Do you want to get emotionally pushed around at every slant eye in-law stranger online meanie comment that gets thrown your way the first year? Of course you don't! Want to be a strong, confident, believe-in-yourself mom who puts happy before perfect-in-eveyone-else's eyes? Why, yes ma'am, I believe you do. I did, too. I just didn't know it in the beginning.
When I was preparing to give birth to my baby a couple years ago, I did lots of research on the kind of things I needed to do, that I wanted to do to give my little one the best start. I'm a big believer in the tenants of attachment parenting, and I studied up on all of them! However, I wish I had learned more about the importance of building my confidence as a new mom so that I could feel stronger about my choices in the face of questioning in-laws and the plain old weariness of sleep deprivation. I've learned a few things since those first months, namely how important it is and how to be a more confident mother. Confidence is key on the road to happiness, I've learned, as well. So in my quest to be a happy mom, I've worked to be a confident mom.
1. Spend time alone with your baby.
While many will tell you how much help you need and how to make things easier and why you shouldn't spend too much time alone, you won't hear too often how wonderful it is to be alone with your baby. It's great for bonding which help add to your confidence by increasing your sensitivity to your baby's needs. It will also challenge you to figure things out for yourself. Struggle with the nursing, diapers, feeding yourself, and peeing for a few short hours a few times a week, and you'll learn something important: you can do it. You really can. Dear heavens, have some help, too, because you don't want to be in this situation all day every day, but don't be too quick to lean on someone else too much. Learn how strong you are, how smart you are, and how well you and only you can care for your baby so well.
2. Take care of yourself.
One reason it's great to get plenty of help (remember, not too much though), is so that you can take care of yourself well on the way through this huge transition in your life. I'm talking about the basics here, basics that can fall away all too easily when we're succumbing to overwhelm. I won't suggest you shower every day, or get out for a run three times a week, or even leave your baby to get a massage (though none of these things are bad in my eyes). Instead, I've found that maintaining the basics every day, sleep or no sleep, helped (and still helps) me feel more in charge of the joy of my life. My list looks strangely similar to the list I read in a tweener health and beauty book when I was 12, but oh well. I'm talking:
- Drink lots of water
- Eat full meals (even if they're interrupted)
- Brush your teeth morning and night
- Wash your face morning and night
- Brush your hair morning and night
- Change out of your pajamas before noon
- Change into nursing-friendly pajamas at night
- Sleep when the baby sleeps, but not always (it is prime shower time, afterall!)
- Move slowly - from eating to dishes to nursing to the bathroom to changing - move slowly, sanely
- Move your body and get your blood flowing each day in an easy way (walking with baby in a good carrier is great!)
3. If you must explain, keep it simple
Never talk politics, religion, money or parenting in social settings. Especially parenting. Even when we think we're with like-minded people, there will always be anxiety (and worse) in the explaining or the listening. Better to just save yourself the worry and the self-doubt of the argument that seems to always ensue, even if that argument is as short as a doubtful-looking "Hmm" from an aquaintence. This all goes doubly triply crazbigly important with people with whom you know you don't share parenting philosophies. Think of parenting stances as religion. If you're own well-being is important to you, don't try to be a converter, and don't let anyone else corner you into their conversion diatribe. Figure out a simple, non-combative response that works for you for hot button topics like, hmmm... co-sleeping, breastfeeding, homebirth, etc. etc., for when you end up needing to respond to just not be rude. "This works for us," "I'm happy with our choice right now," "Thanks for caring, we're doing good," etc. are all good go-to phrases. Of course you'll have your own trusted caveats like the close friends and family you really can share with and question - you know, the ones that you can be really real with about your questions, and hopefully for the sake of your confidence, the ones that will tell you what a fantastic job you are doing!
4. Ask for the praise you deserve, and get it.
I'll never forget one fateful day when my baby was three months old that a call to an old friend woke me up to how great a job I was doing with my little one! All she said was, "You're doing a great job!" and the light bulb went on along with the realization that I hadn't been hearing that, maybe not at all, since my daughter was born. I heard a lot a advice, a lot of "I love you", a lot of "Congratulations!" but just not the "You're doing a great job" sort of thing. What a shame, because that right there is GOLD to those of us who have grown up letting others help us see how great we are (most of us). So, just keep it up and find the praise you deserve to help add to this confidence-boosting you need after your life gets turned upside down by a beautiful, blessed baby.
Call that friend of yours that will say it sincerely, and if she doesn't, ask her to. Say, "I really need to hear how great of a job I'm doing right now." She'll tell you! Same goes for your partner. If for some reason you have partnered with someone that isn't good at telling you how awesome you are and what a great job you are doing (on a regular basis), and it seems just too complicated to trade them in for one that does, get your teacher's cap on! Asking regularly for a pat on the back will help train him (or her) to praise you more often. You can be creative with your seeking, too. "Honey, today I changed all the diapers, washed them, fed myself and the baby, and even made you dinner! Tah dah!" Applause should ensue. If it doesn't, please just don't take it personally. Sometimes partners are a little slow on the uptake. Resolve to keep trying, and go call your mom! Moms are (generally) great for reminding you how great we're doing and they're often easier to ask for praise from.
5. Celebrate baby's milestones as your own.
There are all sorts of baby book formats you can use to track little one's milestones, including a plethora of smart phone apps. Use them to keep track, and remind yourself every single entry that YOU did that. You grew that little human in YOUR body for a good chunk of a year. YOU are the one that birthed this blessing into the world to be seen and heard and to grow. YOU are the primary one nursing that baby day in and day out. YOU are the mother. YOU are this person's mother. These milestones are your milestones. Celebrate yourself in them, too.
Bonus: Steer clear of comparison.
The world is filled with women that look like they have it more together than you. Even those close to you with whom you share the dark moments will seem better at it all than you feel you are from time to time. Remember that just like we can't see the dark circles under the eyes of cover models, we can't see all the hardships of other's lives. Even if we could, it wouldn't make our challenges any different. Best not to let other's illusions of worse help us feel better, nor other's illusions of better help us feel worse. By bolstering your own confidence, all the trappings of comparison will be easier to avoid. Amen, no?
Need a little more support to boost your mama confidence? Here are a few ideas I have about what could help: