If becoming a mom sent your self-esteem packing, you're not alone. Researchers have found that moms have a tough road during those first few years of parenthood.
Becoming a mother screws with a woman's confidence—and not in a good way. In a new study, researchers found that a mom's self-esteem decreases during pregnancy, increases until her child is 6 months old, and then gradually decreases again until her kid hits the age of 3.
Whoa! This was no small study, either. Nearly 85,000 Norwegian mamas filled out questionnaires during their pregnancies and for the first 3 years of their child's life. And these weren't just first-timers—there were also moms on their second, third and fourth kid. But the trends turned out to be pretty similar across each group—not only did self-esteem plummet after kids, but so did the moms' level of relationship satisfaction.
Is this why we've all resorted to mom-shaming each other? Because we all feel so bad about ourselves deep down inside?
"When someone experiences a significant shift in identity, such as becoming someone's mother, the psyche has to adjust," Columbia professor Corinne Laird explained to Rewire. "Simply because someone is a mother doesn't mean that they always identify as a mother. This means that the rest of the world has already shifted their perception of who you are before you've had a chance to catch up. It's disorienting."
I remember that feeling very well. It was as if, overnight, everything that defined me before I had a baby was washed away until all that remained was one thing—motherhood. I struggled with that identity crisis every single day, until it finally occurred to me one day that it didn't really matter how other people saw me, as long as I knew who I was. But it took me a long time to come to that realization, all of which just begs the question—why was I forced to figure it all out on my own? Why aren't there more emotional support services available for mothers during pregnancy and throughout the first few years of parenthood?
According to Laird, social workers or other mental health-care professionals should be working alongside OB/GYNs for just this reason. While this may be the case in some hospital settings," she explained. "Interventions tend to be focused on assessing the presence of domestic violence during pregnancy and a brief conversation based on the outcome of a postpartum depression screening, post-birth."
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In other words, us mamas are pretty much hung out to dry. Whether or not the findings of this study will lead to more emotional, mental health, and social support for parents remains to be seen. But if there's a silver lining to be found here I think it's this: If you've been struggling with feelings of guilt and doubt and inadequacy since becoming a mother, you are not alone. There are 85,000 other mamas who feel the exact same way. So the next time you see a mom buying powdered formula or struggling to buckle her kid in a car seat or chasing her kid running down the aisle of your local Target, skip the part where you chime in to tell her what she's doing wrong. Instead, give her a little head nod in solidarity and mouth the words "You got this." Because she does. And, all evidence to the contrary, so do you.