• Dr Missy Wolfman

One reason why you are a stressed out mama and what to do about it

Having a baby is supposed to be the happiest time of your life as a mum right? This may be true for some people but for a lot of mums having a baby can be very stressful and overwhelming. What is it about having a baby that is hard? All they do is cry, eat, sleep and poop – so it can’t be too hard right to take care of them right?

Human babies are extremely demanding and needy compared to babies of other species. Have you seen a giraffe being born? They walk within a few minutes of being born! Human babies, on the other hand, are very helpless and compared to other species considered to be born “premature”. This is because of human babies’ heads are so large that they need to be born earlier in order to fit through the mum’s birth canals.

Human babies are helpless little blobs that require 24/7/365 care. For first time mums, this extreme neediness may come as a shock to the system. Before having a baby, it’s easy to meet your biological needs like going to the bathroom, having a shower, eating and drinking when you are hungry and thirsty. Post-birth, however, these “small” and mundane tasks can suddenly feel very hard. For some mums, this shift can create a huge amount of stress and anxiety, especially if they have a lot of “I should” thoughts in their head. For example, “I should be able to go to the bathroom on my own!” or “I should be able to cook dinner and have everything ready by 5 PM! Why is this hard?”

Sounds familiar? As a mum, I have a lot of these “should” statements. I get frustrated when I want to go to the bathroom and my toddlers run after me and hang out in the bathroom. I have thoughts like “I should be able to have 1 minute to myself!” or “Why can’t I just go to the bathroom alone and peace?”. When I have a lot of these thoughts, I tend to get angry and frustrated at either myself or my kids.

I’d like to remind myself that these “should” thoughts I have are just thoughts. Sometimes they are helpful and sometimes they are not. Most often than not, when it comes to my expectations of what I “should” be doing or not doing with my kids, they are not helpful. Being a mum has slowly and painfully taught me to surrender my expectations of what should happen or not happen. A lot of life we can’t control, and having twin toddlers taught me that I can’t control when, where and how much they are melting down and tantruming. You would think being a psychologist (working as a specialist child and adolescent clinical psychologist nonetheless) means that I will have perfectly behaved kids, right? Not the case, and like all mums I have a hard time when my kids are incessantly crying, complaining and misbehaving.

So let’s start by looking at the “should” statements you have for yourself and for your kids. Are they helpful? Are they creating unnecessary stress, angst, anger or frustrations? Do you beat yourself up for not meeting standards that you have set for yourself like “I should be my pre-baby weight by now”. Are they getting in the way of you enjoying being with your baby, or your loved ones?

Start challenging these thoughts if they are unhelpful. What would your close friends say to you if you say to them “I should be my pre-baby weight by now” or “ I should be able to cook dinner and get everything ready by 5 PM.”

Offer yourself the self-compassion you need. When you berate and beat yourself for failing to meet your “should” statements, it often does not lead to motivation to do better. Instead we get more stressed and anxious which often lead to us doing more unhelpful things (like me eating a whole bag of chips all in one go because I'm stress eating). Read here about self-compassion.

If you struggle with “should” statements and it’s getting you stressed and down, you’re not alone! There are ways to manage these thoughts so that they don’t get in the way of you enjoying your life or your family. Let’s talk - book your 15 minute free Zoom chat with me here.

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