Am I a Bad Mom for Feeling Maternal Ambivalence?
Do you feel like motherhood is not pure bliss 100% of the time? Is your joy is mixed with resentment and grief? Do you have 𝘮𝘪𝘹𝘦𝘥 𝘧𝘦𝘦𝘭𝘪𝘯𝘨𝘴 about motherhood? Are experiencing maternal ambivalence? What does that mean and what does it say about you as a mother?
If this is you, chances are you feel a sense of shame or guilt about these feelings. It ss easy to feel like you are the only one going through an uncomfortable experience, especially the kind not many people talk openly about. Believe it or not, maternal ambivalence and what you are experiencing is probably more common than you know. This post will discuss what maternal ambivalence is, why you may have mixed feelings about motherhood, whether or not this makes you a bad mom, and how to work through conflicting emotions regarding motherhood.
What does Ambivalence Mean?
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, ambivalence means:
having two opposing feelings at the same time, or being uncertain about how you feel.
I felt very ambivalent about leaving home.
He has fairly ambivalent feelings toward his father
She has an ambivalent attitude to exercise
Ambivalence describes this opposition of feelings we can have simultaneously. When we discuss maternal ambivalence, this is the opposing or conflicting feelings regarding motherhood, ones role as a mother, you children, or a mix.
What if I don’t Always Love Motherhood?
It can be hard to say out loud, to say to another person, but likely there are times you don’t love motherhood and things you don’t love about it. Motherhood requires us to continually balance our children’s needs with our own needs for growth.
In a day full of gleeful social media feeds and “good mom” expectations, you might not feel safe in your conflicting feelings.
Motherhood comes with a long list of things to do, shortened time for the self, and a roller coaster of emotions.
𝗠𝗮𝘁𝗲𝗿𝗻𝗮𝗹 𝗮𝗺𝗯𝗶𝘃𝗮𝗹𝗲𝗻𝗰𝗲 𝗶𝘀 𝘁𝗵𝗶𝘀 𝗺𝗶𝘅 𝗼𝗳 𝗹𝗼𝘃𝗲 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝘆𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗰𝗵𝗶𝗹𝗱 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝘆𝗲𝘁 𝗮 𝗱𝗶𝘀𝗹𝗶𝗸𝗲 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝗿𝗲𝗮𝗹𝗶𝘁𝗶𝗲𝘀 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗲𝘅𝗽𝗲𝗿𝗶𝗲𝗻𝗰𝗲𝘀.
Maybe someone says birth is “love at first sight” and you are filled with other emotions when your baby is first handed over to you.
Maybe your child’s need is keeping you from a job, a friendship, your partner, quiet time… things that make you feel resentment or anger even though you surely love your child.
Maybe someone says “isn’t motherhood just the best?!” and it leaves you wondering if you’re broken because you don’t always feel that way.
𝗬𝗼𝘂 𝗮𝗿𝗲𝗻’𝘁 𝗯𝗿𝗼𝗸𝗲𝗻.
The system of unrealistic expectations of the “good mom” is broken and ambivalence can be a very normal part of motherhood.
There are many things you don’t expect about postpartum, as discussed in the 10 Things No One Tells You About Postpartum, and those things can both take us by surprise and also create negative feelings towards motherhood.
Related: Postpartum Planner
I have Mixed Feelings Because I Miss My Old Life
Motherhood changes everything, and it changes it quickly. Mixed emotions are a part of any big change, yet it seems like with motherhood there isn’t room for these conversations and topics.
I first heard of maternal ambivalence when I was pregnant with my second child and it felt like a relief to learn about. It still felt “icky” and “unpleasant” to consider and I felt guilty even considering it. Heck, even today as I write I feel like there is darkness and guilt tied to thinking about the role ambivalence can play into our motherhood. And yet, the language that gives a name and permission to the resentment, boredom, anxiety in the midst of joy, love and gratitude. The term maternal ambivalence allowed me to realize this wasn’t something flawed in me. It was, and it is, a very natural reaction.
I love My Baby But I’ve Lost My Identity
When we care deeply about things, we have emotional reactions. For many of us, there are things about ourselves and our reality pre-baby that we love. Maybe you love your career. You love your outings with your best friends. Or maybe you love spontaneous travel with your partner. It could be your love for reading a book in your PJs all weekend.
Then, motherhood hits and things we know, the things we love, are turned upside down. Being sad about the loss of those things doesn’t take away your ability and the reality that you love your child. It means you have mixed emotions worth recognizing.
While you are working through the change of your identity in many ways, you’re now taking on the identity of a mom. The opportunities for judgement and self-doubt run wild in our current society.
How does a good mom feel after birth?
How does she feel about her baby? Herself? Her changed life?
What are the things she does, says and feels that makes her a good mom?
Related: New Baby, Lost Identity
Society And Motherhood: Contributor to Ambivalence?
Chances are, if you’re a mom, you want to be a good mom.
And truth is there are many messages, marketing structures and stories try to tell you what it means to be “good.” These messages pull you in different directions. The tell you that you need to DO more and BE more and BUY more. They tell you that there are 187 steps to being a good mom and this can set you up for failure. So now, not only have you lost a part of your identity, but society is constantly telling you that you aren’t good enough at this new part of your identity. It is no surprise if you feel anxiety, boredom, guilt and resentment even while feeling connected and loving towards your baby.
In the American society, maternity leave policies suck for the most part. Women are expected to breastfeed, lose the baby weight, get back to sex, pick up their jobs as usual and more in just weeks.
Related: Am I Ready for Sex After Baby?
Motherhood and the Workplace
A mom who chooses to breastfeed but has a short maternity leave then often returns to an office with a less-than-accommodating pumping room and judgement for taking pumping breaks. Yet a woman who decides to cease breastfeeding “didn’t try hard enough” to “give her baby the best.” (Quotes indicate society terms, not my beliefs.)
A mom who wants to lie-in and spend time resting and recovering from childbirth is often frowned upon by a society that says you need to get newborn pictures, take your baby to meet the family, join a moms’ group and more before their 2 month birthday.
A mom who decides to heal her body from the inside out- starting with emphasis on pelvic floor and core recovery and “smaller” movements is often preyed on by weight-loss companies urging her to get her “body back.”
And all of these situations create a narrative that you aren’t doing well enough as a mom. How can we blame you, then, when you have ambivalence? When you long for the things you knew how to control, how to do well, and had spent years mastering? When you wanted a break from the pressure, the crying, the needs?
Related: Myths About Motherhood
You Can be A Good Mom and Feel Maternal Ambivalence
You can be a good mom and feel ambivalence. Having conflicting emotions about motherhood does not make you a bad mother. It makes you a human who doesn’t want to lose sight of her own existence and who wants to be able to grow her child and herself. You feel the joy and gratitude of motherhood while also recognizing the difficulty that can come with it. It is okay to recognize the loss of so many comforts and routines you once knew.
Personally, I believe this ambivalence can be recognized, appreciated and serve as a tool in the future. As am ambivalent mother, you have the experience and power to teach your children one day that it’s okay to have conflicting feelings. You can teach them to listen internally and not drown out their own voice. This is an opportunity to teach your children to make choices even when emotions are contradicting. You can teach them that good and bad, negative and positive, can co-exist. You can teach them to care both for themselves and for others even when it’s messy.
Momma- I believe that your ambivalence doesn’t have to take away from your motherhood journey. It can be a powerful part of it.