It can seem like everyone else has really got their sh!t together can’t it? All those other mums you see just gracefully going for a jog with their buggy, or effortlessly popping their baby down for a nap, those other mums not covered in weird stains and looking like they may have actually slept in the last few weeks.
There is a huge myth (that we are trying very hard to smash to pieces) that motherhood is easy. That we are born somehow instinctively knowing what to do with this tiny creature who has arrived in our lives. Motherhood is NOT easy. Rewarding, maybe. Joyful, sometimes. But exhausting and draining and the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life? That too.
The images that we see of motherhood around us – in the media, on social media too – can leave us feeling that we should be aspiring to ‘perfect’ parenting. All of this can leave us feeling like we are getting things wrong all the time, from whether or not we had the birth we were hoping for, to how easy it is to feed our children, get them to sleep, even just keep them looking vaguely presentable!
Our brains often have a tendency to focus on the negative and when we’re thrown into this new world where we are tested on a daily basis, our inner critic can have a field day and, if not kept in check, can make us feel pretty rubbish.
Here we want to get the conversation going about those feelings of failure that are so ever present in motherhood - the strive for perfection , that comparison monkey and the mythical supermum and how these can really get in the way of our happiness. But also talk about tips & strategies to help you let go of perfection and foster a little more self-love.
What about you? Do you have an ever present inner critic? We'd love to hear your personal stories too. Lets get the conversation going and #letstalkabout those feelings of failure and let's help other mums struggling right now.
Below we've shared our personal stories and coping tools on this topic.
As a new mum, I remember feeling like a failure at most things I was doing! I wanted to do everything well/perfectly – be an amazing mum, have the house sorted, cook nutritious meals, look good – and when I went back to work, be amazing at that too. Talk about setting myself up for failure. At the time, I felt very alone and maybe that I couldn’t admit that I was feeling like this. It was a time filled with both joy and I suppose, a little despair.
We go through such a massive change when we become mums, both emotionally and physically, and we try to tackle it like anything else in our lives (to a timescale, check list etc). And babies and your emotions just won’t play ball!
I went back to work when my son was 5 months old and I was then hit with a loss of identity and a loss of confidence too. I was desperate to find that ‘old me’ again. Maybe I felt that ‘she’ could have coped better, who knows! Now I realise that it’s not a case of finding the ‘old me’, but embracing the new person that I had become.
I managed to cope for a while and then after a couple of months, things just crumbled around me. I remember walking around town, pushing the pram and crying my eyes out. Some days I felt in control of things and other days, I just felt that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing (and I was a mess!). I’d also lost my mum when I was pregnant so had to cope with bereavement as well.
My eldest is now 13 years old, so I have a teenager in the house. Even now, I still sometimes feel like a failure as a mum (though not as often). I go to bed some nights and say to my husband, ‘God I felt like a crap mum today’ but I realise that this is part and parcel of being a mum.
Now when I feel like a failure, I remind myself that I am not.
Lou's top tips
Realise that you’re not the only one feeling like a failure. So many mums feel like this but maybe don’t want to admit it. I can joke with my mum friends now about how crap we sometimes feel.
It’s important to be kinder to yourself in your head, if at all possible. I know when you’re sleep deprived, it’s hard to do this as you can feel so overwhelmed. But try to recognise what you’re saying to yourself and gently turn your thoughts around (I’m a failure -> I’m a great mum, doing my best). Take a little time for yourself each day. Again I know it’s difficult if you’re a new mum – but just 10 mins reading a mag or sitting in the sun with a cuppa can really help.
And if you are feeling like a failure, I think this is a sign that you care and are just wanting to do your best. So remember that!
In terms of tools for self-care, these are more of just things I do when I need them. It may be going to my stretch and conditioning class (which I love as it works on my body and mind!), going for a walk in the woods, meeting friends for a glass of wine and a chat, or going to bed early!
From the very beginning I felt I was not good enough. An epidural, forceps delivery and inability to breastfeed made me question my whole existence – what kind of woman couldn’t deliver, feed, protect and nurture their baby?
Breastfeeding was the biggest issue for me – I would look on enviously when I saw a woman breastfeeding and would be embarrassed when I had to get a bottle out. All the messages was that ‘breast is best’ and here I was, unable to do the best for my son. I remember walking around the supermarket, crying as I hugged a box of formula, the clear evidence that I wasn’t a good mother.
Everyone around me seemed to be finding it so easy. Friends with babies, others from my NCT group, everyone on instagram! I went from a confident, self-assured successful woman to being a bag of doubts, nervousness and low self-esteem. I didn’t go to baby groups as I didn’t want people to see how I couldn’t cope. I remember sitting in the park watching a group of mums together, walking, chatting, laughing. It was as if the sun was shining on them as I sat under a black rain cloud. Everyone else obviously knew what they were doing*
*Spoiler: they didn’t.
How did I cope? There were lots of things that helped me. Medication gave me the building block to start really thinking about how to deal with the feelings of failure and judgement. Talking therapy certainly helped bring some of these feelings out and gave me the power to deal with them. But most importantly was discovering mindfulness. I was lucky enough to attend a mindfulness course for new mums over 12 weeks and it really tackled those negative thought patterns and how to distance myself from them.
Also I have learnt that is ok to ask for help and to admit to finding things difficult. I didn’t want to show that, but I really wish I had spoken to someone sooner. The relief when I discovered that every mum I spoke to beat herself up over something and even looked at me and thought I was coping. It is amazing the lies your self-doubt tells you, and how easily you believe it.
Rosie's top tips
Talk…to someone, anyone. Don’t keep these feelings locked up. Find friends or family who you feel comfortable speaking to, or you may be more comfortable speaking to your GP or health visitor. Talking therapies, particularly CBT, can help you challenge that internal negative voice. You can access CBT through your GP or by googling “IAPT talking therapies near me”.
