Sadness, burnout, fear, guilt, anxiety, loneliness, frustration, anger, resentment, shame, embarrassment, disgust.
Mothers feel them.
But often we don’t like to talk about them.
What will people think?
If perfect mum is always composed, in control, calm, happy, on top of things and completely fulfilled by motherhood, then surely these things must mean failure as a mother. Or at least provide a clear indication that we’re not coping or there’s something wrong with us.
Not good enough.
No one wants to feel judged. No one wants to feel like they aren’t doing a good enough job, especially at something that means so much to them, and affects the people they love so deeply. We all want to be loved, accepted and valued.
So we silence ourselves. Keep these difficult feelings to ourselves. No one else is talking about them, so it doesn’t feel safe to be the first to admit their existence.
On the odd occasion we feel brave enough to give someone a glimpse into our reality, we receive well-meaning comments like “You should enjoy every moment. They grow up so fast!” or “Oh but you’re so lucky to have them.” It feels socially unacceptable to talk about these difficult emotions (because we’re expected to be like perfect mum and not have them!).
While you might feel alone in these feelings, I can assure you, you are not. Motherhood intensifies or at least increases our awareness of the intensity of our emotions. And that is why I wanted to write this article to explore some of the truths about these difficult emotions in motherhood. To bring some comfort and a sense of not being alone in your experience, because even though our experiences are unique (like us) there are threads of commonality in the both the human and motherhood experience.
So, here we go, lovely. Five truths about the difficult emotions of motherhood.
1. Your emotions are not good or bad
All emotions are messages. They are (subconscious and conscious) reactions based on your thoughts, beliefs and experiences in your past and present. They show us something that may need our attention, acceptance and possibly healing. This means they are purposeful and they are neither good or bad. They just are what they are. Emotions. Pleasant and unpleasant. Easy and challenging. They just are. We think that difficult emotions are bad because we don’t like how they make us feel but they are all information and all part of the human experience. You were born with the capacity for all these emotions.
Society tells us that we should strive to feel happy all the time because it’s our natural state, and if you’re not happy there must be something wrong. But as humans living a rich, full life in an imperfect world we are going to experience a full range and constant flow of changing emotions. In fact, some of the things that bring us the most joy also bring us pain, for example when someone you love becomes very ill, or when you want to do something important for your children and you can’t. With caring comes pain. Relationships involve conflict and the more you love them the more the conflict hurts.
This is all ok though. Feel what you feel without judgement, lovely, because they are neither good or bad.
2. You are not good or bad because of your emotions
Just as your emotions are not good or bad, neither do your emotions make you good or bad as a person or mother. Your emotions do not define you. Even having intense emotions doesn’t define you (you may have been told you were too emotional).
Many of us were taught as young girls that our bigger emotions were not acceptable. We were told to be quiet, stop crying, get over it, quite whinging and suck it up. We were told things weren’t scary when we were scared. That we weren’t allowed to be angry or upset. You might have been sent away to be by yourself when you exhibited any big emotions which may have led to you feeling unlovable or like a bad person when you display these emotions. Our parents were doing their best with what they knew at the time and science has advanced so much that we now know so much more about brains and emotions. All your emotions are a valid part of your experience, and they have nothing to do with how good or bad you are as a person or mother.
You are NOT your emotions. You are the person EXPERIENCING your emotions and therefore you are not defined by your emotions.
3. Having difficult emotions doesn’t mean you don’t love your children enough
This is a big one. Have you noticed that when a woman is courageous enough to tell you things are not quite all well, she often prefaces it with some reassurance that she does love and care about her children?
“I really do love my children so much, but they are driving me crazy!” or “I care so much about my children but I really need a break from looking after them!”
I hear this frequently and I always tell the women who say it that I know without a doubt that they love their children. A mother’s love is not demonstrated through the absence of difficult emotions in motherhood. They are not mutually exclusive and motherhood is full of contradictory and confusing emotions. You can feel all these difficult emotions and still love your children beyond all words.
4. You don’t have to act on all your emotions
Emotions will come and go, some strong, some mild. We’re constantly experiencing them. We don’t have to always act on our emotions immediately or at all. The first step is just being aware of them, getting curious about why we feel that way, and allowing the emotions to come, go and move on when they are ready.
Since our emotions are information, we can use them to help us determine the right course of action, however, we don’t have to do with every emotion we feel. Some emotions are fleeting and we just need to observe and experience them and let them pass, like leaves floating by on a river. Some need our compassion and acceptance to be released. Sometimes when we take action based on our difficult emotions we can help ourselves feel better in the short term, but make things worse in the longer term. For example, if you feel scared that other mums you meet won’t like you, and therefore avoid making new connections, you will continue to be isolated and lonely, which only reinforces how hard it is for you to make new friends.
The emotions are always there, but we get to choose what we do with them. We can observe them, accept them and let them pass. We can offer ourselves comfort and support. We can get curious about why we feel that way. We can sit with them and see what happens. Or we can use them to inform our immediate or future action. You’re not at their mercy. You always have a choice.
5. Emotions help you grow
Experiencing all your emotions helps you to grow. There are reasons that you are responding the way you do. Getting curious about this helps us understand ourselves better and increased self-awareness leads to growth. Difficult emotions push us outside of our comfort zones and encourage us to stretch, learn self-compassion and acceptance and open the door for healing. Taking care of your emotions is an important element of self care and helps you thrive in motherhood.
When we judge our emotions by saying things like “I shouldn’t feel this way” or “I’m so silly for feeling this way” we block our growth and healing. The emotions we resist will continue to look for ways to get our attention because they have a message for us. Sitting with difficult feelings is uncomfortable and even painful, but when you are ready to pay attention to what they are trying to tell you, there is an opportunity for amazing personal growth.
Feeling less alone in your difficult emotions
I know it feels so vulnerable to feel and talk about our difficult emotions. But this is exactly what we need to do. When they are no longer hidden away we will stop feeling ashamed of them. Other mums will know they aren’t alone. YOU will know you aren’t alone. Difficult emotions are a normal and challenging part of motherhood and mothers shouldn’t have to feel so isolated and unsupported because they are too scared to share how they really feel. Let’s gently and slowly start to share. Let’s find one trusted person in our life we can talk to. Sharing opens the door for support, comfort and connection and closes the door to shame. Let’s listen to each other without judgement and provide compassion, love and acknowledgement in spades. We will all benefit.
Want to dive deeper into difficult emotions?
Before you go, you might like to check out some of my other articles on difficult emotions: