Mothering is Hard Work

mothering is hard work! Kelly Gall Psychologist explainsMake no mistake; mothering is hard work!

For many of us, and particularly in the early years, mothering is a physically, emotionally, and socially demanding experience. The types of demand each baby brings can vary according to their physical health, temperament and ability to feed and settle.

  • Physically: Mums are faced with fluctuating hormones, and often extreme and prolonged fatigue. All too frequently, mothers put themselves last, barely having time to eat properly or exercise.
  • Emotionally: Both new motherhood and consecutive pregnancies are often combined with changes in our body image, our sense of self, our romantic relationships, and dips in our libido.
  • Socially: For some, becoming a parent comes with a loss, or considerable slowing, of a loved career. Motherhood also often impacts greatly on our social lives and the types of activities we can do to relax. For some of us it can be socially isolating. Even seemingly small things such as getting out of the house can be difficult. At times we might wonder when we will ever go to the bathroom alone again!

I often have mums visit me, feeling overwhelmed by motherhood.

Take Claire* for instance. When she first comes to see me, Claire is exhausted. She cries for most of her session as she describes her feelings of struggling with motherhood, and being overwhelmed. She has not had a full-night’s sleep in over four years. She is eating sporadically but also putting on weight; she dislikes her body, and feels heavy and unattractive. She feels disconnected from her husband, who wants more of her than she has to give.

Then there’s Belinda*. Since birth, Belinda’s daughter has had a range of challenges with her health, which have contributed to on-going problems with feeding and settling. Although Belinda is doing an excellent job of caring for her child, she is highly anxious about parenting. She has had two panic attacks, and is scared that her anxiety is affecting her daughter.

Kids Pick up on Our Stress Levels

For most mothers, there will be times when our capacity, patience, temper and attention will be limited. Unfortunately, our children are acutely attuned to detecting when we are not fully available to them. And how do they respond when they detect that our attention is elsewhere? They demand more of us: either directly (“mummy, mummy, mmuuuuuumm!”), or indirectly, often by behaving in a way that they know will grab our attention – such as by doing things they know they are not supposed to.

Maternal stress impacts on the bonding process. The early relationships formed with mum often contribute heavily to our relationship patterns over our life-spans.

What is “Good” Mothering?

Added to all this, it seems everyone has an opinion on what constitutes “good” mothering. We are exposed to the views of our friends and families – and even strangers at times! – and then there are the copious blogs, forums, and news articles.

Mothers are sent messages about how they are supposed to feel, the values they are supposed to have, how to engage with their kids, what to feed them, how to respond to their needs, regain their pre-baby body, and keep their love life alive. There is lots of judgement, and it is highly emotive.

I could go on; the demands of motherhood are many and varied. The stressors are real, and often considerable. When you get right down to it, mothering is hard work!

What is “Normal” – and When to Get Support

The upshot is that it is really common to have some challenges coping with motherhood, and to feel some stress. But some mothers end up feeling overwhelmed, and this feeling is not fleeting. As a result, sometimes mums can become highly stressed and symptoms of depression or anxiety can develop.

The risk of developing a mental health problem increases significantly in the weeks immediately following birth. A good degree of this risk is related to physiological factors such as changing hormones, fatigue and physical health problems.

Mums experiencing such difficulties should get assistance as early as possible, as this leads to better outcomes for mum and bub. Psychological therapies can help.

Help for When Mothering is Hard Work

If you are finding that mothering is hard work, take encouragement that there are usually things that can be done to help. Exactly what that is depends on each individual. As I write this I am working with three mums. Each is working on different things and in different ways as they all have unique challenges and unique priorities. However, there are some common things that have emerged from our work, that also appear to have helped other mothers that I’ve worked with in the past:

  • Perfection is not possible, required or desirable. There is good research that being a “good enough” parent can be enough.
  • Comparing yourself to others is generally not helpful.
  • You can get relief from listening less to the inflexible “shoulds” and “musts” that you’ll hear from others, or that have become part of your inner self-talk.
  • When you look after yourself physically and emotionally, you will have more capacity to cope.
  • The challenges of parenting don’t negate the positives of parenting; they co-exist.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the challenges of motherhood, consider making an appointment to see me at M1 Psychology.

Kelly Gall Psychologist Brisbane

Author: Kelly Gall, BSc (Hons), M Psych (Health), M Clin Psych, MAPS, MCHP.

Kelly Gall is a Health Psychologist and Clinical Psychologist, who is passionate about helping her clients to become healthy inside and out. Kelly develops tailored, holistic and evidence-based treatment plans that incorporate psychological, physical and social strategies aimed at empowering her clients to achieve relief from psychological symptoms and improve their health and effectiveness. Find out more on her website, Healthy Inside and Out.

To make an appointment with Health Psychologist/Clinical Psychologist Kelly Gall, please call (07) 3067 9129 or you can book online today.

* Names are not real, and the client scenarios, while real are composites (combinations of multiple clients) in order to protect client confidentiality.

References:

  • Bowlby, J. (1988). A secure base: Parent-child attachment and healthy human development. US: Basic Books.
  • Christi, B., Reilly, N., Smith, M., Sims, D., Chavasse, F., & Austin, M. P. (2013). The mental health of mothers of unsettled infants: is there value in routine psychosocial assessment in this context?. Archives of women’s mental health,16(5), 391-399.
  • Hodgkinson, E.L. Smithe, D, M. Wittowski, A. (2014). Women’s experiences of their preganancy and post-partum body image: a systematic review and meta-synthesis. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth,14, 330. doi:101186/1471-2393-14-330.
  • Prinds, C. Hvidt, N.C. Mogensen, O. Buus, N. (2013). Making existential meaning in transition to motherhood – a scoping review. Midwifery, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2013.06.021.
  • Stein, A., Pearson, R. M., Goodman, S. H., Rapa, E., Rahman, A., McCallum, M., … & Pariante, C. M. (2014). Effects of perinatal mental disorders on the fetus and child. The Lancet384(9956), 1800-1819.
  • Woolhouse, H., Gartland, D., Perlen, S., Donath, S., & Brown, S. J. (2014). Physical health after childbirth and maternal depression in the first 12 months post partum: Results of an Australian nulliparous pregnancy cohort study.Midwifery30(3), 378-384.