How to Move Past the Myths of Motherhood with Dr. Shoshana Bennett
In today’s episode of The Gentle Parenting Show, Kim sits down with her longtime friend and colleague, Dr. Shoshana Bennett to discuss motherhood myths. Dr. Shosh, a clinical psychologist, is an expert on prenatal and postpartum depression and related mood and anxiety disorders. She is the author of the best-selling book “Postpartum Depression for Dummies”, as well as “Pregnant on Prozac”, “Children of The Depressed” and co-author of “Beyond the Blues.”
Kim and Dr. Shosh discuss the myths that can paralyze motherhood and deeply affect a mother’s mental health. Having myths and fantasies around what parenthood should be, or what kind of parent someone should be, can create problems that don’t even need to exist. Many women are facing postpartum depression due to myths and fantasies about motherhood. Throughout the episode, Kim and Dr. Shosh discuss different myths that are damaging in motherhood.
Myths in Pregnancy and Labor
Setting yourself up with motherhood myths can start even before the baby is born. For Dr. Shosh, this started with her birth “plan.” She explains that this should have been a birth “wish” because nothing in labor or delivery went according to plan. Now, looking back, she can see that it was OK. However, at the moment, she was crushed. She explained that she had friends and family tell her next labor would be “the right way.” This motherhood myth that there was a right and wrong way to deliver a baby catapulted Dr. Shosh into a deep postpartum depression.
With labor, delivery, sleep training, breastfeeding, and more, you need to be flexible to allow yourself to accept whatever happens.
Another myth that expecting parents are told is that all marriage or partnership issues will disappear once the baby is born. This sets an unrealistic expectation and an insane amount of pressure on any new parents. During a phase of life that is already emotional and new, having the pressure of projecting a perfect partnership or marriage can send any parent into a depressive spiral. Dr. Shosh says “when there’s the expectation of ‘this is how it’s supposed to be’, if any change ends up being difficult, that’s what can cause mental health issues of all kinds”.
Myths with a New Baby
One of the biggest myths of motherhood comes with a newborn. It is the idea that life with a newborn should be the happiest time of your life. This is so often not the case, but one that’s expected for all new parents. It is completely normal to take time to be connected to your child, and to not enjoy the newborn phase! Dr. Shosh believes that during an already fragile time, new mothers do not need this added expectation.
Another myth in new motherhood is that breastfeeding should be easy, and come naturally. Dr. Shosh points out that if this was the case – why would there be so many lactation consultants? There is no right or wrong way to feed a baby, and the pressure of that myth can weigh down any new mother who is struggling with breastfeeding.
As your child develops a consistent temperament, that can also affect a parent’s mental well-being. So many parents fantasize and expect a certain temperament from their baby, and if the baby doesn’t turn out that way, the parent puts it on themselves as making a mistake. But, your baby’s temperament and personality is something they are born with. All you can do is accept and love it.
Dr. Shosh says that fantasizing about a perfectly tempered child leads to another and more damaging myth. That myth is that a good mother has a baby that doesn’t cry. Both Kim and Dr. Shosh agree that this myth has GOT to go. Try to let go of this myth as early as possible, even within the first few weeks. Letting go of this myth not only helps you as a parent but relieves pressure that is built on a child too.
Myths About a Parent’s Self Care and Resilience
Dr. Shosh shares that with a new baby, especially a first child, it’s easy for parents to believe the myth that life will go back to normal after a baby. This is also partnered with the myth that parents’, especially mother’s, needs shouldn’t matter anymore. Kim and Dr. Shosh discuss how this simply isn’t true, and believing this myth can catapult a new mother into depression. With this myth, it’s easy for a new mom to believe that “if I really loved my child, I wouldn’t need a break.” Because of this myth, moms think they’re terrible parents because they’re burning out.
