5 reasons why it’s OK for parenting not to come naturally

Alice | Letters to my DaughterBlog, Parenting & Family, Support & Mental Health34 Comments

Header image: A blue toned sketch-style close up portrait of a woman with her hand on her temple (5 reasons why it's OK for parenting not to come naturally - Letters to my Daughter)

It’s something we take for granted before we have children – that we’ll take to motherhood like the proverbial duck to water. But it doesn’t always work that way, and you know what? …it’s OK for parenting not to come naturally.

I recently overheard a new mum say she thought becoming a parent would be the most natural thing in the world, but she was struggling. She was surprised that breastfeeding hadn’t just ‘happened’ and she’d had to seek out support from our breastfeeding group. She was finding the pressures of parenthood overwhelming and was feeling like a failure.

It sounded familiar.

 Blue cartoon-like close up portrait of half a woman's face with her hand on her temple looking worried (Why it's OK for parenting not to come naturally - Letters to my Daughter)

Parenting didn’t come naturally to me at all

I remember thinking – assuming – I would take to parenting naturally too. After all, there have been billions of babies born in this world and women manage with far less support and fewer resources than me.

But then suddenly, out of nowhere, there was this tiny stranger in my arms. A tiny human who I’d been dreaming of and talking to and singing to for the last few months, but who I’d never met, and who I didn’t know or understand.

And then they sent us home, with no instruction manual, in complete charge of taking care of this tiny, helpless thing.

It was terrifying. I was so overwhelmed, I came home and built a wall in my mind to give myself time and space to come to terms with our new situation.

Those natural parenting instincts I’d assumed would kick in failed me. I was awkward picking her up, her umbilical cord grossed me out, I was getting incredibly frustrated with both of us when desperately trying to get a good latch. I admit, on occasion I wondered with horror if we’d made a huge mistake because I clearly wasn’t up to the job.

Learning on the job

 We did the only thing we could do, took it day by day, seeking out support where necessary and slowly piecing the parts of the parenting puzzle together. Learning on the job – to the extreme!

Alice sits on sofa with 1 month old Dee on her lap asleep. (Why it's OK for parenting not to come naturally - Letters to my Daughter)

Our usual position in the early days (and often still these days too!)

Three years on, and we’re OK now. But I think it took a good four months for me to feel any semblance of being in control, and a good deal longer than that to feel like I knew what I was doing. To be honest, I’m still making most of it up as I go along.

My daughter and I aren’t strangers now, but I can still never know her every thought. She’s her own person and not a part of my body anymore. She’s unpredictable, she grows so fast, she spends time away from me learning and experiencing her own version of life. I’ve learned to roll with it.

5 reasons why it’s OK for parenting not to come naturally

  1. We don’t have our ‘village’ to learn from and provide support

    Back in the day when we all knew our neighbours, and generations of families all lived under one roof, new mums had their ‘village’. The village was their own personal support network to help them in the early days of motherhood. They had experienced mothers on hand to help guide them through breastfeeding, to care for the baby while she slept and to take care of the mother while she tended to her baby. It was a group effort. Mothers didn’t have to seek out support, it was there. Ready and waiting and willing and expected and a natural part of the process.

    These days, we’re sent home from hospital (or the midwife packs up and leaves if you’ve had a home birth), and left on our own with maybe one or two family members floating around for support. Other visitors are invite only, desperately wanting to give advice but fearing saying something wrong (or giving it regardless), and your neighbour never even noticed you were pregnant.

    We do so much of it alone. The pooled knowledge of your would-be village isn’t there. You rely on faceless avatars on parenting forums to give you the advice you need but they’re strangers who don’t know you or your situation and don’t have your best interests at heart. You have to fend for yourself, keep an eye on the baby at all times, and have all the responsibility on your shoulders. Supportive partners are wonderful, but then work starts again and you’re flying solo for a big chunk of the day.

    It’s hard work, it’s lonely work, and it can leave you feeling totally out of your depth.

