Is It Even Possible to Be Confident as a First-Time Mom?
“I can’t believe it…. We have a baby!” I half laughed-half cried in the moments right after giving birth to my daughter. I was exhausted and barely able to register how my life had just been forever changed in that instant. The next 24 hours were a blur of diapers, latching, crying, swaddling, belly massages (ugh), and constant check-ups. And even though the hospital room was cold, the bed was uncomfortable, and we really just wanted to be at home with our new little love, a slight wave of panic washed over both my husband and me when they announced that we could be discharged. We caught each other’s eyes, wide and questioning, silently asking, “Wait, what do we do now?”
Fast forward 5 years and 2 more daughters, and life is still a whirlwind of diapers, latching, crying, swaddling, belly massages (“Mom, your belly is so squishy!”), and constant check-ups. (Those boo-boo’s ain’t gonna kiss themselves!) Although I suppose having three kids makes me a veteran when it comes to motherhood, I still vividly remember how it felt to be a first-time mom. The uncertainty, the sleep deprivation (still struggling with that one, unfortunately), the unsolicited advice from everyone (thanks random stranger in the grocery store), the fear of failure, the mom guilt, and most of all, the lack of confidence in myself.
I’d like to give you some free unsolicited advice. (No, I’m not going to say “Sleep when the baby sleeps,” although if you can, go for it!) But let me first preface these insights with a pill that might be hard to swallow: You won’t feel confident as a new mom. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but hear me out. You CAN absolutely fake it ’til you make it. It’s gonna take time… but you WILL make it. You WILL find your confidence. Here’s how.
How to Shift Your Mindset and Become What You Believe
Our minds are more powerful than we give them credit for. When you hit a major transition in life, like creating a tiny human, your mind is doing some pretty heavy lifting trying to navigate all the newness. You’re in the trenches, as I like to call it. It’s do-or-die survival mode. And that puts tremendous stress on your brain. It’s easy for negative, intrusive thoughts to slide into your mental DMs. Especially when the learning curve is so high, you are so tired, and the baby is soooo fussy. It’s easy to feel like you have no clue what you’re doing, which, as we know, is pretty much a confidence-killer.
But there’s this really cool little thing called experience-dependent neuroplasticity, which is just a fancy way to say we can change our brain through our experiences. Our brains are designed to be malleable and constantly rewire themselves. Basically, everything you experience WILL alter the physical nature of your brain.
So, take those pesky negative thoughts: If you constantly focus on your worry, mom guilt, fear, self-criticism… your brain will reshape itself to make you more vulnerable to worry, anxiety, and depression. You’ll find yourself only seeing the negatives of a situation and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
On the other hand, if you focus your thoughts on giving yourself grace, believing you are a good mom, and knowing it will get easier in time, your brain strengthens those neural connections. You’ll become more resilient, optimistic and have higher self-esteem in the long run. In the wise words of Oprah, “You don’t become what you want; you become what you believe.”
Try this right now:
Think about something you did well as a mom today. But don’t just notice it; really feel it too.
Take that thought and dwell on all the goodness in it for at least 20 seconds. (No fleeting thoughts here! And absolutely NO BUTS, unless, of course, your happy thought is that you cleaned a poopy butt really well…) This gives your brain time to fire those neurons and hardwire that belief into your brain.
Let the confidence boost commence.
It’s Possible to Balance Trusting Your Intuition & Searching for Information
Have you ever googled some seemingly harmless symptoms (albeit worrisome enough to google) and ended up convinced you were dying of cancer? With all the conflicting parenting advice/opinions/facts/hullabaloo out there, it’s no wonder we parents think we are ruining our children for life if we don’t do the RIGHT thing at ALL TIMES. Confidence goes out the window when your best friend says one thing, your mother says another, the internet, best-selling authors, pediatricians, or statistics all say yet another. And then, there’s your gut feeling. It’s so easy to second guess what we feel deeply in our gut because a trusted friend or family member disagrees. So my advice to cultivate confidence as a new mama? Dig into the latest research AND trust your mama instincts at the same time.
When my oldest daughter was going into her terribleterrific twos, I had no idea how to handle her meltdowns. I didn’t feel comfortable punishing her for having big emotions. Yet, I watched others around me telling their kids to “stop crying” or sending them to timeout when they acted out or wouldn’t calm down quickly enough. I wondered if I was being too permissive by not following suit. I frantically searched the internet for information on whether I was screwing up my child by lack of discipline. Did I need to toughen up? Implement consequences? Or maybe, just maybe… was my gut telling me something that other parents weren’t aware of?
