themselves comparing their mothering to others – their friends, mentors, or their own mother. Social media and Dr. Internet compound this issue because there is so much information instantly at the ready. Blogs and articles instruct that one way to give birth/feed/sleep/etc is “best.” A photo of a friend who just had a baby looks blissed out while nursing her baby, and it triggers a negative thought such as: “Maybe I should have tried harder to nurse.” Nope. Nope. Nope. There is more than one way to do things and especially in the very early days of mothering, we need to be extra gentle with ourselves.
You are learning your baby and your baby is learning you.
“There’s a crescendo of voices saying, ‘If you don’t do X or Y, you’re doing it wrong,'” Catherine Monk, a psychologist and associate professor at Columbia University Medical Center says. The result is “a kind of over-preciousness about motherhood. It’s obsessive, and it’s amplified by the Internet and social media.”
If you are wondering to yourself, “Am I doing this right?” you probably already have a keen awareness that you CARE, and that already makes you a good mom. But go easy on yourself, mama. Check in with your heart. Can you cut yourself a little slack, “log off” and recognize that you don’t have to do it just like everyone else?
Good Enough = Secure
A friend of mine often says, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.” She’s actually quoting Voltaire, but no matter. Her voice is the one that resonates in my head every day. When psychologist D.W. Winnicott coined the term “Good Enough Mother”, he probably had the same line of thinking. What Winnicot believed was that if we attend to our babies in an attentive, loving way, and don’t hover over them too much, they will have a “secure attachment” with us. This means that they know they are loved and cared for, and their fundamental needs are being met. It also means that they are learning resilience when you let them cry for a minute while you finish a task, like brushing your teeth. This is not the same as neglect, and it’s important to remind yourself that your needs matter, too.
How do you know if you are a “Good Enough Mother”?
Ask yourself these 2 simple questions:
Am I feeding, clothing and sheltering my baby?
Am I giving my baby regular, loving, kind attention?
If you answered yes to these questions, great job, keep it up! If you hesitated, maybe it’s time to ask for some help. Asking for help is not a failure – it’s actually the bravest and most loving thing you can do for you and your baby..
Models of Imperfection
Did you know that it’s actually a good thing for your kids to see that you aren’t perfect? Yep.
Perfectionism doesn’t really serve our children. If we take care of everything for them and they don’t ever see us make mistakes, they will begin to believe that it’s not OK for THEM to make mistakes and they won’t know how to deal with hard situations when they come up later in life.
In my work with new moms, I find that almost every mom who suffers from postpartum anxiety has a “perfectionist part” that is working overtime. This perfectionist (I call mine “Prissy”! – yes, I have one too!) is an important part of you that is not meant to be shunned. In fact, she really, really doesn’t like that. After all, she is the one who is keeping your baby from falling off the changing table or slamming her fingers in the door. But – sometimes Prissy gets a bit overzealous and thinks that something is dangerous when there’s no actual danger. This can lead to behaviors like opting out of a play date with your BFF and her baby because you’re suddenly afraid of germs and you swore you wouldn’t let your baby get sick before they turned one. (Ask yourself: “Do I really have control over that anyway?”)
Ask yourself: What am I scared of? What am I feeling in my body when I feel my perfectionist part take over? Is there real danger here or am I being triggered by something else?
If your “Prissy” is running the show everyday, you may benefit from exploring this beautiful part of yourself. Do this with curiosity – what might you learn from this part of yourself? You may be surprised to find she’s actually a young, tender part of you that really needs your attention.