  2. Inaccurate and glossy portrayals of motherhood in the media

    You know those birth scenes where the waters break, the mum screams for 2 mins, and then her partner / mum / friend / random stranger delivers the baby in whichever public place they happen to be in. They wrap up the baby and hand it to her as she and everyone around smiles and laughs at the beauty of the moment. She is positively nonplussed that a bunch of random members of the public have just seen her vagina, and everyone’s forgotten about the umbilical cord being a thing.

    I think I’ve met one person in real life who claims to have had their baby that quickly, but it’s amazing how many times you see that scenario play out in films and TV!

     

    What about those celebrity mums who post pictures of their ‘perfect’ post-baby bodies? Love, you had someone to do your hair even when you weren’t a new mum. I’m pretty sure you have a million people helping you with the baby, or at least holding them whilst you work out with your personal trainer or eat your nutritious meal prepared specially by your personal chef. I mean, go for it if you’ve got the resources, but be honest about it so you don’t make other mums feel like they’re failing – that goes for the media sharing the story too.

    The rest of us have to sit on a sofa surrounded by a pile of snacks in packets you can open with one hand whilst the other one is busy holding the baby who screams every time you try to put them down. Exercise is going for a walk in a desperate attempt to lull your child into a deep enough slumber that you can down a pot noodle as quickly as possible before trying to get a 10 minute nap in before they wake up.

    Wow, that turned ranty! …But leads nicely into point 3…

  3. We’re all different, all babies are different

    Basically, lovely mamas, your body is perfect just the way it is. Your birth story is yours and is beautiful in all it’s messy, complicated, gory glory. The media can’t be trusted to portray accurate visions of motherhood and parenting – they are merely caricatures. We’re all different, our stories are all unique, there’s no ‘right’ way, so don’t compare. Embrace your story, embrace your situation, and embrace yourself.

    Similarly, take well meaning parenting advice with a pinch of salt. What worked for Aunt Mavis, and Betty next door, and your best friend, and _JsMuM_ on Netmums, might not work for you and your baby. Just because their baby slept through the night from 6 weeks doesn’t mean you’re a failure if your baby doesn’t. It just means…wait for it…that the babies are different. (And I’d put money on the fact that those babies didn’t consistently sleep through the night – they probably did it for a week and old Aunt M has just blacked out the horror of the sleepless nights).

    So many people seem to forget this simple fact when dishing out the advice. It’s easy for new mums to feel like they’re doing something wrong when being fed anecdotal information about how other people#s babies behaved, and it’s different to their own experience. Once we start second guessing ourselves and trying to fit our babies into a mould, that’s often when we lose sight of our instincts and feel out of control.

    Look for evidence based information and support when you need it, and use that information n a way that works for you and your situation.

  4.  Busy lives & societal pressures

    We live at such a fast pace these days. People expect next day delivery, pizzas to arrive within the hour, instant replies to texts… Then you have a baby and suddenly you’ve got cold pepperoni stuck to your sock, a late night impulse buy nipple shield arriving a mere 12 hours after you ordered it, you’ve lost two days, and have 6 messages still to reply to.

    Babies get in the way of the now, now, now because really, you’re on their schedule. Especially in the early days. It’s like having a tiny boss who you need to do everything for but who refuses to share their schedule with you so you just have to guess.

    A friend who had her baby a few months before me, put up a photo of her going out to the pub on a sunny afternoon with their week old baby and sitting in the sunshine having a great time. I thought at the time, “that’s what I want to be like – up and out as quickly as possible, having a great time and making the most of my maternity leave”. I honestly don’t know how she did it. We barely left the house in the first 2 weeks. The only reason I ventured out was to go to an LLL meeting to ask some breastfeeding questions. It made me feel pretty rubbish about struggling so much and being stressed about going out.

    MOther with brown hair holds baby in a blanket with a dummy. (Why it's OK for parenting not to come naturally - Letters to my Daughter)

    Photo by Sean Roy on Unsplash

    Admittedly I put that pressure on myself, but we do don’t we. As a society we expect too much of parents in those early days. We should take care of new mums, let them know that it’s OK to not leave your house for a few weeks unless you need to, and to stay in your pjs all day, and to not wear a bra for 2 months (true story). It’s OK to do nothing but binge on Netflix and take care of your baby. That’s the most important thing and no parent should feel they have to do anything more than that.

