- Amanda Ruggeri
- BBC Worklife
Even before having her first child, Libby Ward knew what kind of mom she wanted to be.
Patient. Loving. Proactive.
But her hopes went further, especially when she looked at the mothers in her social circle. He also wanted to emulate them in other ways: home-cooked meals, spotless houses, nap times.
When she had her daughter in 2014, Ward found herself, for the most part, able to be a mother as she had hoped.
Two years later she had her son and was having trouble breastfeeding him. The baby did not sleep more than two hours at a time. She seemed to be in pain.
“I felt like I couldn’t meet their needs for food, sleep or comfort,” says Ward, who lives in Ontario, Canada.
“I couldn’t live up to the standards I had set for myself. And it all just fell apart.”add.
More than anything, he felt anger. Her resentment spilled over to her partner, her children, and even complete strangers; anyone who seemed to be having an easier time than her. Then she felt ashamed for feeling that way.
“It took about five months of being the mother of two children when I finally looked in the mirror and couldn’t recognize myself physically, emotionally and mentally,” Ward says. “I said, ‘This is not me. This is not who I am. This is not who I want to be. This is not who I expected to be.'”
I was experiencing a sensation experienced by many, but about which few speak: maternal ambivalence.
Defined as feeling complex, often conflicting emotions around motherhood, ambivalence has nothing to do with a lack of love for a child.
In fact, mothers who identify as ambivalent tend to be clear that they would do anything for their children, so much so that, for many, the worry, stress, and fear they feel for their children is part of why they find it difficult to be a mother. it’s so challenging.
But they can also feel anger, resentment, apathy, boredom, anxiety, guilt, grief. or even hateemotions that most people do not associate with motherhood, much less with being a “good” mother.
The mix of emotions is not surprising. Being a mother is, after all, an emotional task that requires a lot of time and work, and that means a fundamental change in one’s identity, as well as often difficult physiological changes.
Some things make maternal ambivalence a little different today and, most likely, more difficult to navigate.
First are the often unrealistic standards of what it means to be a “good” mother, further enhanced by the information overload and comparison offered by the parenting advice industry, the internet and social media.
Second is the shame and stigma felt by many mothers –in a culture that appreciates proverbs like ‘Treasure every moment!’– even for broaching the subject.
Mothers can be allowed to say that parenting is difficult, but it’s much more taboo to say that they don’t necessarily enjoy the role.
The paradox of motherhood
“Maternal ambivalence is about embracing the ‘and,'” says Sophie Brock, a mothering studies sociologist in Sydney, Australia, and host of the podcast The Good Enough Mother.
“We are in as many paradoxes as mothers, and ambivalence says: ‘I actually feel both.'”
Ambivalence can be confused with, or coexist with, postpartum depression or anxiety. And if left unexpressed, ambivalence can increase the risk of poorer mental health, so it’s always important to seek professional help when in doubt.
But for the most part, maternal ambivalence it’s normal and healthysay researchers and psychologists.
“Almost every (mother) I talk to who feels safe enough to share her true experience has mixed feelings about her role,” says Kate Borsato, a therapist in British Columbia, Canada, who focuses on maternal mental health. .
“And this makes sense to me. Their lives have changed so much. Their sense of self-confidence, the way they spend their time, what they think, everything is different,” she adds.
The struggle to be “good”
Motherhood has always been hard. But the particular pressures of today can make it even more difficult.
Unlike the first half of the 20th century, mothers are now expected to give “everything” to your children in terms of your time, work, and emotional, mental, and financial resources, while still performing high at work and in your relationships.
In 1996, this cultural construction of motherhood was given a label that has endured: intensive maternity.
To make matters worse, women are struggling to live up to this ideal at a time when state support for fathers has not kept pace with the demands of modern life.
“Everyone who is a mother already knows this: we are overburdened, bearing most of the emotional work, bearing most of the domestic sphere, the pressures of paid work,” says Brock.
“And then we’re expected to put up a mask of ‘I’ve got this all under control. I’m the perfect mom. I’m not struggling,'” she says.
For Alecia Carey, 35, a mother of two who works in political philanthropy in Boston, Massachusetts, maternal ambivalence started even during pregnancywhich is not unusual.
“When I got pregnant, I felt like I was demoted from human to female. The people I worked with, all they would tell me was that I was pregnant. It was the only thing about me. It became my whole personality. I hated that,” she recalls.
