Letter to new Mums and Dads

I often write blogs full of information. After seeing a new Mum as a client, I was moved and inspired to write an open letter to all new Mums and Dads!  I hope it is useful to you …. 

Dear new Mum or Dad

It will be okay. Having a baby or young child may seem like all new territory, but you will get there. As you navigate your way, please remember something really important – be gentle with yourself, and don’t be pushed around too much by perfectionism! It is an illusion, and especially when you have a new baby or young one. Perfectionism can exhaust you when you are already exhausted, bring more stress and anxiety into your life, lower your mood and isolate you from loved ones.

 I have had to deal with perfectionism in my life, including when I had a baby, and I have seen so many new Mums and some Dads struggling with it over the years. There is no denying that perfectionism can help us at times, but it can also cause a lot of suffering. It leads to high expectations of yourself and perhaps others, and often unrealistic ones. Have you ever thought; “I want to be a really good Mum”, only to find yourself thinking later; “I’m a terrible Mum”. Perfectionism is a trickster, and can lead to thoughts like these at opposite ends of the spectrum, or “all or nothing thinking.”

I have also seen lovely, competent women be incredibly hard on themselves. They may find their stress level rising, and their thinking and mood spiraling down. They can become very self-critical in their minds, perhaps saying things to themselves that they would never say to someone else. This may lead to even more suffering and thoughts like; “But I should be happy, what is wrong with me”. This is of course all made worse with sleep deprivation from looking after a baby or young child.

So why does this happen? One answer is that, quite often, women are measuring up to an ideal – the perfect mother (another illusion!). Women are given so many subtle or not so subtle messages growing up and in society about being kind, pretty, smart, emotionally strong, there for others, competent and caring to name a few. These come from influences such as family, teachers, movies, social media, culture and government. And there are also messages about women just knowing innately about how to be the ‘perfect mother’, another myth.  

So it is no wonder there is often a “super-wonderful mother ideal” in our minds. And yet we are often not really prepared for the role of being a mother and all that it involves. There is little teaching about feeding or settling a baby, or dealing with a baby who is sick. Often mothers find they learn on the job, and possibly through reading, the Internet, mother’s groups or plain old trial and error. It is very stressful when a baby is sick or crying, and when the way to deal with it is not clear.

Despite all of these challenges, new mothers (and fathers) do navigate their way. One way to make the path easier is to accept that sometimes you will do a good job, sometimes an okay job, and sometimes you will make mistakes. We often talk about finding a middle path, and it helps to be gentle in your thinking – let go of the ” black and white” thinking or any labels (e.g. hopeless, bad ….), and forget the ”shoulds” and “musts” (“I should know what to do, I must deal with it on my own”).

Don’t forget to take care of yourself and eat, rest or sleep when you can, and go for a walk. Say ‘yes’ to help from partner, family, friends, midwives, GPs, and online supports. Other tips are to let go of jobs that can wait, talk some shortcuts with housework or meals and don’t aim to do too many tasks in a day. And you may find it helpful to drop any unrealistic expectations of others too. They are not perfect either, and may be struggling with knowing what to do too. Talk to them and let them know what would help you, work on understanding each other, and don’t forget to take some time out for yourself if you can, and have time with a partner.

Your relationship with your baby or child will no doubt bring you much joy as well as challenges along the way. You will learn a lot about them and yourself, and your life will be enriched. Remember that you are doing okay, and that is good enough! In fact, look how much you have already navigated – you are quite amazing (but not perfect!).

Take care, and you can find out more about issues such as perfectionism, anxiety, post-natal depression and anxiety, and community resources on Dr Cate’s website www.drcatehowell.com.au (see recent blog and frequently asked questions). And please feel free to share this letter to other new Mums or Dads.


Dr Cate

Note: If you have concerns about mental health, see your GP, or contact Beyondblue 1300224636, Lifeline 131114, or mental health triage (in SA 131465).



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