Approaching and offering help and support to someone, particularly if they seem to be struggling, can be a highly positive experience, but also in some instances may be a delicate situation for family and friends.
Many parents have high expectations of what becoming a parent is hoped and expected to be like, and when these are not met, it may lead them to experience intense feelings of disappointment and grief as they come to terms with what the reality of parenting is like for them.
These feelings of disappointment and even failure can be magnified, when other parents around them seem to have a much easier ride. For example, their pregnancies may have been smoother and easier and/or their babies may be more settled, and seem to feed and sleep well. It is natural that these mothers may also be a little envious of others, so try to understand things from their standpoint in your general conversations and discussions. For example, talking about how well you managed your baby may lead them to feel isolated and alienated, so be sensitive to their possible feelings and reactions.
Mother’s groups just made things worse for me. Everyone would be saying my baby’s sleeping through, sitting up or whatever…it just made me feel like I wasn’t keeping up. I just came home feeling worse about myself, so I stopped going.
As a result of all this, often parents may not speak up and talk about difficult times. Many women particularly fear that they may be viewed as ‘not coping’ or judged by others as not being ‘good mothers’. Hence it is not uncommon for new parents, particularly mothers, to deny to themselves if things are rough, not disclose how they are feeling to others. Rather they may put on a brave face and even deny the need or offers of help until things reach a crisis point.
I tried to get through it – it was a lunch arranged with my friends by my husband…but when I got home I just fell apart. It was all make believe.
In response to this, there are several things that you can do as a family member, friend, colleague or member of a mother’s group to minimise the impact of this stigma, and encourage open conversation and acceptance of support.