Expectant moms are told any number of ways they “should” give birth, feed their baby, restructure their career, promote healthy attachment and so on. Yet, despite what every new mother “should” do, perhaps the most universal experience is guilt: According to a new survey commissioned by TIME, 70% of the new moms polled said they felt pressured to parent a certain way—with the majority reporting disappointment or shame with how it was actually panning out.
The findings were no surprise to TIME’s Claire Howorth, who authored the magazine’s latest cover story, “The Goddess Myth.” While first watching friends embark on motherhood and then experiencing it for herself, Howorth was surprised to find what shame women had in their self-perceived shortcomings as mothers.
And although we now have more resources than ever before—including those illuminated at our fingertips during nighttime feedings—Howorth tells Motherly the reporting on her story seemed suggested new moms have lower levels of confidence than the women of generations before.
“Motherhood and mothering have never been easy, of course, but a lot of the pressures are new and growing more suffuse every day,” Howorth says. “As I headed down the road of motherhood myself, I was struck by how much information I myself sought from the internet—and how often it was conflicting or simply wrong—and what images I absorbed of ‘good’ mothers.”
We mothers aren’t the only ones putting pressure on ourselves: It isn’t uncommon for a barista to comment on the caffeine in a pregnant woman’s order or for a stranger in the supermarket to inquire on your labor plans. The majority of moms surveyed by TIME as well as the dozens Howorth interviewed pointed to “society in general” as the main source of pressure—followed by doctors and other mothers.
Coupled with the beautiful images we see on social media and the glorified accounts of people in various internet forums, even the smallest deviation from the “correct course” can feel like a failure. As Virginia nurse-midwife told Howorth for the TIME story, “The minute a person becomes pregnant, there's a notion that if you're not doing those kinds of things, you're not a good mother.”
Contributing to the problem is how closely most of us guard our guilt: Rather than feeling free to admit what’s challenging to us or granting ourselves permission to take the approach that’s best for our own families, we bottle it all up.
The antidote to all this unnecessary shame, suggests Howorth, is to acknowledge no two parents’ paths will be the same. She writes for TIME:
Motherhood in the connected era doesn’t have to be dominated by any myth. Social media can just as easily help celebrate our individual experience and create community through contrast. Moms have to stick together even as we walk our separate paths. We have to spot the templates and realize there are no templates. We have to talk about our failures and realize there are no failures.
That is one way to parent and support each other we all “should” get behind.