I'd always imagined I'd be the kind of mum that would go for jogs with baby in the pram. Honestly, that was one of the main images in my head when I pictured early motherhood, as silly as that sounds. Going for a run with baby, dog and husband. And I think we did that a grand total of 2 times. And while it was lovely, it's definitely not a core memory of that time. Those are mostly the 'trying to get out the door with a crying baby and the pram getting stuck in the doorway' and the 'up again at 2am' kind of moments. And the cuddles and a lot of other good stuff, too... But, I wish the tough stuff would be normalized a little more, so that we don't end up with high expectations and wonky outcomes in those first few months, and all through the many phases of motherhood.
Before I give my 2 cents on why our predictions about motherhood can be so off, here are just a few other possible scenarios where our expectations vs reality may be out of alignment a little...
I'll be super organized and we'll still be able to do all the things we've done before.
Your brain needs a while to de-fog and any kind of organization will take a very different form for a while (and mostly involve stuff for the kid(s), leaving you water-less and exposed to the elements while little one has 5 changes of clothes for all eventualities). Making sure you feed and water yourself as well as the baby is going to be the height of organization for a while.
Lots of wide-eyed gazing at perfect baby toes and cheeks and fingers.
The gazing does happen and it's sometimes what gets you through the tough stuff, but you're mostly too tired for it or, quite frankly, it also gets a bit boring because there's a lot of time for staring.
I'll use maternity leave to catch up on my reading list and learn a new language.
Wondering what you've done all day (hint: keeping a tiny human alive takes ALL the time) and binge-watching the trashiest of TV.
I'll have an instant bond with my baby and a rush of love that will power me through the sleepless nights.
The bond might take a while to form and it's sheer grit that gets you through the first few months. It's ok if you're finding things hard and you're certainly not doing anything wrong or don't care for your baby enough.
Why the many discrepancies between our imagined motherhood and the realities?
I think many of us expect it to be easier than it is because of how mum life is portrayed on social media (filtered) or even by our friends, who may be keeping the juicy truths to themselves. There's been a lot more honesty on social media around motherhood in recent years, which is so brilliant to see, but it's still largely outnumbered by the #blessed crowd.
I'm of course not saying that all we should do is complain about motherhood and how hard it is, but you simply cannot overemphasize the reassuring feeling of solidarity. Of knowing that it's not just you, that you're not alone. That your version of coping is valid and good enough.
As a society, I think we've minimized how monumental the transition into motherhood really is, and we feel we have to act accordingly, despite the lack of support - both from the healthcare system and from family and friends. We aren't meant to do any of this on our own, but society and life in general haven't caught up to the fact yet that we don't live next door to 3 generations of our family anymore, or have hoards of aunts and uncles who can come to the babysitter rescue when needed.
As you embark on your motherhood journey, it's worth checking in with your expectations for each stop/chapter. What are you hoping the baby/toddler/preschool/primary school age will be like?
Which bits seem important to focus on (table manners make the top 3 in our house right now and time to exercise for both parents has been top of the list for a long time).
Which others could you soften your expectations around?
Take a birds' eye view frequently to see where things and expectations have gone wonky and adjust as necessary. Easier said than done but vital to at least attempt.
A heads up about the realities of motherhood isn't necessarily going to make the transition or the whole journey any easier. But it might just create more realistic expectations from the outset and allow for some meaningful conversations and preparations before entering motherhood, that goes beyond birth plans, feeding choices and the newest gadgets.
About the Author:
Silke Thistlewood founded her business – ‘Raise Up Mums’ – in 2018 after her own struggle with postnatal depression and anxiety, and being unable to find suitable well-being resources for mothers. She supports women as they adjust to motherhood (an often overlooked and underestimated transition) with realistic self-care and resilience tools, and an online community.
She’s passionate about mothers receiving more support during the early years of parenting, which her upcoming book 'The Mother-Loving Guide' forms her huge part of (launching 15th June 2022).
In her spare time, which she’s able to negotiate more and more expertly nowadays, Silke loves submerging in open water and lifting heavy things, preferably over her head. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Kent, waiting with bated breath to adopt a rescue dog, after losing their ‘practice baby’ chocolate lab after 13 years.
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Purchase Silke's book: 'The Mother-Loving Guide'