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Does not loving parenting must somehow mean not really loving your children?

Does not loving parenting must somehow mean not really loving your children?

Does not loving parenting must somehow mean not really loving your children?
"Am I a good enough mother? What's wrong with me? I'm so weird! I must have a hormonal imbalance. I'm not a real woman.
Some women can't have children! I should be grateful. I wanted this child! My mother managed fine, my friend manages fine, everyone in the whole entire world is coping except me!!"

(Newsflash: they're not.)
If I had a euro for every time I heard a woman "admit" to me that she doesn't enjoy being a mother... 

It takes courage to say this to yourself, never mind to another human being. There is risk involved after all: the risk of judgement. The fear that you might be judged as a ‘bad’ mother, an 'abnormal' woman, ungrateful for your child, unappreciative of the opportunity to raise a family.

Because the truth is, this is how women often judge themselves and each other. 
 
This is why we hear words like 'admit' or 'confess' - like it's a wrongdoing of some kind to not be 24/7 delighted to be a mother. 

Another truth is: instead of joy, mothers often feel guilt, shame, frustration, exhaustion, loneliness, fear. 

These feelings often remain unacknowledged and unsupported for years. And one of greatest fears I think we have as  'modern', critical, soul-searching parent is this - Does not loving parenting must somehow mean not really loving your children?
(By the way no, it doesn't. But read on!)

Where do these feelings come from?
We’re not really ‘allowed’ to hate parenting are we? We don't really advertise that - we're too busy uploading our happiness with status updates. And a lot of it is real of course! But feeling unfulfilled in the job of full-time (or even part-time) mother does seem to be one of our society's last remaining taboos - One we don’t tag on Facebook...

I'm not saying that every mother hates being a mother. I'm saying that most mothers have times where they hate mothering, and some mothers struggle with it most of the time.
Sometimes being a mother sucks. It just does. That's where the feelings come from!

Motherhood in modern today's social context:
Modern motherhood is the focus of much research, and indeed, scrutiny. There is so much focus on what's right/best/healthiest it's enough to send you into a sleep-deprived hell.

It still seems to me that women are expected to 'take to motherhood', to know instinctively how to rear children. And women are assumed to be OK with, even to enjoy letting go of life as we knew it to rear those children. That's a lot of expectations. But are these expectations realistic anymore? (Were they ever?)

As children we are socialized to 'understand' that all of this childbearing and rearing business is at the core of being feminine, being attractive, being worthy. We still see more women than men depicted as the primary and 'responsible' parent in childrens' books, stories, advertising. As we age we see it progress in magazines, parenting websites, the list goes on. As adults, childless (or child-free) women are often either pitied or frowned upon. So, it's understandable then that it can destroy a woman's self-esteem to discover that she doesn't enjoy being a parent. When she feels pain instead of the promised/assumed fulfillment it's quite the let down. 

A bitter pill to those expecting sugary loved up bundles of endless cuteness.

Even more so for full-time stay-at-home mothers:
Staying at home to care for children full-time is a significant change of lifestyle for more women now than ever before.  For many, it is because they have already started or established a career before deciding to have children. 

Whatever the reason behind the choice to stay home, it is vital that mothers learn to place a greater value on themselves and on their work as a full-time parent. Because it is work!

This includes acknowledging and valuing feelings of loss or rage or anger or boredom - all normal feelings after making any type of major lifestyle change.
Loving one's children does not necessarily mean that you will love parenting them. So while parenting is rewarding and joyful for some women, it feels like loss for others. Sometimes it's both. It's all normal.

How can I feel loss when I've gained a child?
We are quite capable of feeling several seemingly conflicting feelings at the same time. And that can be confusing, and very painful.
These are some of the losses that you might feel:
  • Loss of a feeling of identity 
  • Loss of status in the workplace
  • Loss of earnings
  • Loss of contact with friends
  • Loss of energy
  • Loss of sex drive, intimacy and time to connect with, or find a partner
  • Loss of support, fun, feedback, recognition and acknowledgement.
It can happen so gradually that one day you're wondering why you feel so bereft, so joyless.

What can you do if you feel like this?
  • Please do avoid the temptation to rush in with the labels "depression" or "post-natal depression". Despite how miserable she sounds, a woman who speaks like this is not necessarily clinically depressed. In fact, she is reacting normally to what is, for her, an abnormal situation. 
  • A skilled therapist or psychologist will know the difference between these normal struggle and clinical depression. Feel OK about consulting with one if you're unsure. 
  • Talk about how you feel with someone - a friend or even a stranger online. Discover how other people feel. Find the relief that comes with knowing that you're not 'the only one' (you really aren't). Avoid sites where people are "judgey" - you know the ones! 
  • Figure out what you've lost and how best to meet your needs while being a parent. Finding ways to meet your needs is a sign of good mental health, and of good parenting. And a great thing to teach your kids!
  • Remember that nothing is permanent. Kids have this habit of growing up.
Notice and then make an effort to stop judging yourself. 
 
So no, our expectations are not realistic. We all need support, we all need to know that we are normal. And we can't have that if we all continue to run around pretending everything is totally fine and #instaperfect -  because that's just not being human.
And we are all human!
 
Sally O’Reilly is a Psychologist, Psychotherapist & Clinical Supervisor in private practice in East Cork with twenty years’ full time experience. She has a special interest in working with teenagers. For more info contact her through her site sallyoreilly.com or on Twitter @psychosal or FB Sally O'Reilly Psychology & Psychotherapy.