December 23, 2017

Disappointment In Motherhood: When The Dreams Become Diapers

Anxiety & Depression
Identity Development

Expectations About Everything In Motherhood

Has motherhood been what you expected? Or has lingering disappointment snuck in? We all have expectations about everything. We have an idea of what it will be like and how we’d like things to go. Motherhood is no exception. Perhaps you expected the sleepless nights and constant feedings and diaper changes. Maybe you pictured peacefully and painlessly breastfeeding while gazing into your baby’s eyes. You might even have imagined that you’d bounce back quickly from the delivery and that having a baby wouldn’t change things too much.

Chances are that what you’ve experienced in motherhood is not quite what you dreamed it would be. Some women find motherhood to be easier and more enjoyable than they expected. For others, it is harder than they expected and that can be difficult to cope with. This disappointment can lead to feelings of guilt (Does it mean I don’t love my baby if I don’t love motherhood?), shame (I’m a bad mother), fear or regret (Did we make a mistake?), and confusion or anger (It’s not supposed to be this way). All of these are common emotions and questions that new moms might experience. If you’ve experienced these or others, know that you are not alone. It can be difficult to cope when reality does not match your expectations.

Acknowledge and Grieve Unmet Dream & Expectations 

When you realize that this is the case for you, practice acknowledging that things aren’t turning out the way you imagined or hoped. This is similar to the process of grieving. Think of it as grieving the loss of some of your dreams for motherhood. Once you identify this disappointment, spend some time thinking about the emotions that are brought up as a result. For example, do you resonate with the guilt, confusion, or anger described above? Do you feel sadness? Give yourself permission to feel those emotions. Resist the urge to stuff away and ignore the feelings.

It’s important to learn to hold expectations loosely and not let them be the standard by which you measure reality. Expectations by themselves are not bad, but when they are held rigidly, the result can be frustration and feelings of helplessness, in addition to the emotions previously discussed. Then practice acceptance of how things have actually turned out and the emotions you are experiencing. It is okay to feel those things and you don’t need to judge the feelings as good or bad. Also beware of “shoulds” (e.g., I should feel this way, my baby should sleep this much, I should love breastfeeding). Shoulds add to frustration and disappointment and make it hard to accept things as they are.


Again, expectations are not bad but they can be a major source of frustration and disappointment if you hold on too tightly. Holding on loosely to expectations creates space to appreciate how things have actually turned out and to be open to what you can learn. You can view your unmet expectations as opportunities instead of obstacles. When you remain open, you can discover new strengths and find that you are able to cope with things you did not expect. If the reality of motherhood feels more like drowning in diapers and wondering how you’ll get through another long day or night, there is hope. If you have questions or want help working on dealing with disappointment in motherhood, I’d love to talk with you. It can be difficult to admit when you need to grieve. We can do this together.

Written by therapist Ndunge Marquardt

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