Maternal Mental Health Month Day 6


Guilt lies in wait when you set expectations upon yourself. 

Mommy expectations are the worst.  You expect yourself to sleep in 1-2 hour spurts of time and still function the next day as if you’d slept all night.  You expect yourself to have energy and ability to care for and stimulate your child, clean, cook, do laundry and dishes, grocery shop and look your personal best while doing it.  And somehow you convince yourself that these are the expectations everyone else has for you as well. Nothing compares to unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves as mothers.  And nothing compares to the guilt felt when the expectations aren’t met.  Guilt, failure, frustration, sadness.  

Where do these expectations come from?  Probably many places.  Partly from the childless you.  The you before the baby(ies) came along.  The one who has the child’s eye memory of your own parent cooking, cleaning, smiling and playing with you.  The childless you who may have internally judged parents of children throwing tantrums in public.  The childless you who could not really conceive of the reality of being woken up every couple hours so, this warning lived in your mind as a joke people with kids tell childless friends.  It’s difficult to separate yourself from all of those previous thoughts and judgments about what motherhood would be like.  It is impossible to truly know what having a child will be like when you have not had one so don’t fault the childless you.  But appreciate your misconceptions, and lack of understanding for how your life would change. Give yourself a break.  

Expectations are also fostered by comparison.  Comparing yourself to other moms. Believing that the snapshot picture you get of another mom’s life from a FB posting, a glimpse in a store or even a lunchtime catch-up with the kids is telling of what their whole life is like.  It’s not.  Everyone struggles.  Maybe not in the same areas, or to the same degree, but being a mom is hard.  Don’t create a picture perfect life for this person you see and hold yourselves to the same expectations.  The expectation that you can “do it all” while looking your best and loving everything about your children and motherhood is not realistic.   

Guilt is poisonous.  It can paralyze you.  Ruin your self-esteem and view of yourself as a mother.  And it is self-imposed.   It makes it impossible to sleep when the baby is sleeping even though that would do wonders for your ability to function and think.  But it is not easy to just turn off the guilt.  It starts with the expectations.  Erase the expectation board and start over.  Make your expectations smaller and your picture bigger.  And make sleep, eating and other self-care acts part of your expectations for yourself.  

Think about your schedule in terms of the week not the day and think about your day in parts…morning, nap time, lunch, afternoon (maybe another nap time) and evening.  If baby naps twice a day, use one nap for being productive and one nap for rest/sleep/treating yourself well.  If baby naps once a day, choose one (or two small) productive errands or tasks for when baby is awake and then use nap time for resting, or rejuvenating by watching a TV program you love while folding laundry.  Make sure your schedule works for you and for your baby.  

And start giving yourself credit for all the things you do everyday.  It’s too easy to ignore your accomplishments and focus on what is missing or lacking.  Often I hear moms say “yah, but…” when something they are doing well is pointed out to them.  Recognize that you are nurturing, feeding, keeping safe and enriching the life of your child in small ways everyday.   This takes energy, thought and effort.  Give yourself some credit.  Being a mom is a job…a day and night job…and you do it day and night.    

Later in the month I’ll be writing about how to structure and use your time in different ways that may help you feel more accomplished.  Stay tuned!…

About Carpe Diem Counseling LLC

I am a licensed clinical social worker whose practice specializes in working with women (and their families) during the pregnancy and postpartum time period. Please contact me if you believe you or someone in your life is experiencing a Perinatal or Postpartum mental health issue. I also work with any adults experiencing a life change and struggling with the challenges and adjustments they are encountering. Addressing our struggles in life happens one day at a time. There is no wrong time to get help.
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