Becoming a mother was high on my list of priorities. It was something I had always wanted, my own child to nurture, love and raise.
There were so many rules that I’d made for myself and for our girl even before we’d even met her. I would breastfeed her. She would wear cloth nappies. She would sleep in her own bed. Our child would never have a dummy. I never had one and I managed to survive OK.
When I think about these rules now, they weren’t really my rules at all.
I had learned them from when my mum was a mum and she from her mum and so on, back through the generations it goes. The rules were rigid, structured and judgemental. Lacking flexibility and from generations where the woman became a stay-at-home-mum once she’d given birth. She was expected to raise the family and manage the domestic chores.
So much has progressed in our physical worlds, it’s incredible to believe that our ideals of motherhood have not yet morphed and caught up. When it comes to raising children it’s as though one foot is firmly planted in the past and one is planted in the now and we become stuck, not knowing what the right thing is. At least that’s how I felt.
I know for me I was carrying the beliefs of what a mother “should” do and what I “must” do to qualify for mother-of-the-year award. I was 29 with a great career behind me when I became a mum. I’d seen so much and experienced much more than my maternal predecessors and I didn’t know how to cope with motherhood in the modern world.
These days there is an inundation of information available to new mums, to the point of saturation and overwhelm.
Who do you believe and what’s right for you? It’s so confusing. Do you breast and bottle feed? Do you bottle feed only? Do you let your baby sleep with you? Do you do attachment parenting? Are cloth nappies really better than disposable? Everyone has their two cents worth about raising children and their thoughts on right and wrong.
Having always been someone who was great at rule abiding, the rules of motherhood almost broke my spirit. I recall a time when I was breastfeeding and the ends of my nipples were hanging off, so sore and tender and bleeding. The experience was so painful. It definitely wasn’t the beautiful experience I had imagined it to be! I began to resent having to feed my baby that way. I stuck with it because I felt I “had to stick to the rules”.
One day I was with my GP and we were discussing the issues I was having with feeding. She turned to me and said “If the mother is happy, the baby will be happy. Breastfeeding is obviously causing you a lot of distress and comfort, there are other options”. Hearing that from her was so releasing and freeing. It was like the shackles had been taken off. You mean I could have a choice in the way I raised my child? I didn’t need to stick to the “rules” rigidly?
Reflecting on my experience as a mother, the advice I would impart to any new mother is that at the end of the day:
- Do what feels right for you and your baby. It’s OK to ask others for their opinions and get advice; but when it comes to the crunch, you are the one person who knows your baby best. You are the one who is there at the witching hour, the midnight feed times, the days where you feel like tearing your hair out.
- Be gentle on yourself – you are doing the best you can with what you know how to do right now. If and when you know better, you will do better.
- Rules are meant to be broken, bent and changed. Be flexible with your approach to motherhood and parenting; what works today may not work tomorrow and vice versa.