The 5 Hardest Things About Being a Mom
By Aviva Patz
Dealing with diapers, tantrums, and the terrible twos is nothing compared to the complex inner struggles of being a mother. Here, a look at the top emotional challenges every mom must face.
Motherhood is a major learning curve. One minute you're pregnant and the next you're a feeding, swaddling, diapering, soothing machine, an instant expert in basic infant first aid and the art of latching a five-point harness. At the same time, you're way out of your depth, struggling to navigate a stormy sea of new emotions that are unique to moms — from exhilarating pride to nail-biting frustration. Mastering the bottle is one thing; it's much more complicated to finesse the emotional hurdles of motherhood, especially when they morph and mutate as your baby reaches each new milestone.
"In my 20 years of practice as a psychiatrist, I've noticed that there are certain things that we as moms skin our knees over time and again," says Valerie Davis Raskin, M.D., author of The Making of a Mother: Overcoming the Nine Key Challenges — From Crib to Empty Nest . "The good news is that if you can identify those emotional trials and learn from them," says Raskin, "you can apply that wisdom when they come up again."
That said, there's no one right way to cope with any of the five emotionally charged mom obstacles outlined here. You'll still break down in tears from time to time (we guarantee it), but Raskin's advice will get you started on developing coping strategies that make these tough passages on the journey of motherhood easier to manage.
Mom Challenge #1: When you don't like your kid
When your child misbehaves, or embarrasses or betrays you, it can make you so angry that you might even hate him for it (for about 10 minutes). And then, because you also love him, you immediately feel tremendous guilt. Mom Jodi Lynn, 31, of Pittsburgh, is intimately familiar with this draining cycle. One night she took out a few books for her 5yearold, Alexis, to read before bed. When Lynn asked her to put away the books she'd finished, Alexis said, "You took them out. You put them away." A screaming match ensued, with Lynn denying Alexis the bedtime rituals she loves and even threatening to spank her. "I was so furious at her constant back talk, I just lost my temper," Lynn says. "I must have screamed for half an hour. I hated her the whole time."
How to Cope
You're always going to have what Raskin calls "unloving thoughts" about your child. You may even lose your cool and say not-such-nice things. That's normal! "You're human and you need to have reasonable expectations of yourself," Raskin says. "Always being 100 percent in love with your child is not reasonable." But if you're having an overly emotional reaction to your kid's misstep, try to figure out what your upset is really about. Then, address that fear or anxiety directly, instead of taking it out on your kid. For Lynn, as for many moms, anger often arises around feeling that you've lost control. In that case, Raskin suggests asking yourself if your expectations are realistic. For example, perhaps Lynn shouldn't have expected Alexis to be on her best behavior when she was so tired. Next, ask yourself if this is an isolated event or a pattern. "It's totally normal for kids to test their limits with you from time to time," Raskin says. "But if it's a recurring event, you may need to examine how consistent you are about discipline." Figuring out the root cause of your freak-outs will help you avoid getting to the hate and the guilt in the first place.