Matrescence and Ambivalence

I Love My Baby, But Sometimes I Don’t Like Motherhood via alexandrasacksmd.com

Photo by Sean Roy on Unsplash
Am I a bad mother because I woke up this morning wishing I didn’t have to do this right now?

One of the emotional “through lines” discussed in my NYT article and in my forthcoming book, The Emotional Guide to Pregnancy and Postpartum (Think: What to Expect When You’re Expecting, for your emotions, hormones, and relationships), is ambivalence.

Imagine this: your baby is inconsolable, you haven’t eaten or slept since — you can’t remember — and you really have to pee. Sound familiar? In these moments, when you’ve got nothing left to give, you may also feel ambivalent about the job of being a mother. It’s not that you feel ambivalent about your child, it’s just that at this moment, the parenting role is not so fun.

Ambivalence is a hallmark of motherhood and a natural reaction to any complex experience. During pregnancy and motherhood, sometimes you’re going to want to trade in your bump for your skinny jeans, or sleep-in rather then get up to nurse. Yes, being a mom can be filled with joy, but it’s also messy, frustrating, exhausting, expensive and time consuming.

As a reproductive psychiatrist, I hear moms whisper about ambivalence in hushed tones: “Am I a bad mother because I woke up this morning wishing I didn’t have to do this right now?” This thought is completely natural, yet most moms feel ashamed if they think about their mixed-feelings, let alone say them aloud.

Ambivalence is an emotion that prepares you for a very important part of parenting: separation.

BUT, don’t beat yourself up. The truth is, everyone has a hard time liking their babies (and their partners, and themselves) sometimes. We love them, but we don’t always like them. Ambivalence makes us feel out of control because during motherhood, it’s not either/or, it’s both/and. (It’s not good or bad, it’s both good AND bad.) Growing a baby can be a wonderful experience; coping with morning sickness, not so much.

Even though sitting with that confusion may be exhausting, pretending that you’re not feeling what you’re feeling — in all its shades of grey — can actually make you feel worse. That’s why, in my upcoming book, I’m going to teach you that in push/pull moments like these, trying to define yourself or your choices as black or white, good or bad, is not helpful. Ambivalence is an emotion that prepares you for a very important part of parenting: separation.

It’s not that you feel ambivalent about your child, it’s just that at this moment, the parenting role is not so fun.

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