What were we thinking! promote confidence and reduce distress in parents with a first baby

My mum

By Alex

My mum

Becoming a parent is the greatest things I have ever done.  It has been challenging, but I have never experienced such joy, ever.  There are sleepless nights, tears and frustration, but there are also smiles, laughter and unconditional love.  It is a rollercoaster ride of emotions that are felt in the deepest of places, and sitting there watching from a distance there is a grandmother.  A mum, my mum, and at some point she did everything for me. 

She sat with me at night, fed me, bathed me, and watched me while I slept.  I always knew this, she told me, but it wasn’t until I became a parent that I realised how hard she worked, how much she loved me and how much she never expected anything in return. 

Now, at the age of 30, it all makes sense.  She really loves me and really expects nothing in return. I finally get it, because this is how I feel about my little baby girl.  Tori's health and happiness are the most important and everything else can wait. 

In the process of having a baby, I have fallen in love with my mum all over again.  I may be considered a little slow on the uptake, but I am overwhelmed with gratitude and can’t imagine how I will ever show her how much I care.  There are homemade mother’s day cards that read: “Dear Mum, I love you, thank you for everything you do for me.  Love, Alex (aged 7)”.  Such a sweet child, who knew nothing how much her mother had sacrificed for her.  There were also moments when the same young lady, stormed up stairs screaming how much she hated that very same mum, that must have hurt her to the core. 

Over the past year, Mum has become my best friend, it’s a cliché but it’s true.  We see each other almost every day, we talk about everything, she helps me with my baby and she tells me everything is going to be ok.  She protects me, comforts me and makes me tea.  I get such joy seeing her play with Tori, because I realise that once upon a time, that’s how she looked at me, and the circle of life continues. 

So, for the remainder of time, daughters will continue to rely on their mothers, and the mums will do all they can to protect and support.  Daughters will grow from soft squidgy babies, into angry teenagers and some will become mothers themselves.  This cycle is drenched in tears of angst, joy and happiness.  For me it has been the most confusing, overwhelming and profound connection I have experienced with anyone. 

In closing, Dear Mum, I love you, thank you for everything you do for me. Love, Alex (aged 30).  It seems futile and insufficient, but I don’t know what else to say.  I do know that if I am ever lucky enough to receive a similar card from Tori, my heart will skip a beat.  

Expert response from What Were We Thinking! expert, Jan O'Connell

When you become a mum, your perspective about how you see and experience the world changes. The joys and demands of parenting fill your days and nights, and thoughts about your own parents raising you bring a newly shared experience and understanding with them. In particular, you often see your mum in a new light as her unconditional love and easy understanding provides you with much needed emotional and practical support.  As an added bonus, the relationship between your child and her grandparents so often develops its own particularly special and loving bond.

In part, some of the ease of your new relationship with your mum is the familiarity of parenting ideas and practices, as they are often the same ones as when you were raised. The way you parent your children is strongly influenced by how you were parented. Deep in your memory are parenting practices that you have learnt from your parents, though you may not specifically remember them – the good, the not so good, and things you may want to do differently. Your partner will have his own memories of childhood and parenting too. It is useful to begin a conversation with your partner, one of many over the years to come, about how together you want to raise your children and begin to form and mould your shared beliefs, attitudes and practices that you want to incorporate for your family.

Some new parents don’t have support from their mum or family for a variety of reasons such as their family lives far away, a parent or parents are no longer living, they do not have close a relationship with them, or a parent is unable to participate as much as they’d like to due to illness etc.  This can bring a sense of loss and grief in not being able to experience the support and friendship that comes from knowing each other so well and the opportunity to build an even stronger relationship that now presents through a mutual deep love for your child. There are also times when your family or friends may not offer the level of interest or participation in your new family’s lives as you had expected or hoped would occur. This can be difficult to understand and accept, and can alter ongoing relationships. 

If these situations occur, it is common to experience heightened levels of sadness, anxiety, social isolation or even episodes of depression. Discussing this with your maternal and child health nurse or local doctor can provide you with support as well as link you into services such as counselling to talk things through and to learn strategies to manage the issues more effectively.

Making new friends in your community can be very beneficial. This can occur through joining a parent group offered at your MCH centres, playgroups, church, sports or other groups. A trusted older person can bring a lot of joy into your lives and provide a special relationship with your child similar to that of a grandparent.

It is wonderful to recognise and appreciate the love and support that surrounds you and your child. Building a relationship with your children that offers them a secure and loving environment to live within is a most important gift you can give them. And in the future, you will also experience moments with them that will bring tears of joy to your eyes. 

Posted in:  A new reality  In this together  Your needs