From the first day that women announce they are expecting, it can seem that veteran parents are waiting there, armed with an arsenal of unsolicited (and sometimes alarming) advice:
"Sleep now, while you can!"
"Enjoy being pregnant, it only gets harder!"
"Just wait, your life as you know it is over."
It's undoubtedly one of the hardest parts of being a first-time expectant parent. As if you weren't already overwhelmed with a million questions and concerns, somehow hearing your friends and family (exactly the people you are hoping will offer you a bit of comfort and reassurance) telling you how hard it's going to be is, simply put, just too much.
But in all likelihood, your friends and family who are already parents aren't looking to scare you. So why do so many people seem intent on shaking up expecting parents? According to Northwestern University perinatal psychologist, Dr. Sheehan Fisher, it has a lot to do with our culture's failure to support balance during parenthood.
"It is a common complaint that expectant parents receive horror stories about how it will like to be a parent and, most commonly, that their personal life or marriage will be over once they have children," Fisher tells Motherly. "My clinical practice focuses on helping parents have balance during the postpartum period and going forward, so I have to battle the negative messaging that happiness and balance after children are not possible."
Because of this cultural emphasis on imbalance, Fisher says "many parents' experiences do indeed include minimal sleep and misery." This is especially true for moms, who place added pressures on themselves as they battle external pressure as well.
"We know that the change in gender norms has led to increased criticisms [of women]," he says. "Many mothers are culturally expected to work full-time jobs and be a full-time mother, which leads to criticism if they are not performing at 100% in either role, in addition to being a partner and other responsibilities."
With the added pressure that moms place on themselves, it makes sense that they would try to prepare friends, family and even strangers for a similar outcome. Indeed, for many moms, the self-imposed guilt of not being perfect can be the most overwhelming part of postpartum life.
In light of those circumstances, it isn't hard to imagine that some of that could spill over into moms perhaps feeling a tinge of desire to unload a little. "Even when they have an involved partner, mothers tend to feel both external and self-induced guilt if they are not doing it all," Fisher says.
And while this may be true for many parents, he says that your friends and family are actually, in their own way, just trying to share a bit of common ground. "Parents who endure this tend to not want to feel alone in this experience and have a desire to induct new parents into this shared experience rather than provide hope of the positive stories or lessons learned of how to avoid the same stressors," Fisher explains.
But, as moms-to-be prepare to embark on their own journeys to motherhood, Fisher argues that maintaining a positive mindset is critical. "Parents who go into the postpartum period already in a hopeless mindset are likely to experience negative postpartum symptoms, like anxiety and sadness, but also engage in behaviors that lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy," he said.
Another professional tip he offers? Be mindful of the media you choose and how it can impact you.
"Be careful with reading blogs because there dwells the majority of negativity," he said. Expectant parents "should look to examples of parents that they admire that demonstrate balance. If these examples do not exist, then they should consider how to break the mold by developing a postpartum plan with their partners to ensure that they work as a team to ensure they have breaks and balance, rather than being deprived of sleep and self-care."
Equally important, he adds, is to lean on your partner or support system as much as possible. "Parents who work as a team can schedule daily personal breaks, farm out certain duties to family or hired workers to minimize their personal burden, and stagger nighttime childcare so that each person can get a relatively sufficient amount of sleep," Fisher adds.
Here's the thing: Motherhood is hard, but it is also beautiful, fulfilling and joyful. We need to remember that when talking to those who are about to become parents. It's hard, but it is so worth it (and with support, it can be less difficult).
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