Ideal mother syndrome: Giving birth to a child is life-altering. Yes, having a child is blissful and gratifying in every way, but as a new mother, the sheer experience can be daunting. The truth is that despite all the literature and counsel out there, there is nothing that can prepare you for what is coming your way.
As an expecting mother, I always thought how hard can this be? After a plethora of books, conversations, taking notes, effective preparations, ticking every check box that existed, I said, “I’ve got this”!
When I held my baby girl in my arms for the first time and she clung to me for warmth and security, it felt divine. Once that feeling settled, I realised that my petite mortal was going to depend on me for everything… EVERYTHING! It scared the daylights off of me. Not that I did not know this before, but knowing about something and experiencing it are two very different things. I felt a paradox of emotions, on one hand, I wanted to safeguard my baby with all I had, and on the other, an immense pressure of my fragile, precious human relying on me. In the quest to do my best, I weighed myself down under the notion of what ‘an ideal mother’ should be.
Motherhood was baffling, the lack of sleep, fluctuating hormones, body that was still healing and pretty much functioning in an auto zombie mode. For the first few weeks, I felt befuddled each time my baby cried. Is she hungry again? Does she need a diaper change? Is the room temperature, okay? Is it a stomach ache? Even when she slept soundly, I would wake up multiple times to make sure the blanket did not cover her face. Despite ensuring everything, there were times she would still cry. I would then resort to putting her on my shoulders and marching her to sleep. This ordeal often continued for hours, with me losing sense of time, and draining myself physically and mentally. There were multiple instances like this which took a toll on me and made me realise that motherhood was not coming easily to me.
My husband on the other hand, quite annoyingly, was a pro. He would hold the baby and she would stop crying, he would talk to her as if she was a 15-year-old and she would immediately respond like she understood everything. He actively took on his role, and whilst his help was the greatest blessing at the time, it made me question my parenting even more. What is wrong with me?? I would experience bouts of emotions which were completely arcane. My baby was the greatest blessing to me and yet, for the first few weeks, I could not get myself to enjoy this experience. I had never heard anyone say motherhood was this tough!
He actively took on his role, and whilst his help was the greatest blessing at the time, it made me question my parenting even more.
My mother came to visit me one day, despite my easy breezy motherhood pretence, she instantly figured something was wrong. I finally admitted, “I don’t think I am an ideal mother; I should have prepared myself better for this and should have coped better”. She smiled, made me sit down and explained patiently, “An ideal mother does not exist! A mother is a MOTHER to a child, and that is enough for the child! Motherhood will not come to you overnight, some things you will be intuitive about while the others you will just figure over a period of time. It is not some exam you could have crammed for better.”
The artless words and a big tight hug of assurance from my mother changed something within me almost instantly. Sometimes, that is all you need to come through the worst of times. The next time I held my baby, was with renewed faith in myself. Once I did that, there was no looking back, I knew I was giving my best and that was enough for my child. The challenges did not magically fade from there on but it surely made me stronger for the journey ahead.
An ideal mother does not exist! A mother is a MOTHER to a child, and that is enough for the child! Motherhood will not come to you overnight, some things you will be intuitive about while the others you will just figure over a period of time.
The reason I chose to share such a personal experience is that I don’t think most of us talk about or express these feelings as liberally. Partly because they are personal in nature and partly because we have a fear of perception from people. Maybe what I was experiencing back then, had faint elements of post-partum, or without labelling it, it was something we all go through emotionally and don’t talk about. The personal challenges a new mother faces are often drowned amidst the celebrations and cheer of the newborn baby. But it is equally imperative to look out for yourself at this juncture.
At the end of the day, amidst all the fad of ideal parenting and dos and don’ts to be ‘an ideal mother’, there is only one thing most vital to a new mother. “Self-preservation!" Keeping herself sane and strong through the entire physical and emotional upheaval. Preserve yourself for it is the best way to ensure you are giving your best to the child. In addition to all the motherhood pre-requisites we prepare for, here are some of the things new mothers need to keep in mind for the journey ahead:
- It is okay to not know things: Just because a woman has given birth to a child, it will not make her a PhD in Motherhood. Yes, the mother and child do have an instinctive bond, but it takes time for every mother to adjust to her child and figure out how to take care of her/him. A mother does not know it all! You watch, you learn, you cry, you toil, you guess, you goof up, you fail, you heal, you grow. It is a lifelong journey.
- You will feel lost and question yourself at some point: The first few weeks/months will always be intimidating. You just need to know that it is something all new mothers go through. Express yourself, don’t be weighed down by how anyone will judge you. Those who love you, will stand by you, without judgments. For those who don’t, their judgments should not matter.
- Give time to yourself: New mothers rarely have this luxury, but u need to make time for yourself without feeling selfish about it. Yes, your child is the most important part of your life, but confusing your child as your life will prove toxic to you and your child in the long run.
- Every child is different and so is every mother: It is not fair to compare one baby/mother to the other. There may be angelic babies out there who go off to sleep with a sweet gentle lullaby. And there may be nocturnal ones who want to hear a world of lullabies, songs, stories, poems, self-created songs and jingles till your voice cracks, with still no sleep in their big button eyes. It has nothing to do with you not doing your bit, and everything to do with the fact that god has carved us ‘one different from the other’.
- Ad-vice: Everybody loves to give advice to new mothers, often unsolicited in nature. While some of the advice is helpful and holds sacred, most of it is given idealizing someone else’s situation and may be far from your own ground reality. Know what to hold on to and what to let go. Be your own judge.
- Keep your support system close: Know your people and stick to them. Emotional support is imperative when transitioning into motherhood.
- Just hang in there: Every mother gives her best to her child and it is a natural instinct, you are doing everything you can! It may seem tough and turbulent right now, but every mother survives this phase, there will be a time when you look back and say my baby was worth all of it.
There is no one who can nurture a child better than a mother so don’t doubt yourself or chase someone else’s ‘ideal’. Most certainly, the perception of ‘an ideal mother’ is flawed and yet if you ask any person who ‘an ideal mother’ is, their answer almost immediately will be ‘MY MOTHER”!
The views expressed are the author's own.