I realize that we are far away from the days where children were raised by a tribe, but sometimes I think we may have taken it a little too far. Likely, at this moment, thousands of moms are Googling the same parenting question in isolation, trying to raise their children the best they can. I can’t even count the number of times I have heard moms question their ability to be mothers, and, so often, the conversation around feeling supported postpartum is filled with disappointment.
The issue is, we’ve all heard of the mystical Mom’s Mom or Mother-in-Law who sweeps in as a pillar of support postpartum. This mom cooks, cleans, holds the baby while you take showers, and offers parenting advice you actually want. They make being a new mom easier, help build the bond between mom and baby, and help you gain confidence in your new role as mom. Heck, they probably even watch the baby for date nights so that your love life is golden after baby.
Reality check, this mom is rare! And if you have this mom good for you! Now for those of us who don’t have that mom, let’s talk.
Let’s be real!
This sucks! So, what can we do about it? The truth is, it’s not going to get better unless we reassess our expectations and find solutions to feel supported. We have to take action for ourselves because we can’t merely pretend that we don’t need the support we so desperately want.
Now I am not going to sit here and tell you that support is coming because the harsh truth is that if your mom isn’t around, there’s probably a reason. Either she is not emotionally available, no longer living, or unable to provide the support that you need. If that’s you – join the club! There’s even a group for moms like us called Mothering Without a Mother facilitated by Leah Garvin.
For a long time, I held in this feeling of lacking support. I felt as if I should feel blessed that I have some support at all. But, I didn’t feel that way deep inside. Yes, I realize that I am lucky to have some support. I’m lucky that my mother-in-law watched my child postpartum while I cooked and cleaned my home. Yes, I am lucky that my mom cared from a distance. Yes, I’m lucky that my husband supported me in the ways that he could. But the dark truth is that for six months postpartum I felt the most unsupported that I had ever felt in my life. I needed support, and I didn’t have what I needed. This left me feeling drained, exhausted, and, to be honest, a little angry at those around me. It wasn’t until I found the support of other mothers that this began to lift.
When I started to share how I felt with other moms, I began to realize that there are many of us holding down a lot of the care and survival of our little humans, and, in the process, we somehow develop superpowers to become able to do more than we’ve ever done before. I look at mothers in awe for how much we are able to adjust our lives in such little time to create an environment for our children to thrive with or without support. Once I realized that this feeling of lack of support was shared by many other mothers I began to see how, when we support each other and become creative in the ways that we build support in our lives, we can be happier in motherhood. This shift in perspective has made me happier overall, and I was finally able to feel more supported, but in a non-traditional way. Here’s the process I’ve been working on to build pillars of support in my life that make me feel more supported postpartum:
Step 1 – Figure Out What You Want
This step is really hard because it’s way too easy to compare what support you have to the support you hear about from other moms and husbands. But, at the end of the day, this is about you and what you want. Take some time to write down what would make you feel supported. Some examples could be a weekly fresh-cooked meal that you don’t have to make, some help to do the dishes, being able to take an uninterrupted shower, someone to support you while tackling breastfeeding, etc.
Step 2 – Reassign Expectations
Figure out the areas of frustration where you feel that someone in your life should support you but are not. Then, work on removing that expectation from that individual and find creative ways to reassign that expectation in a way that helps you feel supported. For instance, if you wish your mother would have supported you by stopping by to check in on you postpartum consider hiring a postpartum doula to bridge the gap. The same can be said about housekeepers, in-home-chefs, mom-circles, and babysitters. When you are able to stop focusing on support coming from places that cannot support you, you will be more open to building structures of support that serve you while wasting less energy hoping for something that may never come.
Step 3 – Do Something for You
For me, building my coaching business was “my thing.” It gave me something else to think about postpartum, built my confidence, and made me feel as if I was standing up for myself. Having something for me made giving to everyone else feel better because I knew there was space in my life for me. I also knew that by working a little bit more I would be able to pay for the reassignments of the support that I need as a mom. Remember yourself in the process so that you can fill up your own places of joy as you are providing so much support to your child(ren).
Step 4 – Ask for Help
Taking care of a house and a child is a lot of work, and it’s okay to need help. We all need help! We just can’t expect those who are “supposed” to help us to always be able to step up and provide the support that we need. We also can’t expect other people to read our minds. So, use the clarity you found in the exercise to figure out what you want and ask for specific tasks to be done by others that will help you feel more supported. If this still does not work, realize that you have the option to reassign your needs to other providers who offer the support you need and that you can build support mom-to-mom, helping each other “tribe.”
We can’t look back on the tribal days and pretend that those support structures should exist today because society has changed dramatically. But what we can do is look at this trend of mothers raising children with the feelings of loneliness and ultimate sacrifice, give ourselves the tools to change our perspective around support, and line up the resources we do have in this urban society to build community and structures that make us feel more supported.