What You'll Learn
- The Definition of Matrescence and Its Characteristics
- Where Our Expectations of Motherhood Come From
- How Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood Lead to Mom Guilt
- How to Ease the Transition into Motherhood
- Tips for Practicing Self-Compassion as a New Mom
Becoming a first-time mom is a huge change. Most of us have romanticized expectations of what being a mom will be like. We think that it will be a time of love, cuddles, and joy. The reality of sleep deprivation, struggle, and difficulty stepping into the role can leave us feeling like we are failing.
This transition into motherhood has a name—matrescence. Perinatal Psychologist Dr. Katayune Kaeni (Dr. Kat) walks us through what matrescence is and how we can help ourselves through the process.
When Motherhood Isn’t All Sunshine and Rainbows
I thought I was prepared for motherhood. Like so many moms, I imagined that the love and joy would make up for the hard parts. I believed that I would ease right into the role—that I would know what to do, and that I would feel happy and whole.
The reality was that motherhood hit me like a train. It was harder than I ever imagined. My life changed completely overnight. Suddenly it was so much harder to sleep, shower, and take care of myself—let alone keep an entire other human being alive.
The reality was that motherhood hit me like a train.
But my social media was full of other moms who seemed to have it all together. Cute outfits, matching pj's, homecooked meals, and bright smiles.
So I kept telling myself that I should be doing a better job. In fact, I told myself that “I should” do a lot of things. I should be the one to wake up with the baby. I should be the one to feed the baby. I should be the one to soothe the baby.
But those “shoulds” became a cage that trapped me. Instead of feeling like I was thriving as a mom, I found myself scrambling in a sea of comparison, guilt, and shame.
I had to learn to break out of that “should” cycle and realize that my expectations of motherhood didn’t match reality, and that I was experiencing a major life change that I had not been prepared for.
The Definition of Matrescence and Its Characteristics
What I experienced, what all moms experience as they step into the role of motherhood, is a period of time known as matrescence.
What is matrescence? It’s the developmental transition into motherhood. Just like adolescence, it’s a period where moms experience a social, hormonal, physical, and emotional shift.
The term itself is relatively new—popularized in the 1970s. But while not every mom has heard the term, we all understand how hard becoming a new mom is. Unfortunately, the way most of us found out was by living through it.
Dr. Kat shared that during this time, moms often feel inadequate, unsure, and even shameful as they try to navigate the new territory of parenthood. It can feel impossible to do it all (especially right now in the midst of a pandemic!)
Moms can experience anxiety, depression, emotional roller coasters, or even recall and rehash childhood wounds as they reflect on their own mothers.
So why aren’t more people talking about how hard it is? Why are so many moms hiding how hard the transition is? Dr. Kat says it’s because we’ve been sold a lie about motherhood that clashes with reality.
Where Our Expectations of Motherhood Come From
The idea that mothers should just happily step into their role without difficulty started centuries ago.
History is full of civilizations that told women their only purpose was procreation, leading to unreasonable and unfair treatment of women’s physical and mental health. Even today in the medical world, women are often minimalized and overlooked.
When we combine those age-old ingrained beliefs with modern society, we have a recipe for mom shame and guilt.
Social media and intensive parenting have continued to perpetuate those false ideas of motherhood. We see the happy, joyous side, and start to form unrealistic expectations.
How Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood Lead to Mom Guilt
The truth is that for most of us, the greeting card image of motherhood is not a reality. We’re told that motherhood is magical, but as Dr. Kat points out, that’s a short-sighted view of a very complex experience
While there is often plenty of love, happiness, joy, and bonding, it’s twisted up with rapid changes, sleep deprivation, mental health struggles, and a complete lack of control.
The clash between our expectations and reality makes us feel inadequate.
Instead of feeling happy and loving, we can end up ragey and resentful. The clash between our expectations and reality makes us feel inadequate.
We often feel like we can’t even ask for help, because we should be able to handle everything. Instead, we tend to push our feelings down and suffer in silence, feeling guilty and shameful for not being good enough.
How to Ease the Transition into Motherhood
The most important thing to remember is that motherhood is an immense change. We have to give ourselves grace and space to grow.
Dr. Kat says that reducing your intake of the false image of motherhood is a good place to start. Spend less time on social media or stop following influencers that only show the positive side of new motherhood. Don’t be afraid to temporarily mute friends who appear to have it all together.
Make your environment conducive to healing by shutting out those images and focusing on helping yourself transition.
If you can, start making plans before you have the baby. Set up a plan for how your partner or other support members can help you with tasks and how you can take care of your own needs. (Download our free Postpartum Prep List to help plan and make sure your needs are met!)
Understand that you are not alone. Other moms are experiencing this too.
Understand that you are not alone. Other moms are experiencing this too. They might not be posting about it on social media, but they are likely facing their own difficulties behind the scenes.
Finally, remember that this transition will not last forever. You will come through the period of matrescence eventually.
Tips for Practicing Self-Compassion as a New Mom
Dr. Kat points out that self-compassion is a muscle that requires practice. When you are in the depths of new motherhood, you might not have a lot of time and energy to self-reflect.
Be gentle with yourself. If you find yourself slipping into self-judgment, try to stop yourself. (Pay attention to your thoughts—if you are telling yourself you “should” do something or you’re “supposed” to be a certain way, you’re probably veering into the self-judgment territory. Spend some time getting curious about where those judgments come from.)
When you catch yourself struggling, ask yourself what you would say to someone you love and care about who was facing the same situation.
Give yourself grace, time, and patience as you transition into motherhood.
If you feel like you need extra support, seek help. Our Wellness Center can connect you to a mom therapist for a free consultation—book yours today!