Motherhood Expectations & Shame
Before you even leave the hospital with your days old newborn, you might already feel like you’re being evaluated as a mom. Questions like what type of birth you had and will you breastfeed or bottle-feed can leave you feeling like there’s some standard of perfection and you might already be missing it. Once you leave the hospital there are growth charts and milestones to track and compare. Add in the sleep-deprivation, crying baby, changes in hormones, along with the newness of it all- it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and uncertain! Many new moms feel like they need to have it all figured out. And with each realization that they don’t quite have it all figured out, they feel like they’ve failed. While nobody wants to feel shame, it starts to seep in.
Becoming a mom means taking on a new role, and with all roles there is temptation to find your identity in that role. It’s no longer something you do or part of who you are- you come see it as the core of you we are. So when you inevitably struggle or fail to do it “perfectly”, you feel immense shame. You feel like there is something wrong with you.
The Voice of Shame
Shame is that inner voice that says, “I am not enough”. A new mom’s shame might sound like, “My baby isn’t sleeping well, what am I doing wrong?” or “I feel so overwhelmed but she makes it look so easy; what’s wrong with me?” It might also sound like, “I shouldn’t have to ask for help. I’m so weak” or “I’m not bonding with my baby like I thought I would. I’m a terrible mother.” Statements like these and the shame that drives them can lead to feelings of sadness, helplessness, anxiety, and isolation.
The voice of shame wants you to believe that there really is something wrong with you and that you’re the only one feeling this way. This keeps you from reaching out to others and sharing how you’re feeling because shame has convinced you that no one else will understand. Believe me when I say that you are not alone in feeling this way. Believe me also when I say that you can grow in freedom from this shame, experience healing, and connect with other as you journey together.
Overcoming Expectations and Shame
One of the first steps is recognizing this inner voice of shame and identifying how it makes you feel. What does your voice tell you? What are some of the main triggers (e.g., feeding, sleep, body image)? How does shame make you feel (e.g., anxious, sad, angry, small, sick to your stomach)? Where do these expectations come from (e.g., culture, family, friends, self)? Do you agree with these expectations? Do they reflect what you truly value? You do not have to just accept these expectations. It’s important to know and remind yourself that your worth is not measured by what you do and what kind of mother you are. Each individual has strengths and areas for growth. You are not defined by either one.
Another important step in learning to deal with your shame is speaking about it to others you trust. Is there someone in your life with which you can share your answers to the above questions? I’d love to talk with you about these questions and any other things you’re experiencing in this transition. My hope for you is that you have the support you’re needing, but if you’re needing more support call me today.
Written by therapist Ndunge Marquardt
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