The letters keep coming to our advice column on PsychCentral. New moms wonder if there is something wrong with them if they aren’t over the moon about their little one every minute of every day. Others worry that they aren’t doing it right or that the things that have gone wrong will scar their kids for life and ruin any chance for them to be successful adults.
Why? Because every lifestyle magazine and hundreds of books perpetuate myths of motherhood that are guaranteed to make new moms feel anxious and inadequate. These five cultural mommy myths are more likely to cause damage to the moms more than the well-intended moms are likely to damage their kids.
Myth 1: You’ll love your baby instantly.
Maybe. Some mothers instantly fall in love as soon as their newborn is placed on their stomach. Some adoptive moms report the same feelings when they first get a glimpse of the child coming into their lives. But here’s the reality: Every child, whether birthed to you or brought to you as a step, foster or adopted child goes through a process of “adoption.” Some new moms are just too exhausted, too ill, too anxious or too scared to let themselves fall in love immediately. Like some of the best romances, these mother-child relationships develop over days and weeks of getting to know one another.
As one mom told me, “After a difficult birth, I could barely look at my son. I was hurting. He was hurting. I was exhausted. He didn’t look like the pretty babies on the diaper boxes because he had the weird cone-head that some babies have. I remember lapsing into an exhausted sleep, thinking I’d birthed a changeling or something. It wasn’t until we’d both had a few days to recover, that I took a new look and discovered that the changeling had changed into a son I love.”
An adoptive mom relayed the same type of experience. “We’d waited for a baby for months. Then, without any warning, we got a call from the agency saying that a little girl had become available and were we interested in having her join our family in two days! Two days! Talk about a short pregnancy! Yes, I wanted the baby. But the hurry to get supplies, take a leave from work, and attend to all the legal details got in the way of thinking about bonding with a baby. When things settled down a week later, I remember looking at her and finally saying, “Hi there. You’re mine and I’m yours.”
Myth 2: You’ll know what your baby’s cries mean.
Good mothers know the difference between a cry for hunger, pain, gas, discomfort, sleepiness or general crankiness, right? Wrong. Some do. Some don’t. Some babies communicate with different kinds of whimpers and cries. Others just squinch up their little faces and squall regardless of the cause. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that the grownups recognize that something is up and respond.