Stabilise your self-esteem and re-build your confidence
Feeling less secure about yourself now thatw you’ve had a baby? You’re not alone. Here’s how to get a bit of your swag back…
Having a baby was what you wanted, and your little one is everything you ever dreamed of. So why is it, now your life is fuller, that your confidence seems to be floundering? And why, when everyone’s telling you you’re doing a great job, can’t you quite believe it yourself? “It’s common for women to experience a dip in self-confidence as they become mums,” says developmental psychologist Sarah SchoppeSullivan, who runs the New Parents Project. Last year, the results of a 10-year study of more than 84,000 women found a pattern associated with selfesteem and motherhood. During pregnancy, it was not uncommon for women to experience a dip in self-confidence. After giving birth, it typically improved for six months, but then dipped again, remaining lower than pre-pregnancy levels for at least three years. So, when we say you’re not alone in feeling like you’ve lost your mojo, you’re really, really not.
“You’re going through huge physical changes, but experiencing big psychological ones too,” explains Sarah. The magic of motherhood can involve birthing not just a baby, but a new identity too. Anthropologists call this process ‘matrescence’ – the process of becoming a mother. “And it’s common to experience self-doubt as your reality changes,” says Sarah. But there’s lots you can do to help you stabilise your self-esteem, and start rebuilding your confidence.
Check your standards
“We’ve found that the mothers who are most vulnerable to low confidence are those with highly perfectionistic standards about mothering,” reveals Sarah. “Those with unrealistically high standards, and who felt that others were holding them up to these standards too, were the ones who suffered the most.” Now, high expectations are a good thing – we all want to be the best mum we can be. But, if you set your standards impossibly high, it follows that they will be impossible to achieve. And even if you know in your heart of hearts that you’d need to be Superwoman to ace them, you’ll experience a dip in self-esteem when you don’t. So, ask yourself, what’s OK, what’s good, and what’s crikey-I’m-amazing when it comes to your own parenting standards? And now recalibrate. Make ‘OK’ the level at which you feel you’re succeeding, and hoick anything that whiffs of perfection up to that occasional spike of amazingness grade, where it belongs. Trust us, OK really is OK.
Be good enough
Need a little more convincing? Well, how about you just drop some of your standards. “Prioritise the things that you think are really important and let the other things slide,” suggests Sarah. And priorities will be different for everyone – maybe you’re really concerned about making your baby’s tea from scratch? That’s fine, but do you care quite so strongly about breakfast? Perhaps you like to keep the house tidy? Great, but does it matter if your car is a tip? By working out what does and – critically – doesn’t matter to you, you can match your efforts to where it’ll feed your self-esteem. And know, too, that chasing perfection isn’t the best
way to parent. The paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott observed thousands of babies with their mothers, and concluded that children benefit when their mothers slip up in small ways. He coined the term ‘good-enough mother’ to express this apparent contradiction: that being good enough is actually better for your youngster than being the fabled perfect mother would be.
With standards that you can realistically reach, your confidence will rise as you accomplish what you set out to achieve. And there’s an added bonus – you’ll have time left over for hugs with the gorgeous little person who, however you feel about yourself, knows that you are everything he needs and more.
Post reality not perfection
Sarah’s studies have found that social media, and Facebook in particular, plays an interesting role in this perfection conundrum. “We found that the greater the Facebook activity, the higher the incidence of stress in the first nine months of motherhood,” explains Sarah. Social media is a great way of connecting with other mums but, let’s face it, the #blessed images of perfection that you often encounter do encourage you to believe that all other mothers are drinking green smoothies while pulling yoga poses over their peacefully napping babies. The very best way to stop this fauxworld affecting you is to post a good dose of reality alongside your perfect moments, and step away from your phone the moment you start to feel like someone else’s life looks better than yours.
And speaking of feelings, do you start to feel your confidence soaring as a photo you’ve shared gets more and more ‘likes’? And does your mood nose-dive if a picture fails to reach a magic number of thumbs up? Pegging your self-esteem to ‘likes’ in this way can really dent your confidence. Whenever you feel it happening, remind yourself that just one of your baby’s smiles is worth a million ‘likes’.
Restart your teenage diary
Alongside social media, it’s really helpful to have another way to check in with yourself, and a really easy, low-tech answer is to keep a diary. Think back to your teenage days, and make this all about how you’re feeling. Deep joy? Good! Irrational anger? Great! Angst? Even better! “Monitor how the different elements of your daily life are making you feel,” suggests Sarah. “Ask yourself: how did I feel after I looked at Facebook? Or after that coffee date or baby class?” Slowly but surely, it will gently alert you to what’s making you feel good, and what’s not, so you can shift the balance and do more of what puts you in a positive mood, and less of what doesn’t.
Connect as a couple
“My research suggests that if you have a partner, the quality of that relationship is critical to your self-confidence,” says Sarah. “Having someone who affirms your competency in parenting when you might be wobbling is really helpful. So it’s vital to communicate honestly so you can adjust your expectations and support one another.” In the 10-year-long study, each time the research team checked in with the women about their self-confidence, they also asked them about the state of their relationship. And when a new mum was out of step with her partner, it showed up in her levels of self-belief. Take just five minutes together, each day. And start with a simple question: how was your day? Answer honestly and let your partner to do the same.
Find your tribe
If you haven’t yet found a mum-friend who you feel 100 per cent yourself with, keep looking. “It needs to be someone you feel comfortable showing the good, the bad, and the ordinary with,” says Sarah. And when you’ve found her – or them! – make carving out time to meet with your tribe regularly a real priority, whether that’s a weekly coffee during maternity leave or a monthly meet-up when you’re back at work. “It really helps to see that your experiences are not unique, that other mums are also experiencing that extraordinary mix of elation and exhaustion, fulfilment and frustration,” says Sarah.
Drink your cuppa
We’re not going to go on about making time for me-time – you know the drill. But it’s not enough to just switch the kettle on and make that cup of tea, you actually have to sit down and drink it too! So whatever it is you like to do that gives you
a moment of renewal, do it, and know that you’re helping your baby as well as yourself. “If you’re feeling stressed and anxious, you’re far less likely to be sensitive and responsive to your child,” says Sarah. “Taking a minute for yourself isn’t frivolous, it’s a foundation of good parenting.”
And that cup of tea could be more beneficial than you thought. Earlier this year, researchers from Peking University found a correlation between tea drinking and the characteristics of ‘smart’, ‘innovative’ and, crucially, ‘selfconfident’. So stick that kettle on!
Find your headspace
Ever feel like you simultaneously want to hug your baby close but also crave a little of your own space? Most mums do. “But mums feel like they can’t talk about this, because they’re ‘supposed’ to be happy and fulfilled all the time,” says Sarah. Needing a little headspace all of your own is a normal part of motherhood, and it’s OK to want it alongside feeling close to your youngster. The answer? Podcasts. Stick one on at nap time while you’re clearing up, or pop in your earphones while you’re pushing your pram to the park. And find your guilty podcast pleasure, whether that’s Kar Dishin’ It (you guessed it, a podcast about all things Kardashian) or Desert Island Discs. Just a few minutes of restorative headspace will buy you oodles of self-confidenceboosting zen.