The shift to motherhood has been especially difficult to adjust to, she says, after spending much of her life developing her own career, social circle, and personal interests and aspirations, something that past generations of mothers, who tended to become more mums, young, they may not have experienced it so fully.
Lizzie Laing, 27, from England, says she also didn’t feel prepared for the transformations brought about by motherhood, and that seeing other mothers apparently having a better time made her feel worse.
“You’re mourning the ease of your old life and the relationship with your partner”, he explains.
“And you see other people just freaking out. I felt like I was on a different planet than everyone else, really struggling.”
Carey also felt alone in her experience. “I felt like I had just been cut out of our social circle because I was pregnant,” she recounts.
“It isolated me a lot, and it isolated me even more because of the fact that on the internet, and in the circles of these mothers, everyone seems to love it, enjoy it and feel fulfilled. I found everything uncomfortable and isolated, and I was plagued with anxiety the whole time.”
Another challenge is expectations about how children are ‘supposed’ to act, something that is often seen as reflecting on a woman’s own parenting skills.
“Motherhood was all I ever wanted for my life,” says Emily Whalley, a 32-year-old English mother who had her first child in 2015 and her second in 2019. “It’s very hard to admit that, andActually, I don’t enjoy it as much as I would like”keep saying.
Laing’s misconceptions about how babies behave also “robbed her of joy,” she says.
Family tradition and media depictions convinced her that a newborn would sleep most of the day, giving her time to take care of chores or work, and that babies fell asleep on their own.
“Am I missing a part?”
It is common to feel shame and guilt for not feeling satisfied with motherhood.
When digital creator Jessica Rose Schrody said she was sorry for motherhood on a recent podcast, 90% of responses were from other women who felt the same way. Although it has also received rejection.
In particular, he remembers a video someone made saying how horrible it must be to be his daughter. More than 30,000 people liked the video, Schrody says.
He cared. She maybe she shouldn’t be open about her feelings. Like most other mothers, despite making it clear that, as she says on the podcast, she regrets not her daughter but her role, her biggest concern is that the mother’s feelings daughter of hers are hurt.
Of course, it’s not just women who share their feelings publicly who feel guilt and shame; many end up going through these emotions in silence.
“I expected the first weeks and months of becoming a mother to be the best of my life,” says Kayleigh Thomas, a 30-year-old Englishwoman. “Then I felt bad because I wasn’t following what I had seen on the internet or what I had read about.”
Even mothers who have deliberately tried to get rid of expectations, like Carey, still feel guilt creeping in.
Carey didn’t allow herself to feel “obvious ‘mommy guilt'” about things like going out to dinner with her husband or taking a childless vacation, she says. But when she recently went on a trip with her husband, a friend of hers sent him a text saying: “Don’t you miss your daughter?”
“I was like, ‘No,'” he says. “Then I thought, ‘Am I horrible? Am I a serial killer? Am I missing a part where I’m supposed to throw everything out the window and just embrace this new personality and set of interests?’ I don’t feel capable of doing that, and I feel offended that they ask me to. They don’t ask my husband.”
It’s common for mothers to criticize themselves for their ambivalence, which is “just adding more pain to an already difficult situation,” says Borsato. “It is already difficult to contain all these emotions. There is no need to accumulate more criticism, more judgments and more negative feelings.”
And the downside of women keeping quiet, Borsato adds, is that if a mother is open about her feelings, you are likely to feel less alone and less self-critical. Not doing so can lead to darker places, like depression.
While a lot of shame remains around the idea of maternal ambivalence, the conversation is slowly changing.
Some women have dedicated their careers to helping others have a happier experience of motherhood, and knowing that not feeling joy all the time is okay too.
After struggling with her own role as a mother, Borsato, for example, found her purpose in helping others prioritize their mental health.
Others have vowed to lift the stigma around talking about it.
Schrody was touched by the negative feedback he had. But she has continued to speak out about her experience, hoping to show other moms that it’s okay to have mixed feelings about motherhood.
“what is perfectly in line with a misogynistic society is the idea that ‘you should be much quieter about this‘” he says.
Ward began sharing her motherhood experience on TikTok in March 2020. Six months later she launched a sister account on Instagram.
The women tell her that they had not realized that other people found it so difficult to be parents, or that they thought their feelings meant they were bad mothers.
“The moms I tried to emulate, who I looked up to in the beginning, I found they never talked about the hard stuff. They didn’t talk about the lack of sleep, the shame, how they yelled at their kids. I felt completely alone and isolated,” she says.
“It wasn’t until I started sharing it that I realized these were common experiences.”
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