Monday, 16 July 2018

7 Things That Make Modern Motherhood More Difficult Than It Needs To Be



Parenting isn’t easy, at all. I don’t know whether this is something people have always felt, or whether the idea of parenting as a struggle is a new phenomenon. I don’t know whether mothers in all cultures plonk themselves down at the end of the day and let out a sigh of relief at having gotten through another day, but I kind of doubt it. It seems like this struggle is cemented in the way we live our lives in the west. It complicates the way we hold ourselves as mothers, the way we interact with other mothers and even the way we bond with our babies.

That’s not to say motherhood should be perfect and glossy and easy. Of course, it shouldn’t. Life with kids is messy and chaotic and sometimes it makes you want to sit alone in a dark room for a while. But every single day shouldn’t be hard. Life shouldn’t feel like an uphill struggle. When life feels hard, we don’t manage to enjoy the days as they pass. If we’re busy begrudging motherhood, we’re less likely to appreciate the little things that make it all worthwhile - the grubby hands around our neck, the whispered I love yous and the misspelt handwritten notes left on our pillows.

Every minute doesn’t need to be perfect, but we should be able to sit down in the evening and feel positive about the day we just had. We should be able to remember the smiles and the cuddles and the pride, not just the stress and the self-doubt. Maternal mental health problems are on the rise and many women are finding the adjustment to motherhood a difficult one to make. Perhaps it has always been this way, but I doubt it. I think society is making motherhood more difficult than it needs to be, and I think once we recognise that, we will have the power to change it. Here are a few of the reasons I think parenting feels so damn hard in 2018:

1. The loss of a village
This pretty much sums it all up, doesn’t it? Generations ago, children grew into adults who stayed close to home. Families lived in the same communities and you stayed living near the friends you’d grown up with. By the time you had kids, you had a whole army of people to help you out. People relied on their friends and family for informal childcare in a way many people are unable to nowadays. In Bali, babies generally don’t touch the ground until they are six months old. Before then, they are carried at all times. The parents rely on friends and family members to help them keep their baby in arms for the first six months. I imagine there aren’t many people in the UK who could manage such a feat these days. I only live an hour from where I grew up, but that hour means I don’t have much of a village around me at short notice. For those who live even further from home, it must be even more difficult to get help when they need it.

2. Loneliness
It’s a sad fact that motherhood can be a lonely time. Babies are great, but they aren’t skilled conversationalists and the days can pass slowly when you’re not surrounded by friends to talk to. We live in our own houses with our own gardens and driveways. You can easily pass a day without leaving the confines of your own home. You can live in a house for years without ever really knowing your neighbours. The days of neighbourhoods communally raising their kids are gone. Now we have a country of lonely new parents trapped indoors, desperate to find their tribe but not knowing how to go about it. The early days can be so overwhelming that the thought of heading out to a baby group alone is just too much for some new parents. It’s a sad but very true fact that some women find motherhood to be incredibly lonely.

3. The obsession with back to ‘normal’
When you become a mother, there is a new normal, at least temporarily. Your body won’t look or feel like your own, you’ll be exhausted and you will probably lose track of your identity a little bit. Don’t worry, you’ll get it back, but it’s hard to retain your sense of self when you are in survival mode and just trying to make it through to bedtime so you can get some sleep (ha … maybe). But the media, and society, and even your friends are obsessed with you getting ‘back to normal’. They want you wearing your pre-pregnancy jeans, they want you on nights out, and they want your baby to slot into your pre-motherhood life and not change anything. But that isn’t how it works. There will be changes, some permanent, some temporary, and you won’t be ‘back to normal’ anytime soon. And that’s ok. This obsession with being ‘back to normal’ puts women under pressure to chase an unattainable dream.  

4. Technology
Technology is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it has completely changed the modern world and, in many ways, made parenting easier. The invention of the washing machine saved women countless hours and the disposable nappy even more so. Travel is easier and more affordable than ever before. And, thanks to technology, we are better connected, better informed, and better at taking all the photos than previous generations were, and that’s all thanks to advances in technology. But, there are downsides to the technological revolution.

Smartphones and the internet are great for new parents. They allow you to search for answers to the burning questions you have during the 3 am feed. And that’s great if you’re reading trusted information from relevant sites, but it’s not great when you end up down a rabbit hole on a forum of deranged pessimists whose answer to every question is ‘that happened to my cousin and then she died’. Information is power, except when it isn’t. The sheer quantity of information available online can leave new parents not knowing where to turn. It is hard to trust your instincts when the internet is scaremongering and contradictory.

5. Society’s dislike of ‘mum culture’
Simply put, mum doesn’t equal cool in our society. Being somebody’s mum is not a feather to your cap. It doesn't buy you any extra cool points. Mums are seen as being the opposite, really. Uncool, frumpy, past it, too busy to take care of themselves. Even though there are bucketloads of mothers out there proving how untrue that is, the stereotype remains. And, as soon as you have a kid, you worry that that stereotype might be true. After all, you really do spend a lot of time worrying about teething and nappy rashes and you really don’t have as much time to spend on looking after yourself. And so you worry that your friends don’t want to hear about your life,  that they’ll think it’s boring, and so you struggle to think of things to add to conversations. It is very lonely to be surrounded by friends detailing their latest adventures while feeling you have nothing interesting to say.

6. The habit of putting on a brave face
This is just what you do, isn’t it? You don’t tell people all your inner battles in the hope they will like you, even though they’ll never really know you. You don’t tell people when you’re struggling after a traumatic birth or holed up with infected stitches, or barely surviving on such little sleep. When people ask how you are, you tell them you are fine and give them a big (albeit dead-eyed) smile to prove it. But that inability to open up and be vulnerable means many new mums are missing out on the help they need. If you don’t tell people you’re exhausted, they won’t offer to hold the baby so you can nap. If you don’t tell people you’re struggling to get on top of work, they won’t offer to take your toddler to the park for a few hours so you can get things done. It’s not always easy to be honest, but it is always worth it.

7. Judgement, or at least the idea of it
There is nothing worse than feeling like you are being judged, especially for your parenting choices. You want to be the best parent you can be, so to think others believe you are doing a bad job is just heartbreaking. We are all just doing the best we can, so can’t we just get along and be kind to each other? Why is there this obsession with tearing each other down? Sometimes, the judgement is real. Some people are incredibly judgemental and, if that affects how you feel about yourself, are better off avoided. But, I would argue, sometimes it is in your head. We worry so much about being judged that sometimes we get into the habit of feeling judged even when nobody is judging us. And media stereotypes make that worse.

The tabloids and daytime TV shows are filled with parenting stereotypes pitted against each other in ‘debates’. You know the ones, they find a mum who thinks breastfeeding is perverted child abuse and put her up against the mum who is still breastfeeding her 45-year-old son. It’s a way of getting people riled up and selling newspapers, but it also has a negative impact on new mums who are sat at home already feeling like the world is judging them. This obsession with us vs them makes parenting even more difficult to navigate.

Each of these things plays a part in making modern motherhood more difficult than it needs to be. Some people may be affected by some more than others, but I think all mothers are feeling the impact of these changes to society. The good news is you can do something to help. Ok, you can’t un-invent smartphones or force people to live closer to their mums, but you can take a positive step towards helping new mothers feel good. You can smile and be kind, and think about the words you say before they tumble out of your mouth. Be mindful of the words you say and the impact they may have. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.

If you’re a new mum navigating motherhood, you can do your bit by being honest. Let yourself be vulnerable and speak truthfully with the other mothers you meet, that way you can take steps towards building a supportive community of women surviving and excelling at motherhood together.

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