Choosing Compassion

Christine Sweeney, LICSW Program Manager, Parent Connection, BIDMC

JUNE 22, 2018

Mother and child
Motherhood is not what we imagined. It is more delightful, more heartbreaking. It ruins everything. It’s not the calm after the storm we have been led to expect. It is almost more than a person can bear. Almost.
Ariel Gore, The Mother Trip: Hip Mama’s Guide to Staying Sane in the Chaos of Motherhood

First-time mama-hood can look and feel so wildly different than the fantasies and images to which we’re exposed ALL THE TIME. Especially in this time of 24/7 access to “news” and “the latest research results” in which we’re a beep, a click, a ping away from hearing about how ______ (recent celebrity mom) is back in her size zero jeans a mere four weeks after delivering, and is back at work full-time, managing her company, going on tour, multi-tasking like a pro. Before baby’s birth, we might have given such “breaking news” a mere glance. But here we are with baby in our arms (sleeping on us for the gazillionth hour!) perhaps still in our maternity clothes, with dishes in the sink, laundry unwashed and unfolded, dust bunnies collecting in every conceivable corner of our homes – AND we’re pondering, wrestling with, agonizing over what feel like monumental decisions about feeding, sleep, exposure to harmful elements, reconnecting with our partner, exercising (what?!), time for ourselves (selfish!!), returning (or not) to work. We feel exhausted and demoralized rather than energized and jubilant (like the snapshot – important word there – of new celebrity mom).

In separate conversations with several moms in the past few weeks, I’ve heard their distress about feeling inadequate in their new roles as parents. They reported feeling overwhelmed by the crazy amounts of “information” from “experts” on how to do anything and everything baby-related. They also spoke about feeling judged about parenting decisions by family, friends and other moms (which sometimes feels the most painful). These moms, and pretty much every new mom I talk with, felt pretty competent in their pre-baby lives. Yet, here they find themselves, new, sleep-deprived mamas, acclimating to one of the most major adjustments they’ll ever experience, and they’re feeling overwhelmed, less-than-capable, and judged at every turn (including by themselves).

So, for a moment, let’s consider that snapshot – and that celebrity – and the resentful, snarky judgment that we might be quick to feel towards her. That photo is one moment. It does not represent the broader reality – hers and ours. It may be that our celebrity does have a host of paid (or unpaid) helpers: nanny, cook, personal trainer, housecleaner, dog walker, and chauffeur who help her move, seemingly effortlessly, through her days and her nights. Yet, nothing (socioeconomic status, education, celebrity) exempts new moms from self-doubt, from worry, from angst about their child’s wellbeing, from feeling critical about their post-pregnancy bodies, from wrestling with making sense of their new roles as moms. Perhaps that celebrity has a contract that stipulates that she has to be a certain size or “in shape” (my own imagining) in order to work and get paid. Perhaps she’s feeling disconnected from her partner. Perhaps she is feeling disconnected from her friends who don’t have kids. Perhaps she’s unsure about her capabilities as a mother. Perhaps she struggles with figuring out who she is, what she wants, what’s important as this new chapter of her life begins. Perhaps we mamas have more in common with one another than we’d imagined.

As moms, we are in this together. Judgment that we pass on others (celebrities or not) is most often a reflection of the judgment that we pass on ourselves. It’s limiting, damaging, suffocating, isolating, and does not recognize and honor the tremendously wonderful and painful complexity of mothering. Just as with our orientation to making/finding time for ourselves, it can seem “selfish” or “frivolous” to offer compassion to ourselves, to other moms. And it can be the most grounding, loving, and empowering thing we can do – for ourselves, for one another, for our children who watch and listen to everything we do. Let us take the bold steps forward to notice when we’re feeling judgment towards ourselves and towards other moms; to take a breath or a step back so that we can connect with feelings of compassion for ourselves, for all mothers; and to offer up that compassion through words, thoughts, prayers, kind and helpful actions. Joined together, we can bear the happiness, the sorrow, the worry, the wonder of this amazingly rich journey.

Post written by Kim Cooke, LICSW
Former Parent Connection Program Coordinator and Group Leader

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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