Enter: Positive Parenting, a parenting style I had never heard of that I immediately embraced wholeheartedly. It presented exactly what I felt on a deeper level, and it had the research and neuroscience of child development to back it up! It taught me things I hadn’t even considered, and I’ve been a better parent for it.
Try this right now:
Think of an aspect of parenting that you’re second-guessing yourself in.
Take some time to really look into what research says.
Take into account what works for YOUR unique situation. It may not feel right or align with your values, or it could add more stress to your family dynamic. That’s why considering what your intuition says is crucial.
Find a balance between the two and choose the best solution for YOU. (Not your mom, or friend, or pediatrician, or… you get my point.)
The more we worry, the less we get to enjoy motherhood. Falling into the comparison trap is hands-down the easiest way to lose confidence in yourself. Her baby is already crawling! Why isn’t mine? She pureés her own organic baby food. She must be a better parent than I am. Her Instagram photos are picture-perfect. My life feels like a hot mess right now. Why can’t I lose the baby weight like she did? You get it. Listen, we’ve all been there.
So my advice? Figure out the things that trigger feelings of comparison, a “compare-snare,” if you will. (Social media, anyone?) Once you’re aware of what’s happening and how it makes you feel, try to minimize your exposure to it. And if that’s not possible because you’re addicted to the dopamine hit of a new like, when you do get triggered, remember that everybody has insecurities. (Even Beyoncé! Or Kate Middleton! Or Michelle Obama!) No one is perfect. Even the “perfect mom” has bad days. So stop believing the highlight reel of people’s lives. (Psst… Their highlight reel is not real life.) It’s only 1% (…maybe 2%) of their life. It’s not fair to compare the worst of yourself to the best of another. Even if it’s really easy to do.
Try this right now:
Create a mama-mantra that will help you overcome those moments when you’re being held captive by comparison. Something like, “I am enough,” or “A bad day does not make me a bad mom,” or “I’m still learning, and that’s okay.” Something short and easy to remember on the fly.
Write it down on a Post-it note and stick it on your bathroom mirror for a daily reminder to repeat it often, in good and bad times.
In moments of stress, simply repeat your mama-mantra and you’ll feel your heart rate slowing, your breathing becoming steady, and your confidence building up.
Why Leaning on Another Supportive Mama Who Gets You is Crucial
Chances are, the people you already surround yourself with probably look similar to you, have a similar upbringing or lifestyle, and have a similar belief system. That’s because we tend to like being around people who are similar to us. However, there may be people in your life who only diminish your self-confidence by questioning your decisions or flat-out disagreeing with them. When it’s a stranger, it’s easier to brush it off. When it’s your own family member, it’s a wee bit harder.
So, for my last but certainly not least piece of advice, I highly suggest that you confide in another supportive and like-minded mama who shares your attitude toward motherhood and all the decisions surrounding it. This is what psych-nerds call consensual validation, and it will absolutely boost your confidence in your own attitude and the decisions you’re making!
Having just any ol’ mama friend/sister or literally your own mother is sometimes not enough. Even though they get motherhood because they are indeed mothers, they’re contributing to your lack of confidence in a big way if they’re opposing rather than supporting your decisions.
Find the mama who has been there and also totally listens to you, encourages you, supports you, builds you up, and pushes you to be the best version of yourself. That doesn’t mean you’ll always agree on everything, but it does mean that she won’t hurt your confidence in the process if she doesn’t agree. Plus, you’ll likely agree on way more than you disagree on anyway (remember that consensual validation)!
Try this right now:
Think about a mama who just gets you and accepts you for who you are.
Go ahead and send her a quick text thanking her for being so supportive. If she doesn’t already know, tell her how you’ve been struggling with a lack of self-confidence in this season of life.
Ask if she has any tried and true suggestions for your specific situation.
Lean on her.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If she’s a true friend, she’ll be honored to guide you through the trenches.
The Bottom Line To Cultivating Confidence
It is completely normal to have a lack of confidence in something you’ve never done before. Even if you’ve babysat or worked with kids, motherhood is a whole new ballgame. It’s the difference between sitting in the stands, maybe catching a fly ball every once in a while, and being up to bat in a sport you barely know the rules to.
So, give yourself permission to:
Believe in yourself.
Trust your intuition.
Ask for help or support.
Know that you’re the best mama for the job.
Confidence will come when your decisions yield positive outcomes. You won’t always choose the right thing. Remember, there’s a big learning curve. When you feel like you’re failing, acknowledge and validate your own feelings. Repeat that mama-mantra until you believe it, and confide in your supportive mama friend for a little extra encouragement. You got this.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/BLOGHEADER_143A4196-scaled.jpg14952048Tamara Slocumhttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngTamara Slocum2021-06-25 12:21:002021-06-25 13:33:31How to Feel Confident as a New Mom