Embracing Healthy Motherhood over the Myth of Ideal Motherhood
Becoming mother is a major transition that heralds new—wonderful and challenging—roles and responsibilities. When Dr. Diana Lynn Barnes, a Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in women’s postpartum health, describes that transition, she often refers to: The Myth of Ideal Motherhood.
What’s The Myth of Ideal Motherhood? It’s a hodge-podge of contradictory, demanding, and confusing cultural beliefs our society often associates alongside motherhood. When many of us become (or consider becoming) moms, this myth becomes our pseudo job description. Our “supposed” duties include, but are not limited to:
- Get pregnant easily, and feel distressed if we don’t.
- Pursue natural childbirth, and fret if we use drugs or have a C-section.
- Breastfeed for at least a year and worry we’ve failed if: our babies don’t latch on, we stop breastfeeding, or we skip breastfeeding altogether.
- Understand all of our baby’s cues, and always know how to respond to them.
- Have a fulfilling career, but don’t love / prioritize it, lest we neglect our families.
- Be devoted stay-at-home moms and tackle as many things as possible, given how lucky we are to not “work.”
- Always be there for our babies, while maintaining a sexually, emotionally satisfying marriage.
- Figure out, or know from the get-go, the best parenting tools and philosophies.
- And much more.
Three key assumptions underpin this myth: (1) Motherhood is, or should be, natural and intuitive; (2) Being a good mother means being a perfect mother; and (3), once we’re moms, our own wellbeing drops, or should drop, to the bottom of the proverbial barrel.
Yet, there’s no such thing as a perfect or ideal mother, and devoting ourselves to being one—which often means spending a lot of time worrying and stressing about our babies and our parenting—isn’t just an exercise in futility, it’s a recipe for personal, and relationship, dissatisfaction.
Motherhood is a process. While aspects of being a mom do, indeed, come naturally to some of us, we all face a learning curve. As our children grow, we, too, learn new lessons in how to be their moms. Plus, for every compelling argument in favor of one parenting philosophy over another (e.g., family bed, sleep training, potty training, discipline), there’s a convincing counter-argument for another approach.
Certainly, it’s important for all of us to learn how to care for our babies and do our best to learn about, and tend to, our children’s developmental health. But…
There’s no one right way to mother. Instead, there’s what’s right for our family and us.
Recognizing that truism, from the start, is helpful. So, too, is understanding that when we nurture our relationships with spouses, and we take care of ourselves, our children’s developmental and emotional health is positively impacted.
As Renée Peterson Trudeau, author of The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal, notes, “The most precious gift you can give your child(ren) and partner is to love and nurture yourself.”
How do we loosen the grip of worrying about our babies and parenting? By loosening the grip of The Myth of Ideal Motherhood, by asking for help when we need it, and by remembering that putting energy into our own happiness, and relationship satisfaction, can go a long way toward easing the stress we all feel as new parents.