Motherhood and the Confidence Trap
Updated: Sep 17, 2020
If there’s one thing I love about this job, it’s the amazing people I meet along the way. This week was no exception. I was invited by a truly inspirational woman, to speak in her forum about confidence during ‘matresence’.
‘What on earth is matresence?’ I hear you cry. And yes, I admit to having to ask my good friend Google. But what Google revealed was truly eye-opening.
Matresence is the maternal equivalent of adolescence, where a woman makes the fundamental transition, both physically and mentally, into motherhood. The mood swings, crazy bodily changes, aches, pains and a shifting sense of identity are all underpinned by huge hormonal shifts.
The only problem is, we’re accustomed to teenagers. Hell, most of us were one. Tell someone you have a teenaged child and you’ll most likely see them wince and/or shake their head in sympathy. Some of us (ahem) may remember being that obstinate teenager, yet somehow, our parents cut us come slack.
But societally, our expectations of mothers and mothers-to-be are different. When you think of it, motherhood makes adolescence look like child’s play (pardon the pun). The changes women undergo are mind-blowingly immense. But whilst teenagers aren’t expected to relish the awkward transition onto adulthood, mums are expected to show gratitude and even joy in relation to their changing bodies, minds and situations.
It’s therefore no wonder that confidence can take a staggering hit during matresence. With confidence closely linked to mental well-being, it’s important that first-time mums understand why these changes happen and how they can combat the negative effects.
Motherhood and the (not-so-documented) confidence hit
I regularly hear, 'I’ve never had any confidence!’. But confidence isn’t an object we possess or lack – it’s something we develop over time. It can vary immensely in different areas of our lives. Motherhood, however, can totally change the confidence status quo.
In a few short months, women experience three significant shifts that can zap the confidence of the most resilient soul.
a) Changes in self-perception
From the moment a woman becomes pregnant for the first time, self-perception shifts. It’s no longer just them, but them and their baby. Many women feel an overwhelming urge to nurture and protect their child over and above themselves - or experience guilt if they don’t.
Their bodies changes in a way that can’t be controlled and has never been experienced before. An alarming proportion of women already suffered from negative body-image before pregnancy. Throw a bump into the mix and confidence can tumble. Women can literally feel uncomfortable in their own skin.
The factors that typically fuel confidence, such as trying new things, achieving at work, socialising, hitting goals, often fall by the wayside during matresence as focus shifts from self to family. The things that were valued can become meaningless or the stuff that meant nothing may suddenly be held dear. It’s therefore no surprise that motherhood can cause major crises in confidence as women adjust to their new sense of self.
b) Changes in perception of capability
Picture this… With just a few month’s notice, you are told you are about to become the CEO of a huge multi-national corporation – one that operates around the clock and one in which you have absolutely no direct experience. Scary, right?
The journey into motherhood is no different. Most women start with little idea what it really feels like to care for a baby day in, day out. The skills honed throughout years of experience and work often have no bearing on a parent’s capacity to look after a baby. (I can confirm first-hand that a long career in media research did little to help me!) Mums often doubt their capability, receive conflicting advice and suspect they should naturally ‘know’ what to do. When they don’t, confidence can disappear before there’s chance to wave it goodbye.
c) Changes in perception from others
Whether we like it to or not, we’re social beings and other people’s perceptions of us can have a significant impact on how we feel about ourselves.
From the very start of matresence, women can often experience a notable shift in how other people react towards them. Some feel they go from being seen as a lover to a mother, the life-and-soul of the party to the instigator of an early night, the career work-horse to the one who leaves the office when the clock strikes 5, and so forth. Pregnant bodies are seemingly open for comment. (I lost count of the times I heard, ‘Are you sure there’s only one in there?’ from relative strangers).
What we see reflected back from those around us can have a massive bearing on sense of self and that is particularly true for women during matresence.
Avoiding the confidence trap.
So, how can mums realign their sense of self and avoid the confidence trap?
1) Allow yourself to accept the changes.
Ever heard someone say, ‘a baby won’t change me?’. Motherhood is the of the biggest transitions imaginable both physically and mentally. Change is natural, it would be weird if everything stayed the same.
Accepting who you are, what your body has achieved and how far you’ve come is the first step to moving forwards. Just understanding your shifting feelings are a normal part of becoming a mum can help lay the foundations for rebuilding confidence.
2) Understand that there's no such thing as failure, only feedback.
Becoming a parent is a learning curve – and it’s different. For Every. Single. Woman. Yes, it’s good to learn and seek advice but we’re all individuals. What works for one may not work for another. There is no right and wrong, there’s just trying things on to see what does and doesn’t fit your new family. And as you find what fits, your confidence will gradually grow.
3) Know that It takes a village..
It takes a village to raise a child and whether you seek support from family, friends or professionals, it doesn’t matter as long as you’re not going it alone. Confidence needs building up like a wall and confident people don’t build their walls alone, they have a team of builders to help. For new mums, it’s important to recognise that not all builders are the same. Some may offer to help but inadvertently take your bricks away. Know which people build your confidence and limit exposure to those that don’t.
4) There are always choices.
Granted, choices may be limited during matresence but choice always exists. Even if it’s as simple as choosing to get dressed (or indeed stay in your pyjamas), head out for some air or take some time to do something different, choice equals control. Control leads to action – both of which subconsciously fan the positive flames of confidence.
5) Grant yourself permission to rest.
It’s hard to feel confident when you’re totally drained. And yes, having a baby and rest might not belong in the same sentence, but even half an hour with a cuppa and Netflix is enough to give your brain a rest – and your confidence a boost.
6) Get comfortable saying ‘no’.
By its very nature, motherhood is all about giving, therefore its hugely important to recognise and communicate your own boundaries to protect your well-being. These boundaries will shift and evolve. Learning to say no to the things that cause you stress, anxiety or simply deplete you of your energy will help you build confidence.
7) Resist the temptation to compare.
‘Comparison culture’ can be a major issue for new mums. Many find that their worlds contract after having a baby. The temptation to compare and contrast our lives can be overwhelming – especially when the social media platforms are in constant close reach. The trouble is, social media provides a heavily airbrushed version of reality that can knock our own sense of accomplishment and achievement. If you’re needing a confidence boost, recognise and ditch the unhelpful comparisons.
All in, confidence changes off the back of having a baby, but ultimately, you'll add to your arsenal with a host of new skills, strengths and a resilience you never thought possible before motherhood.
P.S. If you’re a career-motivated woman who wants to calmly and powerfully put yourself out there without cringing or worrying what others will think, then I’d love to welcome you in my Facebook group, The Confidence Build for Women.
It’s a friendly, supportive community full of women just like you. It’s jam-packed with no-fluff support, inspiration, expert training and will help you find the motivation to show up and be the you that you deserve to be. I’ll see you there!