One of the biggest pieces of motherhood advice I have for new and expecting moms (and experienced mothers too) is to forget about what you think motherhood should be like, how you think you should feel, how you think you should act, and what you think you should do.
In other words, this motherhood advice is about railing against idealistic (and largely mythical) expectations and beliefs about motherhood.
In the academic literature, there has been a lot written about the cultural ideals of motherhood, and the impossibly high expectations placed on women about how they ought to “feel” and “act” and “be” as mothers. (1-4)
We all know what that ideal is, because we’ve all judged ourselves at some point against it: it’s that image of the happily self-sacrificing, eternally fulfilled, do-it-all-yourself, implement-all-the-latest-expert-advice, super mom.
The problem is that this image promotes a set of cultural beliefs that are highly idealistic, largely unattainable, and also scientifically questionable. In other words, it’s not really real. It’s also not what “real life” good parenting is even about.
Furthermore, there’s a lot of research showing that an internalization of these ideals and beliefs can be a major risk factor for emotional distress and depression (including postpartum depression). (5-7)
It’s important to remember that an ideology is simply a belief system. It is like a lens that filters (and also distorts) our understanding and experience of things. Ideology is also “a powerful tool for keeping people in their place”. (8)
What does this all mean? It means that our ideological construction of what “good mothers” do and feel is not something that is based in any kind of scientific fact or other form of truth.(8-9,2) It also means that it’s something that we can fight against, oppose, challenge, disbelieve.
The bottom line motherhood advice is this:
- Do not waste time judging yourself against that image of the happily self-sacrificing, eternally fulfilled, do-it-all-yourself, implement-all-the-latest-expert-advice, super mom. It’s self-defeating, impractical, and ultimately not very useful for helping one to be a good parent.
Indeed, in the research I’ve done over the years (10-11), I’ve learned that moms who actively challenge this “mythical ideal” of motherhood — who don’t worry about trying to be the “perfect parent” (there’s no such thing anyway), but who just aim to be engaged, thoughtful, and committed in their parenting — these women tend to feel very good about themselves as mothers.
They don’t struggle with the guilt that some moms feel for not living up to certain ideals, and they don’t get bogged down worrying about what they “should” or “shouldn’t” do/feel as a mom. They just concentrate on their family and themselves, and shut out all that other noise.
- The other part of this piece of motherhood advice is to expect ups and downs, and to expect things not to be perfect. In fact, don’t even try for things to be perfect.
Just try to be a good you, and try to stay thoughtful, engaged, and committed in your parenting — you will lead through example. At the end of the day, the best motherhood advice a person can give is simply to be thoughtful, engaged and intentional about your parenting, and to strive to be the best example you can for your children. That’s about it — nothing more, nothing less.
Click here for 10 parenting tips every mom can use
Positive Parenting Tips: click here to share yours and read others
Return from Motherhood Advice to the Parenting 101 menu page
Sources for Motherhood Advice article:
1. Maushart, Susan. The Mask of Motherhood. New York: The New Press, 1999.
2. Hays, S. 1996. The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
3. Thurer, Shari L. 1995. The Myths of Motherhood: How Culture Reinvents the Good Mother. New York: Penguin Books.
4. Douglas, Susan and M. Micheals. 2004. The Mommy Myth: The idealization of motherhood and how it has undermined women. New York: Free Press.
5. Nicholson, L. 1998. Post-Natal Depression: Psychology, Science and the Transition to Motherhood. London: Routledge.
6. Mauthner, N.S. 1999.Feeling low and feeling really bad about feeling low: Women’s experiences of motherhood and postpartum depression, Canadian Psychology 40: 143-161.
7. Kendall-Tackett, K. 2005. The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood: Coping with Mothering Stress, Depression and Burnout, 2nd Edition. Amarillo, Tx: Pharmasoft Publishing.
8. Nakano Glenn, Evelyn, Chang, Grace, and Linda Rennie Forcey. 1994. Mothering: Ideology, Experience, Agency. NY and London: Routledge, p. 10
9. Rossiter, Amy. 1998. From Private to Public: A Feminist Exploration of Early Mothering. Toronto: The Women’s Press.
10. Knaak, S. 2009. “Having a tough time”: Towards an understanding of the psycho-social causes of postpartum emotional distress. Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering: Maternal Health and Wellbeing, 11(1), 80-94.
11. Knaak, S. 2008. The Process of Postpartum Adjustment. Edmonton: University of Alberta (dissertation).