The Unrealistic “Shoulds” of a New Mom
By Kathryn D. Gardner
“I can do anything,” I told myself preparing for the arrival of our new baby. I was 35 years old, educated and a hard worker. I felt competent and confident. I come from a big family and I had seen my friends have babies, so I felt that I too could handle motherhood. But little did I know how tough it would be! My own thoughts and expectations, the “should” statements I had been telling myself would torture me.
“I should have all the answers,” “I should be happy,” “I should enjoy being a mom,” “I should take care of everything over my own needs.” After my son was born these thoughts ran over and over in my mind. These irrational thoughts led to upset and discouraged feelings. I was tense, anxious and sad. I would push myself daily to be better, to know exactly what to do for his every cry. But the harder I tried, the more I seemed to fail. He cried, I was tired and it was a difficult combination. After years of feeling like a success in life, I felt like a total failure.
It was the all or nothing thoughts that affected me the most. I was thinking in extremes, all good or all bad. I couldn’t live up to my own standards. I had to stop. I had to realize that I was following this list of unspoken rules. My guilt and anxiety were distracting me from being in the moment.
With the help of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, I can now recognize my automatic thoughts. I notice when I am jumping to conclusions or filtering out the positives. I stop and look at whether I am mindreading what others think. I practice these tools daily and with repetition I have gotten better at being able to identify when I am being illogical and the need to pause. Once I focus on the facts, I can be more rational and logical. Then the feelings are not so intense.
I have been humbled by motherhood. My days are filled with trial and error and I am learning to be okay with errors. Today I can say that “I can do anything” and be okay with the good and bad moments.
During Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month, I encourage all moms to seek out support. Postpartum Support International has wonderful information and education on their website about postpartum well-being. There are support groups, Individual and Couples counseling available. You are not alone. You are not to blame. And with time, you will be well.
Support is available:
- If you need immediate help, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
• If you are looking for pregnancy or postpartum support and local resources, please call or email us:
Call PSI Warmline (English & Spanish) 1-800-944-4PPD (4773)
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