The Psychology Of Prepared Parenting
Proactive mothering – How to prepare for what you can: This student blog contribution by Erica Russo is made possible by a relationship with Columbia Teachers College and Dr. Aurelie Athan’s Laboratory On Maternal Psychology in collaboration with M.O.M..
A recent episode of the reality series Giuliana and Bill was the inspiration for the topic of this blog. Toward the end of their shopping trip to register baby items for their upcoming baby shower, where they perused the selection of organic baby clothing, carriers, bottles, lovies, swaddles, and tummy-time mats, Bill reveals, “The fact that we know nothing, is not good. There’s a lot that’s involved. It’s kind of overwhelming.” Giuliana follows up in the confessional, saying, “I didn’t realize how little we know about taking care of a baby. I thought we knew a lot more.”
In this moment, reality television captures what is a very real moment for expecting parents – the moment at which they realize they need to prepare for parenting. What is the meaning of preparation? What needs to be done in order for one to feel prepared for the birth of a baby? Is it a task that a parent can ever completely accomplish?
To get some insight on these questions, I interviewed three mothers at the Museum of Motherhood: Rew, Dasha, and Joy.
As I learned from Rew, Dasha, and Joy, mothers enter motherhood with varying levels of preparedness, and the act of preparing encompasses a variety of physical, psychological, and spiritual tasks. Each task carries strong emotions that may or may not remain consistent over time.
Before their children were born, Dasha and Rew both researched how to care for a baby and read books to prepare themselves for motherhood. Rew explained that there isn’t a book that can prepare you for motherhood – emphasizing that they lack information about the tremendous emotional aspect of mothering. Dasha particularly enjoyed shopping online for all of the trendiest baby clothing she could find. When it came time to think about purchasing some of the bigger items, Dasha Skyped with her mom, who lives in Russia, and spent a good amount of time researching the products to find the best one. Though time consuming, she says that she enjoyed every minute of it.
Despite these measures to prepare, both Rew and Dasha spoke of feeling unprepared and not knowing what to do at times. The support from family, friends, and their own self-reliance filled the gaps that exist in the parenting literature. Margaret, a nurse, helped Rew for the first week that her daughter was home and encouraged Rew to go out for a walk around the block each day. For the first month, Dasha’s mother stayed with her to help care for the baby. Dasha says that it was a tremendous comfort just knowing that her mother was there. While she did a lot of research on how to care for a baby before her son was born, she said she relied on knowing that she was doing her best when faced with difficult times – like in the beginning when her son, “ate for an hour, cried for an hour, and slept for an hour”.
Joy did prenatal yoga, went to psychotherapy, attended husband-coached childbirth classes with her husband, and planned to join a new mothers’ support group once the baby was born. She felt as prepared as possible for motherhood, but acknowledged that she still wasn’t fully prepared and found herself facing situations that she couldn’t have expected. One of the things she didn’t anticipate was what she described as a “love divided” right after the birth of her first son. She feels that the quote by Elizabeth Stone, “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body,” best describes this experience. Joy also discussed how it was difficult to accept the physical changes caused by pregnancy, as she was a dancer and involved in the entertainment industry.
Joy described motherhood as “not something that just happened” to her and with that, her belief in the importance of self-reflection and self-awareness – processes that she says are necessary to avoid repeating negative aspects of our own upbringing, without simply rebelling against them. She also talked about how NYC is a great place to raise children because the environment supports connections among people and resources.
For new mothers, it seems that establishing connections with others, actively seeking out resources, and examining one’s self are three important aspects of being psychologically prepared for parenting. As all three mothers stated, you can never be prepared for motherhood – and this is true. But the true art of preparation is preparing for what you can, and then surrounding yourself with a social network which will help to get through the things where preparation is not possible.
Special thanks to Rew, Dasha, and Joy for sharing their stories and contributing to this blog.
Lieberman, A., Padron, E., Van Horn, P., & Harris, W. (2005). Angels in the nursery: The intergenerational transmission of benevolent parental influences. Infant Mental Health Journal, 26(6), 504-520.
Parenting From The Inside Out by David Siegel
What I Thought I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen
Advice From A Pregnant Obstetrician by Dr. Shari E. Brasner
Writing Motherhood by Lisa Garrigues