  5. Post-natal depression affects 10 – 15% of women

    The final reason why it’s OK for parenting not to come naturally, is post-natal depression. Affecting a whopping 10-15% of women, it’s not to be taken lightly.

    My friend Wendy at Naptime Natter has written about her experience of PND after having her second child, and it moves me to hear how guilty she felt during her son’s first Christmas, and how she felt like failure.

    Depression can strike at any time, and there doesn’t have to be a ‘reason’. PND doesn’t always happen straight after the baby is born – it can crop up later (as Wendy’s did – 2 months later in fact). But PND can make us doubt ourselves, and take some of the joy out of parenting, leaving us with guilt and low self esteem. Not the ideal combination for a smooth parenting journey.

    More than 1 in 10 women may suffer from PND – that’s a lot! It’s helpful to recognise the signs so you can help yourself or others get the support they need as early as possible. Mothers for Mothers is a PND support group and provides lots of information as well as a list of places to get help if you think you have PND.

 

There’s so much more to say about this topic, but I’ll leave that for another post. I’d love to hear your experiences.


Did parenting come naturally for you or did you struggle early on? What do you think the biggest struggles are for new mums?
We often assume before we have kids that once we do have them, we'll instinctively know what to do. I'm sure that is the case for some people. but for many of us, it takes a bit more effort than that and doesn't come so naturally. (5 reasons why it's OK for parenting not to come naturally - Letters to my Daughter)

 

One Messy Mama

Reflections from Me

 

34 Comments on “5 reasons why it’s OK for parenting not to come naturally”

  1. Oh Alice, this is just the type of post I needed to read as a first time Mum (and a second too!). Parenting is hard and I think so many of us do think it will come naturally but it really doesn’t, not always. As for PND, I think this is something that should be talked about more and pregnant mothers given more information about symptoms and where to get help, not to scare them but to give them all the information they need in case it does happen to them. I genuinely thought that because I didn’t have it when I had Leo that I wouldn’t get it with my second, I was (as you know) very wrong about that. The feelings of failure and guilt are so strong when you have pnd and I think that is because everyone makes out having a baby is the best thing in the whole world and you feel like you are expected to be happy every single second. Thanks for writing this post lovely, I’m sure it will help lots of new mums xxx

  2. My MIL once said to me ‘out of a room of crying babies, you’ll know which one is yours just from the sound of the cry’. My neighbours had a cat, I can’t tell you how many times I ran upstairs to my baby by mistake!! There are stumbling blocks everywhere for new mums, it’s so great to talk about them. Let’s not put so much pressure on mums xx

  3. Great read, i was the opposite i was stressing before bubba was born that i would be a terrible mum and would have no idea what to do but it all came quite naturally. Your blog has helped me see the otherside and have empathy for those that do it tough.

  4. What a brilliant post. I remember my first baby so vividly, even though it was over thirty years ago. I even had all my family around to help, but parenting most certainly didn’t come naturally. It was down to PND which I did recover from and never had again with any of my other children. This post is great advice for new mums, it’s such a difficult time but everyone should remember it doesn’t last forever x

  5. So right .. too much faux perfection out there. The truth is it’s harder than it looks … but so more rewarding too! A timely post and a great read #BlogCrush

    1. Thanks so much Enda, it certainly is harder than it looks. One of the greatest unkept secrets of all time I reckon. We’re always told how hard parenting will be but don’t realise what that really means until we’re in the thick of it!

  6. Yes! I need to share this with so many new mom friends! Parenting is different for every mom and every baby. Every household and lifestyle has it’s own quirks. There’s no one good way of doing things. It’s not easy, there’s no manual, and the pinterest perfect-movie-celebrity parents are always just showing a single glimmering moment in their day.
    Beautifully written!
    #BlogCrush

  7. Oh yes, definitely. The village is something that I think we could all do with. But times have changed and it’s not really a given that family will be down the road anymore. Imagine is babies came with little instruction books! Heheh! #Blogcrush

  8. #BlogCrush
    Wow. You described motherhood so well! Just like you, I faced parenthood alone with my hubby because we live so far away from my immediate family. I rely on online mommy friends and blogs for support and inspiration! I also experienced post-natal rage after my second child. It was so confusing and it’s so hard to explain but it really does happen to some. It is good to know that I am not alone. Thank you!

