Maternal Instincts…or not.

Recently a video came across my newsfeed that made me literally laugh out loud. It was from the The BreakWomb, a collection of funny shorts from some comedienne moms. You can check it out here:

The basic gist of the video is poking fun at impressionable nature we have as moms when reading blog posts, articles, and books on parenting and child development that analyse every single tiny decision when it comes to parenting. We become so obsessed with finding the “right” way we second guess every decision we make.

Now I am not here to downplay the importance of being an informed parent. It is important to do some research on child development and open yourself to different philosophies that are evidence based and align with your own value system when it comes to making decisions about the physical and emotional health of your child. However when information overload and fear and insecurity of somehow damaging our children “for life” zaps our own “maternal instincts” its time to take a step back.

But I must begin by saying I’ve never really liked the term “maternal instincts.” This term always makes me feel a little squirmy mostly because I’ve never felt I had them. I at least don’t have the romanticized version of them that society perceives. The term suggests that once we’ve become mothers we just “know” and have automatic responses to what our children need. Please show me one mom who has always known AT ALL TIMES exactly why her baby was crying. My personal belief is that although there are some underlying biological connections we may have to our child (especially in the newborn stage) our maternal abilities are something we gain over time rather than something we are magically bestowed with the minute after child birth. These abilities are shaped by many things- our own childhood, culture, current trends and research, other mothers, our own sense of self and most importantly, our relationship to our child.

I’ve always been a person that has approached making decisions on what I think I “should” do. I’ve tried to approach life by the book. I went to college, then grad school, found a career, married my college sweetheart, we waited until we had a solid financial foundation, bought a house, and then decided to have a child. Everything has been logical and practical. This approach has given me a lot- security, a strong work ethic, solid foundation, and self-pride in my ability to think things through. But on the flip side when things don’t have much a by the book approach I tend to struggle to find my own way. So when it comes to the many murky choices I can make as a mother I still have the overwhelming feeling that I have no idea what I am doing.

So I compare myself to other moms, research, read judgmental blogs that come across my Facebook newsfeed and feel more insecure than ever. Then I remember that often times life isn’t practical or black and white and doesn’t come with a step by step manual. I try to think of some life principles that can help me cope with this ambiguity. I challenge myself to remember a few things:

Children are resilient. It can be quite a dangerous thought process if we believe children are so fragile and impressionable  that any small interaction can “damage” them for life.  Firstly, because it undercuts our ability to believe in their independence and treat them as human beings capable of making their own decisions and forming their own perceptions of situations. Secondly, it can create hopelessness in the parent that the “damage’ is done  when there is so much opportunity in modeling to your child that people can change and improve and grow. If there is one truth I know from my career as a social worker is that children are amazingly resilient. Many children have gone through things you can’t even imagine and yet still demonstrate a type of strength and sense of positivity I envy. So when you’ve realized that maybe the way you have been parenting hasn’t produced the best results don’t fret that there is irreversible damage. Your child is strong and better than the sum of all your actions and you have many opportunities to make it right.

Mistakes are opportunities. More than likely you have or will yell at your child someday or make some other natural parenting mistake. Maybe its because you are sleep deprived or because they’ve simply got on your last nerve. It most likely will come and that’s okay. Don’t be ashamed. Instead bounce back by taking responsibility, apologizing, making efforts to handle things differently the next time, and most importantly, talking this all through  with your child. The shame that these articles and books sometimes put down on parents for the way they handle things I think makes it more difficult for parents to be open to changing their approaches. Your mistakes become your child’s learning opportunities as well as yours. Teach them its normal to make mistakes, that you don’t have to fall apart in shame when you make them, and the importance of taking responsibility for them in moving on.

My relationship with my child will evolve. This is one I challenge myself to remember every day. Somedays when I can’t figure out why my son is acting a particular way I remember that we will only become closer in understanding each other as time goes on. Remember being on first dates?  You aren’t sure how to act or what to say because you don’t know the other person and how they will respond. That is similar to our children. We’ve only just met our children and yet we’ve known them their whole life. Its a strange paradox that holds a beautiful truth within it: our understanding and connection will grow deeper with time and you don’t need to understand everything about them just yet as they are doing the critical learning of even understanding themselves. Its a process and the only instinct we must follow is to listen and observe.

In a lost of cases I’ll have no ability to know if I made the right decision and that’s okay. Not one single approach in parenting is a guarantee that your child won’t develop any challenges. And there is significance in modeling for your child a integral motto of life navigation: “I’m not sure this is going to work but I’m going to try it anyway.” Parenting isn’t a maze where there is only one way through. Its an deep forest with many paths and twists and turns. You and your child have to find your own unique path. Most of the time you won’t know where it will lead you and that’s okay. The most important thing is that love and respect are guiding both your way.

Trends change. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if the next generation of psychologists come out with studies on the dangers of Attachment Parenting and my son comes home from his Psych 101 class on holiday break to tell me that our many nights of co-sleeping could have severely damaged his sense of independence. We all love to tell the stories of what our parents did to us as children that would be considered absolutely horrific parenting now. Remember that your are living through a tiny snapshot of what the experts says constitutes “good” parents. Research trends and philosophies will change over time. Choose one that represents your personal values over what you feel is trendy because at least you are modelling to your children that you are making decisions on something you believe passionately about not something Dr. Whatshername said.

So with all that said know when turn off Facebook or put that parenting book down and take a minute to think about what you want for your child and what your child wants for themselves. Sort out the noise. Reflect on your feelings, your partner or co-parent’s feelings, and the feelings of your child. Choose a path and see where it leads. What matters most to your child more than anything is that you’re holding their hand along the way.

Published by Rachel B.

I'm Rachel, a maternal wellness coach, therapist, and mother of 2. I offer maternal wellness coaching for mothers at I love the great outdoors, camping, and hiking. When I'm not enjoying the outdoors I love reading novels, listening to true crime podcasts, and watching documentaries.

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