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…

Mother & Baby - - CONTENTS - Sarah Schoppe-Sul­li­van

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.

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