Entering the culture of motherhood is a mental shift that takes an enormous toll on our energy at a time when our energy is already limited. We are inundated with advice and guidance that ignores one major thing women should actually do – listen to herself.
We take public health advice on board as charts are followed and boxes ticked. We listen to the sage wisdom from our grandmother, who reared ten children and the neighbours’ kids in a bygone era.
We ask our mother how it was in her day, and we lean on our friends, who all have their own unique ways to parent.
We forget that there is no one single way to mother.
And we forget that every newborn is different, so very, very different.
We feel overwhelmed, blocked, constrained, belittled, frustrated, and intense worries of failure cloud us like a storm. Is it any wonder early motherhood is such a trying and difficult time of our mothering lives? We question everything we do, are convinced we are getting it wrong, and we reach for an unattainable perfection because those around us seem to have settled so quickly with this idea of parenthood. But that is rarely the case.
We know there is no perfection, that good enough is the aim, and that someone’s online parenting world is a blur of their reality. But comparison is a divil, and we find ourselves looking in the mirror wishing someone else stared back. And so we listen to the advice, we flow with the patriarchal culture of perfect motherhood, and we struggle with the best of them.
Recently, on Instagram stories, I asked a simple question – what advice were you given as a new mum?
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at some of the responses, but this is the reality we are living in.
We still hear crazy stories about how to feed, burp, or hold our baby, which are more than likely the opposite of our natural mothering tendencies. They provoke anxiety, stress and worry for an already exhausted and pressurised mother.
Some of the more obscure responses included:
“Put a tight pair of jeans on … to “pull-in” my belly when the baby was 48 hours old!”
“Not to breastfeed my baby when I had a high temp because my milk would be too hot for babs!”
“To give my son ice cream every day because he was low on the growth chart. By a public health doctor!”
“To stop drinking diet coke because it would make my breast milk fizzy.”
I’m not medically trained, but I have a feeling good old coca cola won’t add any bubbles to your breast milk! And yet, we can be assured that there may be one person who would have sleepless nights over the 0.000001% possibility that it could occur. That’s 0.000001% more stress that a new mother does not need … and it could be the tipping point for her.
What Would You Want To Know?
I shifted this narrative on my Insta stories because the comments were, as you can see, outrageous.
It’s incredible to think there are actual people out there giving such harmful and unhelpful unsolicited advice.
These are not things a new mother should hear, or any mother for that matter.
So, I asked the question, “What would you have wanted to know when you were a new mother?"
The response again was illuminating in a positive way. The majority of the answers, phrased in various empowering ways, often came down to one simple thing, “Trust your gut!”
“Take the help, enjoy the little moments.”
“No one knows your child better than you.”
“Don’t be afraid to set boundaries.”
“Trust your instincts.”
“Don’t doubt yourself.”
“You are the best mother for this child.”
This is how we support women … by inspiring them and helping them recognise that women have been raising children for generations, that it has always been challenging, and that she will find her groove. Most importantly, her groove will not match someone else’s.
Instead of unsolicited advice, which, while well-meaning, is likely to be somewhat inaccurate, if not entirely so, we should be empowering women as they take on the most daring role of their lives.
Empowering Women in Early Motherhood
And yet, how do we do this?
In our conversations, through our actions, and quite simply in being a part of her village as you would want her to be a part of yours. Being empowered allows us to navigate our lives with confidence as we have the right tools, knowledge and guidance to control our own path.
To be and stay empowered, there are a few things we need to do:
Focus on You
There are times when we need to nurture ourselves in the same way we nurture our baby – by giving ourselves the time, nourishment and space to grow.
We cannot control our friends or family. We can’t control when our baby sleeps or cries. But we can control our reactions, our self-care, and our successes.
Be Open To Change
Life will alter in ways that are as yet unimaginable, and many changes may shift in ways you weren’t expecting. Change can be scary, but it is also good. There is power in accepting change and turning it into beautiful new possibilities.
Imperfection is where life is. We will make mistakes, and we will learn. Every day is a lesson, especially with a newborn.
And finally, you are a wise mama no matter how old you are because you are strong, capable and loving. It will not be easy, but it will also be the greatest challenge. Trust yourself.