Enjoying Your New Promotion to Motherhood by Laurel Steinberg, Psychotherapist and Contributing Blogger
Mothers are idealized in our society as all-knowing and all-caring, the one person we can always turn to for good advice, to fix anything that has gone wrong and to be the finder of all lost things. Mothers are expected to be able to interpret and understand everything related to the well-being of their children and to be vigilant about protecting them from emotional or physical harm. But in fact, it is a role we have to grow into. At the beginning, we are so very proud of these wonderful little people we have created, but many of us are also scared out of our wits by the huge responsibility. Cuddling that delicate infant is a source of great satisfaction and fulfillment, particularly if motherhood has been delayed and longed for.
We are still the same gals we were pre-motherhood. We are smart, savvy, informed, involved, romantic, fun to be with, good and loving wives, caring daughters, and assets to our communities. Our figures might have taken a beating (if we gave birth), and we might be sleep deprived, but we are still sexy, stylish, and with it, at least we plan to be as soon as we get on top of tasks at home. However, in the earliest days and months, particularly with a first baby, we are also insecure, sometimes overwhelmed and not always able to understand what to do next or how to decipher what the baby wants or needs, such as whether that cry means the baby is hungry, tired, in discomfort, or worse, without the guide book that somehow was left out of the package. There is a pervasive belief that the transition into motherhood is seamless, intuitive and graceful, so we wonder why for us it is so challenging and unpredictable. Our self-esteem, often very high before as working women, can easily become bruised by the uncertainties we face in this brand new and sometimes unnerving experience of motherhood.
It can be somewhat unsettling for those who left full-time careers. Our identities are no longer defined by what we did for a living. Our worth (and often self-worth) was constantly being measured by factors such as sales growth, profits, products we developed, patients we helped, etc., and then validated by career advancement, increased compensation, and a sense of pride in a job well done. But now things are different – and different rarely starts as easy.
The criteria for success and the way we view ourselves must now be changed to reflect our new priorities. The mental score card used to assess our achievements now includes crucial responsibilities and milestones related to child-rearing including ensuring that our babies thrive, are happy, eat from spoons, say their first words, are able to read, are generous to friends, learn to swim, and behave ethically. All are accomplished as the result of constant and careful nurturing. They never just come naturally. The criteria continues to change as our children mature, face new challenges, and require different types of support and nurturing. Our concerns for skill development and safety will expand to include bringing up a good and decent person who makes wise choices as the result of the good examples we have set.
Our sense of pride and satisfaction now also comes from the job of mothering done well. These feelings are their own reward, but it is also important that we practice good self-care so we may savor the experiences and enjoy the moments even when they are challenging. Attending to our needs gives us the opportunity to model for our children what it looks like to be happy and well-adjusted adults and loving spouses/partners. When we take the kids on play dates with other parents, they see us having and being a friend and sharing feelings and feedback with others who are on the same journey. We model caring and respect for older family members such as grandparents, model taking pains to keep a tidy home, and model acting fairly and showing kindness. When our children emulate our good example, we know we have achieved success.
The responsibility for a new life and our awareness (and prayer) that it is a permanent assignment can feel daunting, but being a mother doesn’t require that we do everything exactly right. We are constantly learning on the job. Don’t beat yourself up if you are not perfect – we just have to be perfect about loving our children unconditionally and about always being there for them with a kind heart, imperfections and all.
Laurel Steinberg is a Licensed Psychotherapist practicing in Manhattan. She completed her graduate studies psychology at NYU after graduating from Johns Hopkins. Her post-graduate training continued at the esteemed Albert Ellis Institute and at the American Academy of Clinical Sexologists, after which she became a Diplomate of the American Board of Sexology. Laurel contributes frequently to news articles, web articles, and books. Her areas of expertise include anxiety, self esteem and personal, marital and work-related relationships, couples and sex therapy, infidelity, dating and pre-marital issues. To learn more about Laurel’s work, you may visit her website at: www.LaurelSteinberg.com.