Kim shares that new parents need to learn to say “yes, thank you” when accepting help. This is because it’s very easy for new parents to believe another myth, and that is that they should be able to do everything on their own without any help. This myth can be exhausting. As a new parent, you never know what’s going to pop up. You can’t have a perfect plan, because nothing will go according to plan. If parents can have more of a go-with-the-flow attitude, and not immediately think “I did something wrong”, that can save mental health.
In the episode, Kim and Dr. Shosh discuss that it’s a myth that parents don’t need regular rest times. This just simply isn’t true. Dr. Shosh recommends that all of her patients and clients get a minimum of 2 hours a week to themselves. Being able to count on a day and time that you’re off duty can be life-changing. Without any regular breaks, it’s easy for parents to burn out. Burnout can lead to depletion, which can lead to depression. Dr. Shosh says “it’s up to us to set up these regular break times – that’s part of being a responsible caregiver”. Make sure you get regular breaks, that is healthy and helps you hang on and be the parent you really want to be.
Myths in Marriage and Partnership
While there can be a lot of fantasizing and myths in marriage and partnerships, Dr. Shosh and Kim talk specifically about partnerships with children. One major myth is the way partners are thinking of each other’s involvement with the child. One partner may build up an idea that the other partner wants to handle certain tasks on their own. When, in reality, that partner could be drowning in anxiety and overwhelm.
Communication is key to overturn this myth. Both Kim and Dr. Shosh recommend having this open line of communication before a baby is even born. Have each partner explain what they expect or what they hope the other will do once the baby arrives. Having a game plan and open communication will help to stop any resentment towards each other or individual overwhelm.
On a more physical side, there are also myths surrounding how quickly partners should be intimate after birth, or how fast a mother’s body should “bounce back” after a baby. Again, communicating these expectations and feelings to your partner can help stop anger towards each other.
Sharing and Dismissing Myths to Support Each Other
Kim and Dr. Shosh both agree that if they had been taught real parenting experiences and had examples of busting common mothering myths, that their entire mothering experience would’ve been different. Kim jokingly asks, “what happened to the sisterhood? How come no one told me these things were going to happen?”.
Feelings like this can apply to everything from pregnancy to labor and delivery to the toddler stage. A lot of family and friends are hesitant to share their personal parenting stories because they are scared that a loved one’s experience won’t be the same. But, if no one talks about these different experiences, everyone believes the same myths. Sharing real experiences sets new parents up to go with the flow when things don’t go according to plan.
Throughout the episode, the ladies discuss finding a support group. You may have to look around for a group of support that is real. Dr. Shosh shares an experience of finding a support group, but quickly feeling judged. After she shared some deep, real feelings about motherhood, no one in the group stepped up to support her. She noted that this was some time ago, and not everyone had as inclusive as a mindset as they do now. She said we have to be real with others if we have any hopes of busting myths. If every parent goes on pretending that everything is flowing according to plan and buying into these myths, it is mentally damaging to any parent having a different experience.
Connection of Motherhood Myths and Postpartum Depression
Dr. Shosh is a clinical psychologist, specializing in postpartum depression. She knows a thing or two about the effect of myths on postpartum depression and anxiety. One of the biggest myths that cause new mothers to head towards depression is believing that they should already know everything about how to take care of a baby. Believing this just sets you up for failure.
Both Dr. Shosh and Kim agree that parenting is instinctual and bonding happens over time. Maybe you won’t instantly fall in love with your baby (another myth), which is ok. It can take a while to feel a connection to your baby. Plus, if you are a parent to multiple children, you have to start over with each child.
To close, Kim asked Dr. Shosh if there was a big myth that all parents should avoid. But, Dr. Shosh points out that new parents should just find themselves asking questions. Ask why you think you need to do something a certain way. Get curious about what myths are holding you back as a parent. Once you figure it out, SHARE with others to help them feel more supported.
Connect With Dr. Shosh
Connect with Dr. Shosh on her website where she has resources and consultation options for dealing with postpartum depression and anxiety.