When I found out I was pregnant and decided to carry that pregnancy to term, I knew motherhood was going to be difficult. After all, parenthood is often touted as the "most difficult job in the world." But what I couldn't have possibly foreseen, or prepared for, were all the unspoken and contradictory demands society makes of new moms; demands that left me feeling completely lost. As a new, sleep deprived mother caring for a newborn baby, I had no idea how to navigate the trials and tribulations of parenthood in a way that society deemed "acceptable."
We can see these contradictory messages and expectations play out on a national scale. In the United States, motherhood is often positioned as the "end all, be all" of female existence, but we're the only industrialized nation that doesn't offer mandatory paid family leave. We pay moms less than we pay dads, we don't offer universal child care, and 25 percent of new moms are going back to work a mere two weeks after they give birth. Pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum depression are considered pre-existing conditions and, without the Affordable Care Act, legitimate reasons for health insurance companies to deny coverage to mothers.
And, of course, these national messages permeate into our close family and friend circles. We should all feel comfortable asking for help, but are often expected to deal with whatever motherhood throws our way on our own and with a sense of grace. We should admit that motherhood changes us, but we shouldn't change so much that our friends and family have to get to know us all over again.
It's exhausting, right? I mean, trying to figure out where I fit within these alternative and contradictory narratives was as tiring as the newborn phase, and now that my son is 4 and my brand new baby is 6 months, I can tell you that it doesn't really get any easier.
But admitting there's a problem is the first step towards eradicating it. So, with that in mind, here are just a few of the contradictory and unrealistic expectations us new moms face:
Be Honest About Motherhood But Have It All Figured Out By Day 3
As new moms, we need to be honest about the fact that parenthood is overwhelming and confusing, but we're absolutely expected to wade through that overwhelm and figure things out as soon as possible. It's "cute" to admit that we have no idea what we're doing, but in our day-to-day lives we absolutely should know what we're doing and act accordingly.
Don't Promote Unrealistic Beauty Standards But Don't Censor Yourself
Not only are we, as new moms, expected to live up to unrealistic postpartum body expectations (expectations that can cause serious emotional and mental harm), but we're also supposed to be proud of our stretch marks and the extra pounds we put on during pregnancy. And if you have a body that naturally adheres to those unrealistic standards set by an unforgiving society, or a body that's even considered relatively close, you cannot share any updates or pictures or feelings about that body... because you are, in the end, perpetuating that unrealistic standard.
If you share any information about your body, it better make other people feel good about theirs.
Spend Every Second With The Baby But Remember To Take Time For Yourself
You better not put that baby down but also #SelfCare but OMG make sure you're bonding with that baby but, you guys, you have to put your oxygen mask on before you can help anyone else.
Find Something You Love Outside Of Your Kids But Always Put Your Kids First
You shouldn't allow motherhood to completely consume you, but you absolutely have to center every single aspect of your life around your children. Yes, make sure that you find other things that fulfill you and bring you joy and passion, because it's wildly unfair to put all of that pressure on your child. But you absolutely cannot, under any circumstances, allow something to come before your child or miss out on something your child does in the name of your career or passion. I mean, how selfish.
Motherhood Is Life-Changing But You Should Still Be The Same Person
Everyone loves to go on and on about how life-changing motherhood is, but heaven help you if you actually seem like a different person once you have a child. You should allow the life-altering decision to have kids consume you, but you should also remained grounded in who you are and appear to be "the same person, just with a kid" to all of your friends and family members. Change, but not too much. Live a different life, sure, but not so different that people can't spend time with you or rely on you.
Don't Sacrifice Everything For Your Kid But Give Everything You Have To Your Kid
That whole martyrdom thing? Overrated! Unnecessary! You should in no way listen to those "you must give everything you have to your kids" messaging that has been regurgitated by a patriarchal society since the beginning of time. But also, absolutely give everything you have to your kid. You're a mom and motherhood is all about self-sacrifice, people! So don't play the martyr but absolutely act like a martyr.
Be The Primary Caregiver But Make Sure Your Significant Other Is Just As Involved
As the mom, it all falls on you. You're the one who has to coordinate schedules and plan meals and get up in the middle of the night and remember playdates and book doctor appointments and keep the house clean. But what kind of a #ModernWoman are you if you're not also making sure that your partner (especially if they're a cis man) isn't living up to their end of the parenting bargain? Yes, you should do it all, and that includes making sure your partner is an equal partner in child-rearing so you don't have to do it all.
"Tell It Like It Is" But Constantly Be Uplifting & Positive About Parenthood
Be real about parenthood, but not too real so that other people feel discouraged from having children. Yes, be honest about childbirth, but don't scare pregnant women! And of course, be realistic about how difficult breastfeeding is, but come on it's also natural and beautiful and don't try to paint it as something that can be taxing!
Be honest, but not too honest.
Ignore The Dishes To Spend Time With Your Kids But Make Sure Your House Is Spotless
We all love to hear about those "messes that are really just memories" but also, like, clean up your house! Don't forget to prioritize your kids over that load of laundry, because #priorities, but OMG what kind of a gross parent are you to have that pile of laundry sitting on the floor for three days in a row?!
As moms, we're constantly navigating contradictory messages that make us feel both within and without: like no matter what we do or say or how we feel, we can't "win." Which is why, in the end, we need to buck these expectations entirely. Do what works best for you, own your feelings because they're completely valid, regardless of what they are, and don't worry about what other people consider to be "normal" or "acceptable." It's all relative, and in the end the only person who can say with absolute certainty what works best for you and your family... is you.