I felt pretty confident that mothering would come naturally to me before I had my first child.
For starters, I have always loved kids. Growing up, I spent a lot of time babysitting, teaching kids at our local rec department, and being a summer camp counselor.
As an adult, I spent years in graduate school studying child psychology, later becoming a psychologist specializing in supporting children, adolescents, and families.
Then, I became a mama.
Like all new parents, my world shifted when I became a mother. In many ways, I literally transformed into a new version of myself as I began caring for this little being. Most moms describe becoming a mother as one of the most impactful experiences in their lives, creating major shifts in their identities.
As my first child began to grow, I began to understand parenting on a very different level than ever before. I experienced the profound love as well as the many challenges of raising children.
No matter how much I knew about child development, I still had so many questions and insecurities as I navigated the joys and challenges of motherhood.
Finding New Ways to Support Parents
For years before becoming a mom, I advised parents on things like being proactive and consistent in their parenting, spending more time with their children, and staying calm in the presence of toddler tantrums or teenage angst. While I still recommend these strategies, becoming a mother helped me understand how difficult some of my recommendations can be for parents.
My empathy for other parents grew as I fully experienced things like a lack of sleep, juggling full-time work with school schedules, and the enormous pressure facing parents – especially moms- in our culture to “do it all” without enough supportive systems in place.
While I still make recommendations based on leading research in psychology, I am much more intentional to lead with empathy, connection, and validation with parents.
I ask how they’re doing. I encourage them to talk about how their overwhelm impacts their parenting, and we brainstorm ways to address it. I strongly emphasize to parents the importance of talking to themselves kindly, finding ways to take breaks when things get tough, and taking care of themselves.
I also have extended more compassion towards myself over the years as a mother. It can be difficult to accept that I don’t always know how to respond to my children’s behavior. Like other mother-therapists, I tend to over-analyze my parenting choices and weigh out a lengthy list of strategies when trying to problem-solve behavioral or emotional challenges experienced by my children. There have been times when I’ve thought to myself “How can you not figure this out? You’re a child psychologist!?”
What I have realized over the years is that it doesn’t matter what your background and training is; being a mom is hard.
Whether you’re a teacher, counselor, or nurse, being a mom to your own children comes with a set of challenges that are very different than caring for children and families in your profession.
This is actually the beauty of parenting: we are all more similar in our struggles than we are different. And we can all benefit from more empathy, compassion and kindness for one another, and for ourselves.