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 Mothering Stress

I would love to engage you in a conversation about this, the beautiful concept of the good-enough Mother coined by Winnicott in the 1950’s.

Mothers do it tough, and the pressures on them appear to be ever increasing. My lovely young cousin had a baby recently and I was shocked to discover that expectant parents are now invited to pay upwards of $1500 FOR A STROLLER! I mean, I understand this is also a choice, but the very fact that these strollers exist (and are becoming the norm) is shocking. They are just one aspect of a spiralling baby industry which would have us believe that to really love our children we must be spending a fortune on them….and so much more.

Vulnerability of new parents

I recall motherhood as a time of newness and change when I needed help and support. It was the doorway to a new life, and in the UK, surprisingly, there was a lot of community support for this period. Community play groups, Baby groups, District Nurses. It was a vulnerable period both for me and my family, especially being so far from home and living in the heart of an enormous sprawling metropolis like London.

I hear a lot from mothers in my practice, and I also have my own experience as the mother of two beautiful and challenging boys who are now in late teenage. I know first hand, and also see the sacrifice that mothers make, of their time, energy, money and spirit, in the service of their children, and I see the cost it carries, sometimes seemingly without end. My curiosity grew about what had changed in the twenty years since I had my first child and so I did a literature search and discovered an interesting piece of research that I want to share with you here. It feels like the nubbin of the issue. But first of all a short recap on Winnicott’s beautiful statement…

The Good-Enough Mother

A new born baby needs fine attunement and care from Mum in order to survive, and as it grows, a baby can quickly learn to deal with small amounts of frustration, beginning to trust that Mum is nearby and will arrive. This is the shift from perfect to good enough and this is the shift now that seems to be stuck in first gear!

‘A mother is neither good nor bad nor the product of illusion, but is a separate and independent entity: The good-enough mother .. starts off with an almost complete adaptation to her infant’s needs, and as time proceeds she adapts less and less completely, gradually, according to the infant’s growing ability to deal with her failure. Her failure to adapt to every need of the child helps them adapt to external realities.’ D.W Winnicott

How good is this?! My failures (I prefer the word human-ness)  as a Mother are actually what allow my children to grow. Think about that now, I want it to really sink in. Let’s be clear, I’m not advising you to abandon your kids, just to drop some of the perfectionist traits which may not be serving you, read on!

Perfect mothers are the least happy

Read the article synopsis here

This piece of research used a survey tool which explored parental attitudes. The five attitudes they explored were an indication of the intensity of mothering. They discovered that women who adhere strongly to these intense beliefs about mothering are more likely to have poorer mental health themselves. The stricter the adherence to these ideals, the worse the maternal mental health. I’ve listed them below and it’s easy to see how new Mum’s can be seduced into these ideals, there is external pressure as well as internal pressure. See how they register for you…

1.Essentialism- women are uniquely the best primary parent.

2.Fulfilment- there is no higher, more pleasurable calling than motherhood

3. Stimulation- Mothers must constantly optimise their child’s brain development

4.Challenging- Mothering is the hardest job in the world

5.Child-Centred- Mothers must tailor their lives to fit around their children

How did you go? Happily, I don’t score too highly on most of these and early on, subscribed to the view that we both needed to enjoy an activity for it to be part of our routine.

Time for change?

Much of the work I do with Mothers in therapy is about reclaiming their own importance and right to life!

Here are my thoughts about how to do this, please don’t take this as advice, it is designed to help you navigate deep and difficult waters.

  1. Less is more – allow kids to have free time and make their own fun. Being ‘bored’ is ok, it will teach them how to occupy themselves. Limit screen time.
  2. Look after yourself – schedule your own self care into the weekly routine and prioritise it. When you remove yourself from the mix, partners and children behave differently, sometimes it is an invitation for them to step up. Try not to facilitate their activities, let them create this themselves but ask about it afterwards and support your partner to be the best parent they can be.
  3. Show your kids how you look after yourself – invite your friends over, share with your children how you engage in and enjoy activities, they will learn from this and see you differently.
  4. Take time out from mothering – boundaries become important here, show your children how to create good boundaries with others by having good boundaries with them. Building awareness around this is key, if you find yourself saying yes when you want to scream NO, stop, reflect, consider how you might get some of your needs met.
  5. Here is the golden rule of mothering, What is good for you is also good for them.

This was my own journey, of relearning to value myself in the equation. I hope this article has stimulated your interest in your own attitudes and how you might look after yourself!

If you would like to connect with me I am available in the inner west of Brisbane. Use the contact form on this website.

Happy Mothering!


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