‘You’re supposed to feel this bad’ and other lies about motherhood

Motherly Collective

I can still remember the exact night that marked my daughter’s last sleep regression. There was no signal that warned us everything was about to change. Yet all of a sudden, my daughter screamed bloody murder when we tried to leave the room. We went from a relatively peaceful night routine to sleeping on the floor until she fell asleep. Then, we crept out silent ninja-style, all the while knowing we would likely be returning to that very same floor in a few hours when she inevitably woke up again screaming for us.

Sleep regressions are normal, and sleepless nights are expected. But the duration of these can feel endless. Was this just our new reality, never sleeping more than a few hours at a time and rarely making it through the entire night in our own bed? I felt validated by my friends and even by posts on social media that mirrored my own experience. They reflected, yes, you are supposed to be this exhausted and maybe even feel this hopeless.

Raising children is meant to be hard, but is it meant to be this hard?

Lie #1: “You’re supposed to feel this bad”

One particular night as I lay uncomfortably on the floor of my daughter’s room at 2 am, I found myself searching for relief in the form of a sleep consultant. It felt like cheating to pursue this option. I wondered if I was supposed to tough it out or figure a way out on my own. I wondered if it was normal to feel this low. Enter lie number one—“You’re supposed to feel this bad.”

Over the course of a month, following the recommendations of the sleep consultant, my daughter was finally sleeping through the night again. I remember feeling beyond excited after sharing this experience with a friend, whose kids had not been sleeping for months. She said she had a sleep consultation appointment and was already feeling more hopeful.

Lie #2: “Things will get better if you give it time”

This brings me to the second lie, “Things will get better if you give it time.” Similar to the adage time heals all wounds, there is certainly truth to this. Yes, likely over time you will see that this is just a phase, regression or adjustment you and your family are going through. At the same time, there are things we can start doing today to make things just a little bit better in our lives. It doesn’t necessarily mean hiring a sleep consultant, but it could mean texting your closest and trusted parent friends, listening to a podcast or even intentionally agreeing to take a break from the problem to get some relief before deciding on any next steps.

Lie #3: “I got through it, so they will too”

This leads us to our last lie, “I got through it, so they will too.” It almost feels paradoxical that the people who may be most likely to underestimate the distress of another parent are parents themselves. I know I’ve said, “This is just a phase” or ‘My daughter did the same thing, you’ll get through it.” These statements may feel validating and there is certainly a degree of truth in them. However, there is also a fair amount of assumption. Assumptions that just because my experience looked this way, yours will too.

As a therapist, my concern goes to the significant increase in mental health conditions that can occur during the perinatal period, including significantly increased rates of depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Additionally, even if a parent’s distress doesn’t reach the level of a diagnosis, their pain and suffering still matter. When we only focus on normalizing the distress of other parents, we risk dismissing them, dismissing their pain and dismissing their cries for help.

If we look at each of these lies together, consider they story they tell:

“You’re supposed to feel this bad.”

“Things will get better if you give it time.”

“I got through it so they will too.”

Each of these statements may incite hope and certainly feel validating and comforting to many. At the same time, they also make it easier for us to look away, to feel reassured that this parent who is saying they are not okay, who says they are drowning, will be fine without any assistance. We don’t have to solve their problem; we likely can’t solve their problems of sleepless nights, increased anxiety or tantrums that can leave any parent feeling defeated and alone.

However, what we can do when we hear another parent suffering or signaling that they are in distress is let them know we take that seriously. We can even say, “I’ve been there too, and I want to hear more about how it’s been for you.”

If you are the parent reading this and have waved the flag for help, wave it again. If you’ve heard one of these statements above, or another version of them, I encourage you to say, “I know and I’m saying this feels serious, hard and I’m not okay” or other words that feel true to you. Normalizing is important, commiserating can feel bonding and taking the concerns of parents seriously is essential.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother’s journey is unique. By amplifying each mother’s experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you’re interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.

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