  9. What a fab post. Thank you for sharing this. It definitely took a while for me, especially when things weren’t how they were “meant to be”. Such an important topic. ☺

  10. It is crazy how different the “media” image of birth and parenthood is, compared to the reality. How many times are we shown a woman whose waters break and suddenly there’s a massive panic because the baby could come any moment – rubbish! My water’s broke and it was still 36 hours before I even started contractions! Haha. #blogcrush

  11. Spot on. We all learn as we go along – some say it’s a natural instinct that kicks in but the reality is for most it’s a difficult learning curve which sometimes are coupled with PND. Everyone’s experience is different #globalblogging

  12. I suspect that everyone feels like this … When we took the Tubblet home, we’d never held a newborn or done anything practical so we learned on the job. Her first bath was taken with a Miriam Stoppard book propped up next to the bathroom door so we held her in the right positions!

  13. This is such a great post. I think I was one of the lucky ones, I found parenting incredibly natural and it came easy to me when Freddie was a baby. I hadn’t always wanted children and didn’t even think about them until I met my 2nd husband. BUT now he is 8, I definitely find it much harder. I shout a lot more than I would like to, I struggle with the bribery (you know you can’t play on the XBox if you don’t do what I am saying!!) I think all parents have their ups and downs and some days and definitely easier than others!!

  14. In a word NO! It still doesn’t to a certain degree and I’m always chastising myself for not doing a good enough job. I made the mistake of comparing myself to everyone…but even worse my sister who had a baby around the same time…still do, she’d so ‘perfect’ and I feel like I live in her shadow but then again, she doesn’t have the additional issues to deal with such as diabetes, autism and coeliac disease…. but still I’m hard on myself 🙁

  15. When they handed Aspen to me I was instantly in love and relived after a traumatic birth and a high risk pregnancy and miscarriages prior to tis pregnancy, I was just so very happy sh was alive, then they took her to be weighed and measured and suddenly I freaked out, I didn’t want them to give her back to me, I felt so scared. I was too afraid to tell anyone how I felt. Once she latched on and feed I felt the bond forming and the love, but over our days at the hospital my milk wouldn’t come in despite perfect sucking and being on my breast almost constantly. She was either sucking or screaming and loosing weight. We had to give her top ups, I was pumping between feeds. We went home on no sleep, I got home and had no clue, but felt so guilty, I had lost babies before and felt I should just be happy and not scared or tired. Mother guilt hit me so strong! We were admitted into the mother abby unit where I had given birth, my baby was starving as my milk supply was never enough, we tried natural remedies, and then even medication, pumps and feeding tubes, more rest for me, but still my milk supply was so little. I never had the ‘let down’ of my milk happen. I was devastated. Still I fed and topped up, and fed her for 13 months. Some of that first couple of years were the most isolated and lonely I have ever felt, I was so in love with her and happy, yet so lost also. In many ways motherhood came naturally to me, but in other ways it was so much harder than I could have imagined! I think posts like this are important and I wish we still parented as a tribe! Thank you for linking up with us for #ablogginggoodtime

  16. So glad you wrote about this Alice, as it is far more common than we think, yet most new mums are ashamed to admit it/ even acknowledge it. Of course there is undying love for our child from the second we know we’re pregnant – and that doesn’t change after giving birth – but the exhaustion and sometimes trauma/ pain of labour and birth can make everything fuzzy and numb for the first few days postpartum. Not to mention the stress of looking after this human being and figuring out breastfeeding etc etc.
    I had a third degree tear and was operated immediately after giving birth – I was in immense pain the first month and breastfeeding was a nightmare. It was tough and I was often in tears at my failure… but once ‘we’ settled and got to know each other better, I began enjoying motherhood much more.
    Lovely post – sharing. Thank you so much for linking it up with #itsok.

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