Preparing for Parenthood: Myths vs. Reality
By: Kristen Lipari, Ph.D. | May 25, 2021
Parents-to-be often hear that becoming a parent is “the most wonderful and rewarding experience.” While possibly true, parenthood can also present challenges unlike any you may have experienced previously. If we put parenthood on a pedestal, we may find ourselves subscribing to unrealistic expectations that are impossible to fulfill.
Dispelling myths that exist around parenthood can create more realistic expectations and help parents act self-compassionately in their new roles. Let’s tackle a few common myths in an effort to better understand this huge transition before you.
Myth #1: Breast is best.
Reality: Actually, fed is best. Many new mothers place a lot of emphasis on breastfeeding. Family members, other parents, and healthcare providers reinforce the “breastfeeding is better” myth. In hospitals one can observe signs stating, “this is a baby-friendly facility; we support breastfeeding.” These messages can worsen the shame and guilt that moms may experience when breastfeeding presents insurmountable challenges. Being aware of helpful resources and prioritizing one’s mental and physical health is not only important when it comes to breastfeeding, but is also important for parenting overall.
Myth # 2: Good parents love playing with their little ones.
Reality: Not all parents enjoy playing for hours on end with baby toys and their non-verbal infant. After all, it’s been years since you were an infant! These toys and activities are meant to stimulate your child, not you. While it’s important to mirror your infant’s expressions and be available for them, it’s okay to let them play and explore independently too. In fact, this fosters their development.
Myth #3: You’ll only grow closer to your partner.
Reality: If you have a partner, parenthood can present a re-negotiation of roles that you both expect, but it can also bring on unexpected conflicts as you may each have different visions of how to address challenges. Good communication between partners in this period is more important than ever. Successfully parenting together does not mean the absence of conflict but rather as the skillful management of it.
Myth #4: Going “on leave” will be such a nice break.
Reality: Paid leave, if you’re lucky enough to be eligible for it, will unfortunately not feel like a vacation. Infants don’t really sleep on a regular schedule for the first two months of life, which can lead to sleep deprivation and irregular schedules for parents. It may help to set low expectations for these first 8 weeks or so. It’s work enough to keep you and baby fed, safe, healthy, and cared for.
Myth #5: Giving anything less than 100% of yourself is not enough.
Reality: When we short-change ourselves of self-care, we short-change our families of ourselves. We become less present, more irritable, overwhelmed, and (even more) exhausted. While taking time away may prove difficult especially at first, it’s important to prioritize rest, maintain friendships, and stay well fed and hydrated. Attend to your basic needs at first, then build upon self-care by re-engaging in your interests and alone time as your baby grows.
We may think of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders as rare and unlikely, but these issues had an impact on 15-20% of moms before the pandemic. Now experts estimate the rates of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders as much higher. You do not need to brave parenthood alone if you feel overwhelmed, withdrawn, anxious, or guilty.
Cognitive approaches to therapy in the perinatal period can help you challenge unhelpful and unrealistic thoughts about your new role. Working with a skilled therapist who specializes in perinatal mental health can also help you adapt to parenthood by using mindfulness principles such as acceptance, flexibility, and self-compassion. You deserve support.