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Many mothers feel like motherhood isn’t what they expected it to be. It feels harder and more confusing.
Where is that bubble of joy and love I was dreaming of? Why is this so hard?
Is there something wrong with me? Am I not capable enough? Do I not love my children enough?
Why am I not enjoying every moment like they say I should?
Something doesn’t feel right.
Can you relate to these thoughts?
Lovely mum, I want you to know, that even when things don’t feel right in motherhood, you are exactly where you are meant to be.
You are in the midst of a life changing transition that every mother makes.
Matrescence – the transition every mother makes
You may have heard the saying, “when a child is born, so is a mother”.
That doesn’t just mean you get a new role and title.
When a mother is born, she enters into a major life transition. One that makes her feel like she has gained and lost all at the same time. One that is confusing and makes her feel like she’s all over the place.
In 1973, anthropologist, Dana Raphael, coined the term matrescence, to explain this transition of becoming a mother, which could be one of the most significant transitions that you ever experience. Matrescence is a slow, gradual process, which can’t be done and dusted when your child turns one. In fact, Matrescence could be a lifelong journey, as it recurs with each additional child, and evolves as you and your children grow through life’s stages.
What happens in Matrescence?
Let’s consider some of the things you’re faced with when you enter Matrescence:
- The expectations, dreams and stories you created before and during pregnancy, may or may not be fulfilled. This includes your ideas about what makes a “good mother” (we all know how easy it is to say “I’ll never let my child…” when you don’t have children).
- You exit your pre-motherhood life and step into a new world of babies, baby talk and baby activities.
- You’re now responsible for raising and protecting a small helpless human.
- Your hormones and emotions are going crazy. You may have expected happiness and love, but maybe not worry, disappointment, guilt, frustration, inadequacy, fear, anger and loss of control.
- Your brain and heart are changed.
- Your own experience of being mothered is brought back to your attention. Sometimes this is helpful, and it can also be painful.
- The way you spend your time and attention completely changes. The time you have available for yourself is drastically reduced.
- Your family dynamics change. A baby can bring you closer to your partner, but can also create additional stress and highlight areas that you’re not aligned.
- Your relationships with friends and family members change.
- There’s so much information out there, often conflicting, telling you what “good mothers” do and highlighting ALL the risks of your every decision.
- You take a break from your career (either long or short) and your finances change.
- How you view yourself and the world around you changes. How the world views you changes.
Pretty much every area of your life changes. And that will inevitably be stressful at times.
Rozskia Parker, a British psychotherapist, wrote about the pull and push effect that mothers experience. The pull represents how we want our children to be close to us, and the push represents how we simultaneously crave space for ourselves. Giving vs taking. Connecting vs being separate. This is a difficult experience because you want two opposing things.
In their book, “What no one tells you: A Guide to Your Emotions from Pregnancy to Motherhood”, Alexandra Sacks MD and Catherine Birndorf MD, talk about the divided mind. There are many examples of how your mind is divided in motherhood. This happens because you’re dealing with your own life while simultaneously look after your child’s life. This is hard!
You might recognise that your mind is divided when you’re at work but can’t stop thinking about and missing your children, or when you’re at home trying to play, but can’t stop thinking about work. When you take your child to the park, you’re wondering if you have enough nappies or broccoli for dinner. And even when your partner or someone else is caring for your child, you can’t stop thinking about what they’re doing. This is a mental and emotional experience. And it’s a normal one.
Only forward, not back
Once you enter matrescence, life is different. Even though you might go back to work, fit into your pre-baby clothes and get back to the gym, it will never be the same as it was.
Sometimes you’ll feel like you love your new life, and other times you’ll wish you had your old life back. That certainly doesn’t mean you don’t love your children enough. But you can’t go back.
While some of us see that as a loss, it’s actually an evolution of you. Now you are more, not less.
You are on your way to establishing your new identity and way of being.
I know it’s easy to think of all the things that are no longer part of your life. But remember to also think about how your life has expanded and evolved and how you have expanded and evolved.
You have never held the role of mother before, and with that role comes so much self growth and understanding.
You have been tested more than ever before, in ways that are new to you. Your strength, patience, capacity and resilience have been stretched like never before. Your ability to function on hardly any sleep has been challenged like never before. You learn new ways to invest in relationships, invest in yourself, care for totally dependant human beings, and to continue to show up, no matter how hard it gets. You now love like you’ve never loved before. You’ve met new friends, learned to slow down and see the world through childlike eyes again and you know more now that you did before.
You are more. You are evolving.
Supporting yourself through your matrescence
Acceptance, understanding and self compassion are important to support yourself through your matrescence, no matter where in your journey you are.
What would it have been like when you first became a mother, if someone had told you that you were going to experience this transition? That it wasn’t just about going on maternity leave, feeding, burping, changing nappies and rocking to sleep.
What if someone had told you that you were about to embark on a life changing transition yourself, that would feel stressful and confusing at times, and that could lead to you feeling like you’d lost yourself?
What if someone had told you that this was all ok and part of your journey?
Please know, lovely, that it’s ok to feel like you don’t know who you are or how you fit in the world anymore. It’s ok to realise that you need to rediscover yourself. It’s ok to feel like motherhood hasn’t lived up to your expectations, or that it’s so much more challenging than you thought it would be.
You are evolving.
Your evolution may not look like other mums’ evolutions.
This is a long journey and that you are exactly where you need to be right now.
That everything has changed.
That you’re holding onto dreams from before motherhood and that you could still bring those to reality, perhaps in a different way. Or perhaps your dreams will change. Either is completely ok.
Tune into your feelings and allow yourself to move forward
Notice how your transition makes you feel, why you are feeling that way, and how you can move forward, evolving every step of the way.
What I’m feeling: I love being with my children but I’m desperate for some time on my own. I feel guilty for wanting to leave them with someone else, even though I just need to have no one need me for a little while. I can feel that I’m getting so frustrated with being touched and needed all the time.
Why I feel this way: I’m learning to balance my own needs with my children’s needs. I feel so strongly because I love them so much, and I also know that I need to look after myself so that I can look after them. It’s difficult to focus on both those things at the same time.
How I can move forward: I could put the children to bed tonight, and then go out for a coffee or a walk by myself, when my partner is home. Or, I could take the kids to my mum’s house and ask her to look after them while I go for a walk. I could schedule a monthly time for a babysitter to come for an afternoon, so that I can do something for me. I could coordinate my children’s naps, so that I can have a little time for myself at home.
If you feel grief over letting go of parts of your pre-motherhood life, let yourself feel this. Ignoring or suppressing those feelings, will only lead to them resurfacing again later. Accepting and feeling your emotions will enable you to move past them and have the mental space to create your new reality
Talk about it
And lastly, talk about it. Even if it seems that all the other mums around you are coping fine, they are all going through their own matrescence. The more we talk about it, the more we will understand that there is nothing wrong with us. Find trusted people to support you and know that you don’t have to figure it all out now.
Further support with your matrescence journey
If you would like some support with figuring out who you are and where you fit in the world as a woman and mother, I would love to help you! In my coaching work with clients, I help them break free of external and unhelpful expectations, tune into what they really need and want, and then make that a reality. I can support you in sorting through the confusion, rediscovering yourself and redefining what success in motherhood looks like for you. If you’d like to have a chat about what might be possible for you (cost and obligation free, of course!), then get in touch here! I can’t wait to hear from you.
Please note that the information provided by More to Mum is for educational purposes only. It is general in nature and is not based on a complete assessment of your personal situation and requirements. The information should not be used as a substitute for professional medical or mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult your health care provider if you have any medical or mental health concerns.