Motherhood, Connecting and Speaking Up

Motherhood, Connecting and Speaking Up

As a mothers’ advocate, I get to meet seriously interesting people.  One of my favorites is Jennifer Kogan who has been counseling individuals and couples in her Washington DC psychotherapy practice for 17 years.  With two children of her own, and a current client base that’s 90% mothers, she hears more about the maternal experience than most.  We talked recently about her observations and insights.

 Q:  Do the mothers you see professionally have much in common?  

 A:  Yes. Mothers have a hard time taking care of themselves because they are so busy taking care of everyone else. People talk about the beauty of motherhood, but not about how hard it can be. This is because we live with the myth that motherhood is all sunshine and roses.  Despite what we see in the media, being a mom is not always wonderful. It can be hard and messy and unpredictable. The way to cope with the reality of motherhood is to acknowledge our true feelings and to put our own needs into the equation. I remind moms that just like the instructions we hear on an airplane, we need to put our own oxygen mask on first so we can be alive and present to take care of our kids.

 Q:  How do women react when their expectations and their experiences as mothers don’t match?

 A: The new moms that I meet are usually feeling pretty blindsided by the enormous life change that has occurred.  They often tell me that no one warned them it would be this hard. I believe that part of what makes this transition so difficult is because when you are pregnant, you have time to take care of yourself.  The focus is on you and how you are feeling. But the minute the baby is born, the focus shifts to the baby. Sleep is interrupted and nothing goes as planned. Women who try to express their conflicted feelings are often met with the well-intentioned myth (from family and friends) that new motherhood should be a happy time. Sometimes it is but sometimes it really isn’t.

 Q:  What else do the mothers in your practice identify often as a source of stress?   

A:  Two things come up pretty regularly.  The myth that ‘Breast is Best’ does not always help mothers. A postpartum support colleague of mine recently recommended we say, “breast is best except when it isn’t.”  Women are made to feel like they are committing a crime if they decide not to breastfeed. In fact, there are many valid reasons why not breastfeeding would be better for mom and baby. Chief among those is a mother’s emotional and mental health.  A baby needs a mom who is feeling healthy and strong. 

Secondly, many parents today live far from their families. We lack built-in support systems for women. Many women that I meet with do not have friends who have babies. They are missing a sense of community and support. It is hard to feel validated when you don’t know anyone else who is doing what you are doing.

 Q:  Do you think mothers are more susceptible to guilt than non-mothers?

 A:  Mothers do carry a lot of guilt and some of that may be tied to pressure and the sense of responsibility they feel from the moment their baby arrives.  It may also connect to the family culture they grew up in, how they adapted in their first family, and what they bring to the family they are in now.   Research shows that raising children can be the most stressful time in a couple’s relationship. However, the family a mother and father (or mother and mother) creates can become a new blueprint for success. Staying connected is possible but it takes work.  Developing an awareness of one’s own feelings, and communicating those feelings and needs in a clear manner can really help. Being 100% in charge isn’t good for anyone. I try to help women find ways to ask for what they need from their partners.

 My goal is to help mothers with children of all ages look at themselves with kinder eyes. Learning to voice our feelings and needs is the best way to counter the very real societal pressure that we must “do it all.”  Connecting with other women and speaking up when we notice a mothering myth is key. It is also a very real investment in the future of our own sons and daughters.

 Jen Kogan, LICSW provides support and counseling to parents in her northwest DC private practice.  More info on the web at www.jenniferkogan.com and via email at jenko108@gmail.com.

‘Til next time,

Your (Wo)Man in Washington

 

About Valerie Young

Valerie Young is a public policy analyst who focuses on the economic status of mothers and other family caregivers. She promotes social justice by arming mothers with information and a healthy dose of outrage. She is the Advocacy Coordinator at the National Association of Mothers' Centers, and is a reporter for The Shriver Report and contributor to Brain/Child Magazine. Follow her blog, Your (Wo)Man in Washington, on Twitter @WomanInDC and on Facebook as Valerie Young and Your (Wo)Man in Washington.

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  • Lisa

    Everything that Jennifer says is so true – and at the heart of why Mothers’ Center was so important in my life. That environment helped me make peace with my ambivalent feelings – the incredible love I felt for my baby and the need for some space to myself. Where else but my Mothers’ Center could I go each week and walk out feeling validated, supported and fortified to face the rest of the day? It’s true that we go into motherhood so unprepared for how hard it can be – and with so few supports. So little has changed in our society – it breaks my heart that new moms still lack the basic supports they need. Friends in Denmark and Australia describe such a different experience- it is so frustrating that as a society we still don’t get it – how small investments for young families and young children will pay off a thousand fold.

  • http://twitter.com/katefineske Kate Fineske

    What a Fabulous interview! I can’t wait to share this with others. I related especially well with Jennifer’s comment that: ‘Breast is Best’ does not always help mothers. I am constantly seeing this issue debated where I live. And it makes me cringe to see mothers so divided over an issue when, in my opinion, we mom’s need to spend our efforts better supporting each other through our personal and very hard decisions. It IS such a personal choice. I loved her comment about a mother’s emotional and mental health and how a baby needs a mom who is feeling healthy and strong.

    Great interview!