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Welcome to...Motherhood Ambivalence

Yesterday I wrote my plan for today. I listed all the things I wanted to get done and even put them on my calendar. I was ready to kill it.

Then around 10 last night, my son woke up crying and shaking with a fever. It broke my heart. I could hardly sleep because I was so worried about him, even after he was sound asleep. This meant I slept in today, already missing 3 things on my to-do list.

Then when it was time to get him up for the day, he fell back asleep on the floor. Still sick. No daycare.

And my perfectly planned day was shot.

This is a moment where the ambivalence of motherhood hit hard; I wanted to be there for my son, I was so sad for him, and I just wanted to snuggle him up (as he would say) and I did. But at the same time, I felt sad for myself.

I have goals and work to do and how am I going to do them now? Will I ever be able to just get things done again?

Motherhood ambivalence is normal. Ambivalence is feeling two conflicting things at once, which I feel like is the entire first few months of having a new baby.

I am exhausted but so in love.

I want a break but don’t want to be away from my baby.

I love my baby but I miss who I was before.

Giving myself time and energy feels good but I feel guilty for not spending that time on my kids.

I can’t imagine my life without my baby but sometimes I miss life before them.

Dr. Barbara Almond talks about this in her book “The Monster Within- the hidden side of motherhood” (2010) that this is normal. Most mothers resent their children at some point, especially when what mom needs is different from what the child needs.

However, as Dr. Almond puts it:

“Maternal ambivalence is "the crime that dare not speak its name"... Everyone feels it, but has trouble talking about it, and those who do speak up raise feelings of alarm in those who are pushing these feelings out of consciousness (2010).

Motherhood is riddled with these cycles of silence (Nikki McCahon 2023).

We don’t talk about feeling this ambivalence out of fear of shame.

Then feel shame anyway because we feel like we’re the only horrible mother feeling this way... because no one talks about it or because we've been shamed for speaking about it in the past.

It all seems to boil down to the fact we once again are not meeting those societal expectations and cultural norms that portray motherhood as a blissful experience. When we experience doubts, negative emotions, or a sense of longing for aspects of our lives before motherhood, we feel guilty for not living up to these idealized expectations.

But you don’t have to stay stuck in those feelings of shame. Here are a few ways we can accept and release the guilt around this very normal feeling.

  1. Okay the Feeling - Let the feeling be there and just like you would okay your child’s big feelings, okay you’re own. Remind yourself that other moms feel this way too (hi it’s me), that this is normal, and that it is not a reflection of your parenting. Today as I watched my son sleep on the floor I did this. I said “I’m sad for him and I am sad for me and that is okay.” I accepted I wasn’t going to get everything done, especially not on my timeline, and that I would prioritize his needs and prioritize mine as soon as time allowed. Sometimes it's not that simple or easy and sometimes our needs aren’t met at that moment (see step 3).

  2. Talk to Someone Who Gets It - The shame is the hardest part. Find that person who can help okay that feeling with you (hi, it’s me again). As a coach, my job is to help you find the self-compassion to get through these things, to help you find ways to prioritize your needs when you can so these feelings of ambivalence happen less (they will always happen but don’t have to be chronic). And side note here, avoid the people who you know will piggyback on this feeling. We all know that person who feels better about themselves and their parenting by highlighting our shame and perceived shortcomings. Fuck that.

  3. Meet Your Own Needs, Too - Easier said than done, I know. But even the smallest thing can help here. Daily rituals can be one of the best ways to do this (more on those to come). But when you have a specific feeling of ambivalence like I did today, I had a list of things I needed to do that were being put off for my son’s immediate needs. I had to find time today to do what I could, like write this blog, do client check-ins, complete research, and workout. I prioritized and research ain’t happening today but the minute my son went down for his nap, I started writing this. And it is more than okay to ask for help here and then take it when it is offered.

Lastly, remember societal expectations of motherhood are often idealized and unrealistic. Motherhood is a complex, difficult, and beautiful experience. Ambivalence doesn't diminish your love or commitment to your child. By accepting okaying the feeling, seeking support, and challenging societal expectations, you can overcome guilt and bloom through your own unique journey of motherhood.

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