A mother’s instincts

I think one of the most common misconceptions about becoming a mom is that you will instinctually know what to do the minute you give birth to your baby or hold her in your arms for the first time.  Unfortunately, I find that more often then not, the opposite is actually true, but because we are led to believe this will happen, we somehow feel like we are either doing it wrong or have somehow failed.  In truth, being a mother is a learned skill.  Something that comes with many many hours of practice and on the job training that we get, whether we like it or not, the minute we come home from the hospital and are launched into parenting.  When you really think about it, how is it possible to have instincts about something that you have never done before?

These days you can take any number of classes before your baby is born from childbirth to breastfeeding to newborn care.  Each of these classes proclaims to prepare you for their designated task and help you be ready for the experience.  I have yet to meet a mom who says that their breastfeeding class really prepared them for what would lie ahead when they made their first attempts to breastfeed their baby (who had also not nursed before in her life).  As I tell all the moms in my groups, breastfeeding is a learning curve and it is a process whereby both you and your child are learning together.  It is not instinctual.  The same can be said of parenting in general.  As your child grows and changes, you to grow as a mother and with that come those instincts.  They develop over time.  To expect to have them before you have ever been a mom is unrealistic.  I often wonder if there is a conspiracy out there that leads us to believe that all those mothering instincts were just lying in wait within us until the day we became moms and suddenly they are supposed to burst forth, and we will miraculously dive into motherhood knowing exactly what to do.  I certainly speak for myself when I say that this was not my experience.  Still, 8½ years after having my first child, I can remember the sense of despair and disappointment I felt when I realized that these instincts I was supposed to be relying on were no where to be found.  It was hard work developing them and took much trial and error.  Fortunately, children are resilient!  I also distinctly remember how much easier it was when I had my son 3 years later, and even though I had some of that on the job experience from my daughter, I knew that it would take time to develop my specific instincts for my second child and his individual needs.

In this age of the abundance of information readily available, I often wonder if this leads many moms to second guess their developing instincts.  At any hour of the day, you can get a multitude of feedback to any parenting question you can think of.  There are constantly moms out there posting on list serves, message boards and various mom Facebook groups.  This can be a great way to get support when you are unable to leave the house (or in the middle of the night) but sometimes the “over information” can become overwhelming and make you second guess what you know to be true about your own unique child.  Let us not also forget about all the other information that comes from friends, well meaning family members, books that contradict each other, pedestrians and total strangers who accost us in Target and comment on our baby, and how we may be parenting.  All this is to say that it is normal to not know what you are doing.  It is normal to enter motherhood without any instincts and to have to learn along the way.  Parenting is a moving target and as our children grow and change, our instincts have to grow and change as well.  And they will.  Just give it time and be kind to yourself as you learn.  There is no such thing as a perfect parent.  Mistakes are how we learn and develop those so-called instincts.  And as your baby grows and you learn who she is as a person and what her needs are you will have those instincts to parent her.

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