The Most Damaging Myths about Motherhood
You should be able to get pregnant right away. It’s what women’s bodies are designed to do. You should love being pregnant—or at least embrace it. After all, you’re growing a child! Pregnancy is when you get to enjoy all those feel-good hormones flowing through your body—and after you give birth, you should be thrilled to hold that baby in your arms. You’re supposed to instinctively bond with your newborn, and know exactly what they need. There’s a right way to give birth—and it doesn’t involve an epidural or a hospital.
Myths about motherhood are so powerful, so prevalent and so salient that they start well before we even become moms, according to Emma Basch, Psy.D, a psychologist who specializes in treating postpartum depression and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders in Washington, D.C.
And these myths show up everywhere. We hear them from well-meaning loved ones and strangers. We see them on social media. We come across them in clever headlines on all sorts of sites, inside all sorts of publications.
And we consume these myths, and we assume them as our own beliefs. And we inevitably feel terrible, inadequate and lacking when we don’t act accordingly. We inevitably feel like we’re deeply, deeply flawed, and we’re missing some significant maternal gene.
We also don’t try to dispute them. Which means we don’t see facts like—10 percent of women in the U.S. have difficulty getting or staying pregnant; and 10 to 20 percent of women experience perinatal mood or anxiety disorders.
Many of the moms Basch sees at her private practice feel like no matter what they’re doing, they’re getting motherhood wrong. “[T]hey believe there is one right way to be a mom and they are failing.”
Maybe you do, too.
Below you’ll find a variety of myths about motherhood, which I hope help you realize that you’re not, in fact, doing it wrong. Because what’s truly wrong is the perpetuation of these myths in the first place.
Myth: As a mom, you need to fix it.
“There is one highly pervasive myth about motherhood that most of us aren’t even aware of, yet it dictates and influences virtually every decision that we mothers make—and leaves us feeling full of shame and doubt,” said Carla Naumburg, Ph.D, a parent coach and author of several books on parenting, including the forthcoming How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t With Your Kids (Workman, 2019).
The myth, she said, is that motherhood must be easy and enjoyable, and our kids must be happy and doing well—and if that’s not the case, then mom must fix the problem.
That is, if your child is bored, you must entertain them. If your child is sad, you must instantly cheer them up. If your child is throwing a tantrum because you said they can’t play with your phone, you must make them feel better.
We’re one of the first generations to be regularly inundated with research and advice on how to raise our kids. Which inadvertently contributes to the myth that if moms follow the best tips, their kids will be healthy—and if they’re not healthy, then clearly you’ve done something wrong, Naumburg said.
“This is ridiculous and damaging; life and humans are far too complicated and unpredictable for such simplistic if/then statements,” said Naumburg, who pens the Psych Central blog Mindful Parenting. Plus, she said, when we try to “fix,” we communicate that feelings such as sadness, anger, anxiety are bad and not OK. Which, over time, teaches our kids that these uncomfortable emotions are to be avoided—often at all costs. Which also can leave our kids ill-prepared for navigating challenges.
“It isn’t our job as mothers to make sure our children are happy; it’s our job to show up as often as we can for whatever they’re dealing with, and to help them learn how to navigate whatever pops up in life, rather than trying to help them avoid it all together.”
Myth: You should love being a mom. all. the. time.
There’s an implication that if you don’t love being a mom every single second of the day, then you’re somehow abnormal and defective. But as Basch said, “Who loves being or doing anything all of the time? People are multi-faceted; motherhood is complicated.”
Instead of trying to force yourself to feel certain feelings or to put on a mask, Basch stressed the importance of acknowledging and accepting all of your emotions. Because it’s perfectly normal and healthy to experience all kinds of emotions about motherhood.
Therapist Kate Kripke, LCSW, noted that it’s very common for moms to love their kids, but “not love the tedium, frustration, exhaustion, and confusion that often comes hand in hand with being a mom.” Motherhood is filled with moments of deep happiness, wonder and hilarity. But it’s also chaotic and messy, said Kripke, the founder and director of Postpartum Wellness Center of Boulder. And it leaves less time for other activities that you enjoy, which can spark sadness, anger and grief.
Myth: Being a mom should come naturally to you.
And if it doesn’t come naturally, then you’re obviously not cut out to be a mom. “Yet, the act of mothering—the choices to be made, the management of discipline, the day-to-day ebb and flow of the ‘how to’s’ in motherhood do not come ‘naturally’ for many women,” Kripke said.
In fact, she believes that all moms don’t know exactly what to do. But she noted: Some women may simply have more trust in themselves, and some may be more forgiving of their mistakes. Some might’ve been raised in households where they were fully listened to and taught to effectively cope with their emotions. Some might’ve been raised to understand how to “trust their capacities to find their own answers to things that seem like everyone else knows how and they do not.”
These women “may glide through parenting with a bit less stress and pressure because the knowledge is embedded in their own experience—as opposed to women who were not taught these things by their own mothers and therefore have no implicit memory and experience to work with.”
Myth: Good moms focus all their attention on their kids.
“Women are taught to take exceptional care of themselves while they are pregnant and then at the moment of birth, attention of care goes from mother to child,” said Kripke. And moms’ health gets put on the backburner.
Many moms believe that carving out time to care for themselves is the epitome of selfish. After all, we’re repeatedly told that we’re only good moms if we give everything to our kids all the time—if we’re “entirely self-sacrificing,” Basch said.
However, your health is critical. “One of the leading causes of childhood mental illness is untreated maternal mental illness,” Kripke said.
When you prioritize your own self-care, you have more to give to your loved ones. Your patience lasts longer, you’re more creative, you listen with more empathy, you think more logically, and you manage stress more effectively, Kripke said. Caring for yourself isn’t selfish, it’s “self-full.”
Plus, engaging in activities that genuinely nourish you feels good. And you deserve to feel good.
Ultimately, “The truth is, motherhood is complicated, always changing, and deeply personal,” Basch said. Which means there’s no one way to do it.
To stop yourself from internalizing these damaging myths (and similar ones), Naumburg encouraged readers to get regular reality checks from loved ones you deeply trust, who are honest, authentic, supportive and compassionate—and “who love you and your kid regardless of what you’re dealing with right now, and who don’t bother to clean their houses before you come over.”
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). The Most Damaging Myths about Motherhood. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 26, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-most-damaging-myths-about-motherhood/