Posted by fxckfeelings on December 30, 2013Share This Post
We’ve said many times that people who loudly, repeatedly declare they’re good or bad at something are often wrong; for example, a self-proclaimed expert cook should not be trusted to boil ramen, and someone who makes it clear they’re a terrible dancer just needs a little prodding before they unleash the boogie. That’s why you should always look deeper when someone says they’re awful or great at parenting, because some good parents are always sure their unloving feelings are messing up their kids when they’re not, and some obviously-not-so-good parents believe that, since they love their kids and love is all important, they’ve got what it takes when they don’t. Instead of rating yourself on the love vs. let-me-out-of-here scale, describe the behaviors necessary for the parenting job and grade yourself using whatever objective feedback and observations you can gather. Then you’ll be able to assess yourself accurately, both in your own mind and in public statements.
Please Note: We’re taking Thursday off again, but will be back for the first, glorious Monday of 2014.
I’m pregnant! No celebration though, because I want to terminate the pregnancy. When my husband and I got married, I said I’d have babies—he wanted them, and I always thought eventually I would. I kept putting it off because the biological clock never started ticking, and the thought of motherhood still freaks me out. I never lied to him on purpose, I always thought the mother instinct would kick in at some point because everyone said it’s what women do, become moms. We started “trying” because I couldn’t put it off any longer, although I did everything I could not to get pregnant (sex on non-fertile days, etc.). I know it was stupid, but I love my husband so much, I couldn’t not try. Now that I’m pregnant though, I want to scream. I pray everyday that I miscarry (it’s still early). I know I’m an awful person. He wants this so much and I love him so much. I just think I’ll make a horrible mother and am too selfish and career focused to make a good parent. I want a life, not a baby. What should I do?
Just because the idea of motherhood freaks you out doesn’t mean you’d be a terrible mother. If every med student who got freaked out by his or her first scalpel-cut into a cadaver decided s/he was no good at doctoring, the medical profession would be a very small group, made up mostly of cold-blooded serial killers.
Freaking out during your first pregnancy is normal—fear helps you prepare for parenthood—and there are many good reasons for believing your worst fears won’t come true. For instance, you say you have a good marriage and I assume that means you can count on your husband’s support.
Then again, if his schedule is limited, there are many different ways of providing good parenting without doing it all yourself, like dividing responsibilities with other family members and caregivers so as to cover your weaknesses. In addition, you may find older kids more fun to parent—few dirty diapers, more dumb fun. Whatever your most horrifying scenarios, there are ways to manage.
If you really believe you will be a horrible mother because you’re too selfish, however, this sounds less like a reasonable self-assessment and more like the nasty, implacable self-criticism of depression. The hormone changes of pregnancy often cause depression—yes, there is such a thing as pre-partum depression—which then tells you that your worst fears are facts and unavoidable certainties.
Ask yourself whether you’re having any other symptoms, like anxiety, irritability, and withdrawal, and don’t hesitate to check out possible symptoms with a clinician. A good clinical coach (i.e., any mental health professional with a positive attitude and good teaching skills) can help you fight the negative thinking and pregnancy shouldn’t prevent you from trying medication if you really need it. Medication is a last resort even for those who aren’t fertilized, but the notion that pregnant women have to live a medication-free existence simply isn’t true, especially if those medications improve their chance of a healthy delivery. Your doctor can explain the probabilities.
Of course, you should speak to your husband about your fears, but not until you have the “I’m-an-awful-person” thing under control. Instead of indicting yourself for crimes against humanity, let him know that pregnancy has given you nothing but fear and a feeling of being trapped and you wonder how you and he will cope if it turns out you can’t stand it. It’s unlikely that will happen or, if it does, that it will last indefinitely, but you want to think through how the two of you would manage.
Instead of apologizing, take pride in the risk you’ve taken out of love for your husband. Don’t panic just because your parenting instincts have gone missing. If you can talk to him about your fears without mentioning your self-blame, you might be surprised how many good, calming answers he’ll have to offer.
Plan for the worst, if you must, keeping in mind that many states in the US have severely limited access to abortions, especially past the twentieth week, which means your window is limited.
Before you let your self-doubt lead the way, however, remember there’s no life transition more scary than parenthood, and there are many reasons for hoping you will find a balance that allows you to continue your life as an independent woman without failing as a mother. It might be hard to believe you’ll be a good mom now, but not after you learn to believe in yourself more, period.
“I can’t imagine wanting to take care of a child, but those feelings aren’t unusual, I have a good partner, and things will probably turn out. I’ll keep my husband and doctor posted about my worries while I take things one at a time.”
My husband and I went through a pretty rough divorce a few years ago, but we managed to stay civil and still spend a lot of time together as a family for their sake, because I would do anything for my kids. That’s why I was so surprised when the police asked the state child protection agency to investigate my family. It’s true I was yelling at my ex-husband during a lot of his visits, but he’s at the house every other day and sometimes doesn’t keep his promises, like when he says he’ll help the kids with their homework or fix the TV, and I’m tired at the end of the day and get frustrated. I know the kids don’t like it when we fight, but I never hit him and I was trying to make a point. My goal is to get across that, though I yell, I’m a terrific mother.
There’s such a thing as loving kids to death with the dark side of frustrated worry, protectiveness, high standards and neediness. Yes, it’s good that your kids know that you love them, but if loving them means that you’re often critical and explosive, they may hate it.
It’s a terrible strain for kids to have to walk on eggshells with their parents. If they can do it successfully, they become extra-responsible adults who are afraid of their own dark side and, you guessed it, grow up to be therapists. If they can’t, they become black sheep, so the fact that love is what drives your anger doesn’t change its potential destructiveness.
Before getting angry at the child services worker for being over-critical and not recognizing your love for your children, do your own assessment of whether your anger is destructive. If you can, ask the kids how much they worry about your temper and how much it affects their mood or activities. Invite the opinion of trusted friends or relatives. Try putting a tighter lid on your self-expression either way and see if it helps.
If you find you can’t set limits without getting angry, hire a coach who can show you how. Don’t assume that fear is necessary for keeping everyone in line, because it hasn’t controlled your ex-husband and it usually stirs up as much resistance as compliance.
Love can make you a bad parent if it fuels anger without restraint, so take this opportunity to find out how much additional restraint you need, if any, in order to protect your kids from the potentially abusive side of your love. Once you learn how to manage the problems that trigger your anger, you’ll find yourself becoming more effective as a parent, better able to trust yourself, and more demonstrative of love in a less hateful way.
“I can’t believe anyone would ever accuse me of wanting to hurt my kids, but I can see that my love for them often makes me angry and my anger may be doing more harm than I thought. If I believe my anger is hurting them, even when it isn’t directed at them, I will learn new ways to manage situations I don’t like that allow me to stay calm and reasonable, even if love makes it much harder for me to keep my negative feelings to myself.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname