Most parents can relate to feeling the way this mother feels, at some stage of their parenting life.
Sometimes it's right at the beginning when you're tired, hormonal, really not sure what you're doing and just want your baby to sleep, or eat, or just stop crying for longer than 5 minute!!
Or it can happen when our children are toddlers and pushing the boundaries, or during the teenage years.
The point is, we all have moments when parenting becomes all too much, and it's important that we keep our emotions in perspective.
So here's what I would want to say to a mother who is feeling like the lady in this photo...
Firstly I’d want to ask whether she was okay - the traditional approach to seeing someone in distress like this.
After giving her a big fat hug, I would want to tell her that she was doing a great job and that this parenting gig is hard, despite any pre-conceived ideas that it wasn’t going to be.
I’d want to show her the many different parents I come across on a daily basis who feel exactly like her, so she could see that she wasn’t alone and her emotional struggles are NOT a reflection of her being a bad parent.
I’d want to help her to see how this is only small part of her experience as a mother, not the totality of it because I know personally and professionally that we can get consumed by these moments and see them as the only thing going on in your life.
I would want to teach this mother how to shift her mindset when she gets bogged down and help her to adopt three fundamental ways of pulling herself out of those emotional dark places when life doesn't go to plan.
I would teach her to entrench these messages into her habitual thoughts to take with her during the baby years, toddlers and beyond, so she doesn't get bogged down by the inevitable challenges of being a parent.
Here are the three mindset shifts I would teach her...
- To change her 'picture' on how parenting was ‘supposed to be’.
- To remember that these difficulties are only part of the experience.
- That challenges with your child do NOT reflect your worth as a parent.
Here’s why these three mind shifts are really important when you have a baby in the house (whether you are a first time parent, or adding another child to your family).
1. Changing the picture on how parenting was 'supposed to be'.
What causes us the most stress in life, as well as parenting, is when we have attached ourselves to an idea, a picture of how we thought something was going to go.
Throughout the course of our lives we adopt all these ideas of what we anticipate will occur in our parenting experience.
We adopt this expectation at a time when we knew absolutely nothing about parenting at all.
Often we’ve gathered this primitive understanding from the way we were raised (“I’m so going to be like my parents!” Or “I’m going to be NOTHING like my parents”).
We observe other parents, we see cute kids on their best behaviour, we hold other babies, we see Huggies commercials and baby formulas where kids are at their best.
But nothing can prepare you for the reality of what parenting is actually like, because your picture came from misinformation – you weren’t looking at the whole picture.
The reality of parenting, especially a newborn and young child who's still learning about the ways of the world, is that there are going to be highs and lows. It won’t be all warm and fuzzy snuggles on the couch with your baby.
There’s going to be sore nipples, lack of sleep, messy house, whining or screaming, children throwing tantrums, complete overwhelm, and times where you don’t have a damn clue what you’re doing.
Which brings me to my next point.
2. The difficulties of parenting are only part of the experience.
When we start to realise the reality of being a parent to a baby/young child, we can very quickly get consumed by the difficulties to such a degree that we forget to enjoy the good times, and there are good times.
Our brains are geared to find evidence of what we have our attention on, so if you are only looking at the hard stuff, you won’t be seeing the easy, enjoyable stuff.
What about those times where you do get to snuggle that sleeping baby?
What about the times where you do look into your baby’s eyes and feel overwhelmed with love and are mesmerised by this little being that you created?
What about those times where the baby is sleeping and you did get the house clean or felt productive?
What about the times when your child said something or did something super cute?
Once you start to put your attention on all the highs, you start to realise that the difficulties do not define your parenting experience.
3. Challenges with your baby do NOT reflect your worth as a parent.
And the most important point to keep in mind for you ENTIRE parenting experience is DO NOT PERSONALISE YOUR CHILD'S BEHAVIOUR.
I fell into this trap myself and caused myself so much anguish and upset by believing that the challenges I had - breastfeeding and getting my baby to sleep - suddenly meant I was a bad parent.
Just like you sometimes tend to only see the bad in the parenting experience, sometimes we can get into a bad spiral of only seeing the bad in ourselves.
We inaccurately compare all our ‘failures’ to everyone else’s successes, when you have no idea what is going on for them in their lives.
Even if they aren’t going through difficulties with their children, that still doesn’t mean you are a bad parent. It just means that’s not their area of life they find difficult right now.
It is inevitable that we all have challenges in life. That never reflects self-worth. It just reflects life lessons and learning how to do certain things as a new skill.
Perhaps your strategy isn’t working with your child.
Perhaps there is another approach that might work better for your child.
But none of this means anything about your worth as a parent.
All it means is that the current strategy isn’t working and you need to find an alternative solution.
When parenting a child, especially a young one, we have to be really careful about the mindset you are approaching the highs and lows with, because it’s too easy to train the brain to only see the bad stuff and see it as a reflection of your self-worth or the quality of life.
And going down that hill repetitively, leads us to intense stress, emotion and even depression and anxiety.
Just like we spend time working out how to help bubs settle and feed in a healthy way, we may also need to spend some time learning how to settle our own emotions by working on our mindset and the way we see those challenges.
This too can not only effect how you feel about parenting, but also can ripple out to affect how settled your baby is.
As they say, happy mum = happy bub.
Having a baby is a massive transition, even if it isn’t your first. Be aware of how you are thinking and feeling about it and whether those thoughts/feelings are escalating to the point of effecting your experience with your child and reach out for help.
It’s okay to get assistance of those who have been there before.
And that’s exactly what the mum in the opening picture needs to know.