According to a recent study, a staggering 87 per cent of modern day mums report feelings of isolation, with over a third feeling isolated almost every day.
Ironically, the sense of being alone as one adjusts to motherhood is an experience shared by many. And yet, the majority of us don’t open up about it.
Parenting expert Pinky Mackay explains, “Isolation is a huge issue. I see many new mums struggling with sleep issues and feeding issues. Often they are afraid to reach out and ask for help because there is this perception that everyone else is coping. This leaves women feeling isolated because they fear being judged.”
Evidently, isolation, is not just a physical state; when you’re bombarded with media images of confident, in-control yummy mummies in clean, crease-free designer wear, you’re bound to think you, specifically, have gone wrong somewhere. Facebook is no better – forget that most of the names on your friends list might be actual friends in the ‘real world’, they’re still part of that undermining, online persona charades game that everybody plays – particularly mums and dads – forever exuberant in their bounty of blessings. The occasional status update describing a kid’s insistence to wear underpants on his head to the store, or make a Nutella mural on the bedroom wall are just intended as funny anecdotes; sincerity is lost in the posts’ careful construction and obvious angling for an appreciative audience. These wry, brief departures from the usual ‘everything is AWESOME!’, farce don’t even scratch the surface of the real tough stuff.
For a new mother stuck inside her house as she struggles through a growth spurt feeding marathon, or the 5000 jiggles to sleep routine, or tries to stop herself from drowning in the invisible, merciless undertow of postnatal depression, TV, magazines, and the Internet are her on-hand connections to her social circles – and humanity at large, and what she gets out of them is, more often than not, the overwhelming feeling that she’s failing. Alone.
And even if this newbie mum gathers up the courage to escape the confines of home sweet home to meet up with old mates, or try out a mums’ group, she probably won’t find her companions disclosing how they haven’t showered since last Thursday, or how they cringe with episiotomy flashbacks every time their partner touches them, or how much this motherhood gig, as mindblowing as it is, can seriously suck the life out of you. Because that might mean this job ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. And no one wants to hear that.
Obviously, people don’t like to admit they’re screwing up – especially when it comes to parenting, but here’s the deal: we all do. It’s every parent’s rite of passage; making mistakes and learning in retrospect – crossing fingers that it’s not too late.
Nobody is born with the innate knowledge on how to raise a child.
My own postpartum memories are hardly blissful.
The sleep deprivation was torture. Feeding a newborn was agony.
I vividly remember begging my baby to stop crying in a flood of my own tears. And the sting of condescension as those meant to help me discredited my heartfelt fears as paranoia – or worse, a bad case of hormones.
I have felt, quite literally, that I’m losing my mind – 5 seconds away from giving my child away to a better equipped, perfect stranger, and staggering in front of the nearest oncoming bus. (True story.)
And I’ve experienced the extremities of guilt; daily asking my uncomprehending offspring to forgive me for bringing her into a world with me as her mother – clueless, a mess.
When you finally make it to the other side of that first year – or two, it doesn’t get easier, there’s just a different set of challenges for which you’re totally unprepared.
And yet, rather than rally around those still in the trenches of infancy with our own war stories, we edit that darker half of our past out the picture, now fully inducted into the cult of secrecy, safe behind the fourth wall of selective recall; our scars glazed over with nostalgia. Or an Instagram filter. Perhaps we’re even a tad smug that we got to this point without completely going postal – all due, no doubt, to our prevailing good sense and superior parenting style.
Thank biology kids have really bad memories of babyhood, or we’d totally be exposed.
As a mother to one rambunctious, precocious, typical toddler, I’ve said and done many things I said I never would. I’ve given my little cherub the finger while she’s toddled off triumphantly, as the victor in a battle over broccoli. I’ve thrown hissy-fits behind closed bathroom doors that would make even 2-year old tantrum queens ashamed. I’ve screamed into a pillow – and out loud – with greater anguish and fury than I ever did during labour. When I’ve called my kid a jerk (under my breath), that’s been one of the kinder monikers.
And I’ve imagined, more than once, gleefully dropkicking my firstborn into the next timezone.
Revealing this, whether on this blog or in conservation with other mums doesn’t make me ungrateful for my daughter; it cuts the act. And I know, firsthand, that it opens up a dialogue between parents so that we can commiserate, heal, and become stronger, more empathic mothers and fathers.
Not being upfront about how hard this life with children can be is not just dishonest, it’s damaging. Other mums and dads are the most important support base parents have, and we’re doing them no favours with our one-sided version. No one should suffer in silence because they think the rest of us are superheroes.
This isn’t about catharsis at the expense of your children’s feelings or a pal’s merry naïveté. We love our kids. And honesty won’t change our devotion – or anyone else’s. But being truthful about the difficulties we face can only create opportunities to learn from one another, and, in so doing, love our kids with greater wisdom, understanding and positivity.
And that – not a perfect Facebook timeline, or a non-awkward chat over cappuccinos, is the whole point of this parenting thing, right?