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I Never Felt Like I Was a “Good Enough” Mother

stressed young woman sitting on sofa

Liv Tyler has been all over the press recently as they speculated that she was expecting baby no. 2 long before the actress confirmed she was indeed pregnant. The signs, however, were unmistakable: She carried huge handbags concealing her stomach and her skin and hair glowed with good health. She clearly looks over-the-moon. However, way back when she was pregnant with her son Milo, she admitted she was scared about becoming a mom the first time around.

You’re not alone, Liv. I was, too.

Back when I chose to have a baby, I lived in London and all of my friends were still partying and galavanting about the city. As they dashed off on dates and gathered for cocktails, I was at home turning my spare room into a nursery. I desperately wanted to become a mom, but I was also terrified. I’d grown up living with my mom and grandmother until I was 11 (my parents split up when my mom was pregnant with me), but as a single parent in her late 20s/early 30s, my mom was also trying to have a life as well so I often was left with my grandmother.

I didn’t come from a nuclear family with 2.5 kids. As I grew older, both of my parents remarried so I had step siblings; during my teens I lived with my mom’s ex-boyfriend and his daughter on the weekends. I didn’t have a blueprint to refer to — no idea of what motherhood and raising a family should be. The result? It made me wildly insecure. Once my son was born, I was too afraid to join mommy-and-me classes because I felt all the other moms “knew” things that I didn’t. At the time I wasn’t close to my own mother, so I didn’t have anyone to turn to to ask “Am I doing OK?”

To compound this fear, I also had a C-section by choice (I had a crippling birth phobia) and then I struggled to breastfeed. I felt like I’d already failed at the first hurdle of motherhood. It made me incredibly defensive, mainly because I doubted myself — my ability as a mom and the choices I made. I felt threatened by moms who knew the best organic recipes and who had signed their kids up for all kinds of classes. They seemed to breeze through the early months of their babies’ lives, whereas I was struggling. Adding to this, I felt guilty that I missed my old life. Motherhood wasn’t fulfilling me in the way I had expected it to. I had anxiety about everything but I felt I couldn’t admit this to anyone and so I pretended that I was coping just fine.

When I went back to work and my son started nursery school, we moved into a new house and he started to have play dates and parties. This just brought a whole new set of fears. I worried that I wasn’t up to scratch. Was my house big enough, clean enough, nice enough? Was my son going to the right activities outside of nursery school? Was I feeding him the right things? By the time he started school, I was still nervous around the other mothers, convinced they were all judging me or thinking I wasn’t good enough. Compounding all this was the fact that I chose to work full-time, both out of financial necessity and also because I loved working. It was staying at home all the time with a child, swallowed up by loneliness, that made me miserable. The fact that I preferred to be at work just heightened my sense that, somehow, I wasn’t a “good enough” mother. I questioned if I should have had a child, even though I loved him more than anything I’d ever known.

So how did I get through this? I had a second child.

Something about having another kid and having survived four years with my first made me believe I can do this. The second time around I was miraculously less nervous, less stressed. I had done everything before so at last I did have a blueprint to refer to. This, coupled with the fact my son was such a sweet kid and people frequently told me what a kind, empathetic child he was, made me think that I must be doing something right. Juggling two kids was so much more work that I was just delighted when we made it through the day and everyone was bathed, fed, and sleeping happily. The second time around I was 37, and by that age, I’d made peace with my childhood, my mom, and I’m certain this also helped my outlook. I wasn’t afraid to ask for advice; at the same time, I threw away the baby books because I instinctively knew what my baby needed. I trusted my judgement.

At last, I trusted myself.

The thought of becoming a mom is scary because nothing can ever prepare you for such a radical change in your life. It’s so easy to get bogged down with all the conflicting advice that people and books offer. Plus, it’s hard to feel confident at something you’ve never done before.

Looking back, here are some things I wish someone had told me:

1. You know your own baby better than anyone, so never let anyone make you feel bad about whatever choices you make.

2. Breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally to every mother, and it makes you no less of a mom if it isn’t for you.

3. Get out! The worst thing you can do is stay cooped up all day. Get some fresh air. Take your baby for a walk. I had one friend who made it her mission to write a letter or pay a bill or do just one thing every day to feel that sense of achievement.

4. Join classes and make friends. I am convinced my postpartum depression was exacerbated by my crippling loneliness. I was so miserable. Join mommy-and-me groups, even if the moms there aren’t exactly your kind of folk. It doesn’t matter. Befriend them. They’re going through what you are and it’s great to have someone else to talk to about it.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It isn’t a sign of weakness. Motherhood is tough enough. Ask your other half to give you a break, or a relative or friend. You need time to yourself, even if it’s just an hour to grab a coffee.

6. Don’t worry about what your neighbor or your best friend is doing. Motherhood is NOT a competition. Do what you want, when you want. Be confident in your choices. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t quite work; motherhood is the start of not always knowing what’s right.

7. Give yourself a huge pat on the back. You are embarking on the hardest but most rewarding job of your life. There are no rule books. No one really has a clue most of the time. We’re all just trying to find our way!

Most of all, anyone who says that motherhood is easy all the time or that they just love every aspect of it is lying. My doctor told me that when she had her daughter, she joined a mother’s group. All of the women struggled with early motherhood and feeding, but there was one who seemed to really have it together — who wasn’t exhausted and boasted that she found the whole thing a breeze. Turns out she was on the verge of a breakdown behind closed doors. Everyone has their “outside” face — the one they paste on because they’re not always comfortable showing the ugly truth. If in doubt, remember the reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes selves with everyone else’s highlight reel.

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

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