Feeling a mixture of emotions doesn’t make you ‘bad’—it makes you a parent

Because I'm a mom to five children, people might assume that I somehow avoided the postpartum blues. Not so. After every birth, I rode the hormonal roller coaster with plenty of self-doubt and tears—especially with my first.


I vividly recall my inability to put on my daughter’s going-home outfit at the hospital. I kept turning her around, shoving her floppy arms and legs in the wrong places, confused as to which snaps were for what. The nurse finally set me straight, but the damage was done. This evidence convinced me that I wasn’t qualified to bring my newborn home, much less be her mom for the rest of her life. I cried most of the way home.

I subsequently learned that feelings of inadequacy, as well as euphoria, are part of the journey.

It’s as normal to feel bereft as it is to stare at your beautiful baby in joyous wonderment. By describing common emotional struggles and strategies for coping, I hope to help you ensure that your tears of frustration are far outnumbered by tears of joy.

You just want to do right by your baby

Despite what Google may lead us to believe, there are not truly threats toward newborn babies lurking around every corner. In fact, most babies will be just fine with regular care—even when mishaps happen. Babies can get cold or hot, be wet or cry, and they’ll be OK.

Take for instance the day I went home with my second child: I wanted to show him off in our new double stroller. I proudly lay my son in the back and put my two-year-old daughter in the front. I took two steps down a Chicago city block, and the stroller collapsed on both of them. Horrified, with my heart pounding, I unfolded the tangle of stroller and children, only to find that they were both fine. Believe me, after that, I always checked to make sure the stroller was locked in place.

Of course, you shouldn’t ignore your newfound mother’s intuition and protective instincts. The trick is to keep your imagination at bay and live in the moment. Worrying about the unknown is wasted energy. Just breathe and enjoy!

You don’t know if you’re right for the job (Hint: You are)

You would be hard-pressed to find a new mom who doesn’t feel inadequate to some degree. The responsibility of nurturing a new life is powerful and often overwhelming. With my firstborn, I remember feeling very emotional about having brought a new life into a world that is often felt cruel and unfair. Simply watching the news made me worried about my ability to do right by my new baby. I also spent too much time comparing myself to to other moms who effortlessly “wore” their babies in cool slings or nursed while carrying on a conversation in a café. (Even after five children, I never did accomplish those hip mama moves.)

New moms can become too focused on what isn’t going well instead of appreciating how much they’ve figured out in a short period of time. In a matter of days, you progress from figuring out diapers to juggling the baby in one arm while getting a stroller down the stairs. How amazing is that?!

So try to focus on how well you are doing and don’t compare yourself to moms who seem to have it all under control. You’re not just “good enough” to parent this child—to your baby, you’re perfect!

You are overwhelmed by a lack of control

Babies cry a lot, especially in late afternoons or when they are colicky. In the beginning, you will have to give up control and operate within their parameters. Fortunately, there are ways to make sure you’re not constantly being held hostage to the whims of your child.

First, assume that—no matter where you are—everything will take longer than planned. Allot more time than “should” be necessary to get ready and bring extra stuff with you: clothes, food, diapers, bottles and whatever you might need when things don’t go according to plan.

On that note, accept this is a unique stage in your life—when small handbags don’t have a much of a role. I learned this the hard way on the night I took my third baby to a fancy restaurant. Because he was my third, I was too cool to bring an ugly, bulky diaper bag. Of course, he proceeded to make some pretty impressive sounds during dinner and took a poop that soiled his clothes. Determined not to ruin my night out, I stripped him down in the tiny, elegant bathroom, rinsed him in the sink and wrapped him up in a tablecloth I’d snatched in desperation. I then dumped him back in his car seat so I could finish my meal.

Clearly, nothing goes as planned with babies, but preparation and a willingness to go with the flow will reduce that awful feeling of lack of control.

You are trying to make sense of your new role

No matter how helpful your partner, spouse, friends or relatives may be regarding baby care, you are still very likely to feel periods of anger and resentment. This screaming, demanding little person has burst on the scene and turned your life upside down—and there’s no way to avoid being the main attraction, especially if you’re nursing.

The best defense is to make time for joy. Get out of the house, take walks, relish the quiet times, nap with baby and don’t expect to be productive. Take time to laugh at and with your child. Babies offer a great excuse for making funny sounds and silly faces. I enjoyed taking pictures of my infants in funny settings, like the laundry basket with underwear on their head. Just think—you can blackmail them later when they’re teens and refusing to clean their rooms!

Having emotions that aren’t all teddy bears and lullabies doesn’t make you a bad mom. If you feel fearful, inadequate, out of control, and resentful more often than not, you deserve some help. Postpartum depression is treatable, and asking for help makes you a great mom. A new baby is hard, but it’s not supposed to be torment. I hope these strategies help you find the joy of motherhood in all its unexpected glory and controlled chaos.

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