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  • Karen Sussan, LMHC

RX – New Moms: Aim To Become A Good Enough Mother

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

Transitioning to motherhood is a rite of passage. And, It IS a big deal.

It often gets portrayed on TV shows in unrealistic ways. A baby just pops right out, into the arms of a sweaty–but still beautiful woman (thanks to makeup artists), with an adoring, smiling partner nearby. And PRESTO — a perfect nuclear family instantly forms!

We all know it doesn’t work that way. Yet we register these unrealistic images, so it is no surprise to find many of us discover we have unrealistic standards and expectations. Such perfectionistic standards run rampant in our society and give mothers and other child caregivers a strong sense of failure, shame, resentment and a whole host of complex emotional difficulties. That socialization runs very deep.

Mothers are not instantly formed. People BECOME mothers. It is a process. What is more, bonding takes place over time.

So complex a transformation!

New mothers are often in a state of shock. It simply is not widely acceptable to say so.

I recovered from the shock by the time of my daughter’s four-week pediatric appointment. I landed into motherhood then worried about messing up. So, I asked the pediatrician for guidance. He told me, “A pack of wolves could raise a baby for the first year of life. Don’t worry so much!”

While many would have been offended by such a comment, I ran with it. It calmed me down to consider how natural it was to care for a baby. I pictured Mogli being raised by a pack of wolves. I got out of my own way and stopped making it harder on myself. After all, even the doctor was pretty sure I wasn’t not going to harm my baby as I began care as a novice.

As I see it now, the heart of the matter is that a woman who has just given birth needs support. Despite that initial shock of birth and newborn care, she needs to focus upon herself–mind, body and soul. That support can help a new mother adjust to her new role, to grow and transform and begin to integrate this life transition into her sense of self so she can more fully enter into a brand-new relationship with this new little being.

Then, there are the babies.

The babies do not come with instructions. It isn’t always so romantic to care for a baby. It can be confusing at times, if not overwhelming, even if you have read all the What to Expect series.

You owe no apology or explanation to people who stare while on grocery checkout lines, even when they remark, “Oh my! Can’t you control your child?”

On the contrary, I laud you if you have the strength to hold your tongue in such instances. They do not know your challenges. So what if your child is having a temper tantrum having missed nap time. Why apologize when you know it was smart to drop everything and call that emergency gas hotline for immediate help. What you smelled was confirmed. It was a gas leak. So, good for you, actually. You have your faculties. You have actually grown!

And, after all, as they say, the best-laid plans… And you were able to drop that well-orchestrated schedule in triage efforts!

Lately, in my practice, given the pandemic, I see parents underestimating the fallout upon their parenting enterprise.The pandemic really is confounding an already stressful albeit natural process, the transformation into parenting. Families are more challenged now than ever. There are fewer social, financial, logistical and emotional resources to mine given the pandemic.

I say to such clients, “It is OK to not feel okay”. In my practice, I see so many decent mothers. To appropriate an apt term fashioned by one of my favorite heroes in the world of psychotherapeutic thought, D.W. Winnicott:

“You don’t have to be perfect! Aim for being a “GOOD ENOUGH MOTHER!”

To extrapolate from Winnicott’s work, if mothers were perfectly attuned to their infants, we human beings would be ill-suited for this imperfect world.

Please, dear mothers (and parents or supporters of parents), be gentle with yourself!

Therapy can be a way to regroup, grow and start anew in this startling chapter of life.

Even if you have been diagnosed with postpartum depression and are in need of healing, you can gradually find greater self-acceptance and enjoy being a mother.

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