Try mindfulness – there are wonderful mindfulness techniques for tackling negative self thoughts. You can learn to break the cycle of negative thinking and to distance yourself from them.
Be careful of social media – whilst some social media is really helpful, the constant images of what a ‘perfect’ mum is are constantly displayed as a reality (we all know about timing, angles, filters, editing). Remember social media is only the side people want you to see. Be careful of where you post for advice – the internet can be an unforgiving place and there are always trolls waiting to bite.
And finally, be kind to yourself. Write down what you would say to a friend who was feeling the way you are now. Apply the same advice to yourself and read it when you need to challenge those thoughts of failure. Using mindfulness to challenge feelings of failure really helped me to recognise the cycle of negative self thought.
Finding other new mums who felt the same way was fantastic for me. I attended a postnatal depression support group where everyone was fighting these feelings. It made me realise I wasn’t alone and that others felt the same way – even those who looked like they had it all together.
I experienced feelings of failure the moment I brought my newborn baby home from the hospital. I had him via emergency caesarean section so I wasn’t feeling on top form physically. I can remember placing my baby (still in his portable car seat from the car ride home from the hospital) on the sitting room carpet. I sat down on the sofa opposite him and I thought “what am I doing”? I did not know where to start. I had these romantic notions before he was born that this would be like a honeymoon period so I wanted it to be a time of bonding for the 3 of us - me, my husband and my baby. I told my mum not to come until a week after the baby was born. So not only was I not physically up to looking after a newborn but we had no one helping us and I had no clue what to do!
I was overwhelmed. I could not figure out how to make it all work: breastfeeding which seemed to be all day and at random times throughout the day, find the time to take a shower and eat. Never mind doing laundry, food shopping and dealing with life in general! I struggled. It was a very difficult time for me. I was a career woman who was very much in control, but no longer. I felt I had lost control. And this made me anxious. I doubted myself and my ability to be a good mother.
Libby's top tips
Plan to have help when you come home with your baby. Have plans in place to help with daily life such as food shopping, household chores, etc. Ask friends and family for help and accept help when it is offered. And don’t be so hard on yourself. It is a new experience and, like all new experiences, allow yourself time to adjust.
Having a baby has a massive impact on your body, your emotions and on your lifestyle. There is no rule book on becoming a mum. You learn on the job. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself time to settle into your new role as mum. Surround yourself with family and friends who can support you on this journey.
Mantras, words of encouragement and movement to uncurl my shoulders from the relentless breastfeeding would have helped me. These are all available on the Nourish App.
I want to talk about comparison because it’s something that I got totally sucked into and it really affected me. It led me to strive for all the ‘best bits’ that I saw in others and therefore striving for perfectionism ….and perfectionism in motherhood just doesn’t exist.
This led to feelings of failure and guilt – why wasn’t I ‘winning at motherhood’ in the same way as everyone around me? Other mums seemed to be breezing through motherhood totally stress-free. The super organised mum that somehow has time to single handedly organise the school fete whilst juggling two under two, whilst I struggled to keep on top of the basics like keeping the fridge full and the laundry basket empty. The hip and cool mum that is always oh-so-stylish and put together, whilst I could barely manage a clean pair of joggers paired with a cereal encrusted-free t-shirt. The fitness guru that posts daily workouts on her grid, the earth mum, the always on-time mum, the perfectly manicured mum…
All of this self-comparison left me feeling useless, like a failure, and jealous – I wanted to be organised, stylish, working out daily and always on time. What was I doing wrong? It was exhausting.
The turning point for me was when I stopped trying to be perfect and embraced the perfectly imperfect, and more importantly when I then became more open and honest with others - sharing the brutal and less glamorous truths of motherhood. When I stopped striving for perfection and stopped comparing myself to those that I thought were perfect in all the areas I strived for, I felt grounded and happy again.
Being honest and vulnerable is scary at first, but I found that actually all of the other mums had struggles and imperfections too. Underneath the surface, everyone is struggling and chatting with other mums and sharing our struggles really helps. Motherhood is amazing but it is also tough and sometimes it really sucks. We are not superwomen. We haven’t failed if we need a little help, we haven’t failed if everything gets a bit too much. It’s OK to say we are struggling, overwhelmed, feel like we have lost our sense of self. Lifting the perfect filter on motherhood, and seeing what’s underneath is really important.
Lou's top tips
Just remember, and repeat to yourself daily, that ‘no-one has it all together’ – things are not always what they seem. Whilst it might appear that everyone is ‘winning at motherhood’, EVERYONE has their own struggles and no one has it all together. No one has it all. Everyone is just doing their best, you included, and that’s all that matters.
It’s also important to notice and re-frame any negative feelings that surface, including jealousy. Recognise the negative feeling and try and unpick what that feeling is trying to tell you. If you feel jealous that another mum has time for workouts, don’t ignore that feeling or just feel bad about it. Turn it into a positive. It’s telling you that you want to find time to exercise. How can you create space in your day for exercise? This is something that is important to you – it stirred up strong feelings. Start small and carve out just 10 minutes a day to exercise and it could make you feel all the more better.
I love all of the tools in the ‘feeling like a failure’ section of the Nourish app. I rely on the ‘mantras for self-love’ and the ‘self-compassion basics’ which remind me not to fall back into my bad habits of comparison. These are great 2-minute tools to dip into daily to ensure you keep grounded.
I also love the ‘relieve perfection’ audio – it’s just 10 minutes and helps rid my mind of any nagging thoughts of imperfection and helps me to contain any feelings of striving to be the ‘perfect’ mum.