Your new baby has come home.
Your friends and family are thrilled about the new addition to your family.
Vases of congratulatory flowers sit by your bedside. Cards and gifts from well-wishers, scattered everywhere.
"Isn't it just incredible?" people ask you, almost constantly. "These early weeks and months are such a special time. What a blessing. A miracle. I am so happy for you!"
You want to nod enthusiastically.
You want to agree with them and accept their blessings and congratulations warmly.
You want to look and feel like a glowing mama or proud papa.
The way everybody seems to expect you to be.
But you're guarding a painful secret.
You're not really enjoying being a parent.
You don't have mushy, cuddly, loving feelings towards your child.
In fact, a big part of you is wondering if maybe this whole thing was a colossal mistake.
And you're starting to wonder if something is very, very wrong with you.
If you're in this situation, read on. This blog is for you, and by the time you reach the final sentences, you will feel a bit better. (I can *almost* guarantee it.)
Not feeling "loving" towards your child is a taboo topic that very few people are willing to speak about, but that needs to change. I hope that my words provide encouragement and hope.
As a psychologist, life coach and family law attorney, I have listened to hundreds of parents -- both single and couples -- confess all kinds of secret feelings to me.
I've listened. I've observed. I've had the honor of counseling and coaching many families, helping them to resolve negative feelings, release shame and knit closer and closer together... in deep love.
Here is the very first thing I want you to know:
If you don't instantly feel "in love" with your child, or with the whole notion of being a parent, you are not broken, you are not insensitive and cold and you are not alone.
I also want to affirm that -- with some self-discovery and in some cases, therapy or coaching -- your feelings can change. Your current emotions are not necessarily permanent. In fact, no emotional state is completely permanent. That's one of the beautiful things about being human: the potential for change, growth and healing.
Besides that fact?
Here are a few more things to know & remember:
- Acceptance is crucial.
It's so important to accept how you feel and not judge yourself for feeling like you do.
Punishing yourself or criticizing yourself for not feeling the way you think that you are "supposed" to feel will not make things better. It will just compound negative feelings on top of negative feelings until you start to feel like a pressure cooker, ready to burst.
- Your present-day feelings were shaped by your past.
Maybe you had wonderful, loving parents. Maybe you did not. Maybe you had a joyful childhood and adolescence. Maybe you did not.
For better or worse, your past experiences, as well as your past choices, have molded you into the person you are today.
Perhaps, somewhere along the line, you picked up certain ideas, perspectives or lessons about what it means to be a parent (like, "it's hard," "it means the end of freedom," "your kids will ruin your sex life," "say 'goodbye' to ever having peace and quiet at home," etc.) Perhaps those lessons are causing you to feel negatively about your situation right now.
The good news? These kinds of negative attitudes are learned -- which means they can also be un-learned.
The way you are feeling right now doesn't have to be your reality forever.
- Feeling and acting are two very different things.
You have a right to feel however you feel. But, feeling something intensely does not mean that you have to "act out" or "act upon" those feelings.
You might be so angry at someone that you want to grab their cellphone and throw it on the ground. But you're not going to do that. You know better. You know how to stop yourself from acting out.
And hopefully, you have some kind of emotion-management practice that you rely on: meditating, journaling, regular check-ins with a life coach or a good old-fashioned punching-bag session at the gym.
- There are people who will listen.
Give yourself permission to talk to other parents about how you feel. You might be surprised to discover just how many moms and dads share your feelings and can relate to what you're going through.
If you're worried about being shamed or judged by someone in your immediate circle of friends, find a confidential support group or even an anonymous online forum where you can share your story openly. There is nothing to feel guilty about. You and these other parents are just human beings who are being challenged by a new situation that is triggering emotions that you haven't had to deal with before. You can share experiences and be nurtured by the encouragement and support from one another.
- Professional help is available, too.
You might also consider seeking help from a therapist or life coach to uncover the reasons for your feelings.
It's always a good idea to check with your physician as well, just to rule out any postpartum depression symptoms, physiological / hormonal imbalances or anything else that might be happening in your body.
(Remember, too, that sleep deprivation -- which is common amongst new parents -- can raise stress hormones in your body and lead to feelings of depression and agitation. A huge part of the negativity you're feeling right now could be due to plain old exhaustion!)
- You are a being of love.
No matter how you feel about being a parent right in this moment, deep down, you are a loving, caring person.
Love is your natural state. It's your home. You can always return home.
The key, I believe, is to acknowledge your feelings and explore them with curiosity ("I feel so negative right now. I wonder where this feeling is coming from?" rather than thinking, "I am cold and heartless for feeling this way! I can't tell anyone about this...").
If you can explore all of your feelings -- both positive and negative ones -- with curiosity and openness, then you can discover the lessons that your feelings are trying to teach you. With each discovery, you'll be equipped to make healthier choices, to manage your emotions more effectively, to un-learn old attitudes and form new ones.
In time? You will find your way home.
And in doing so, it is possible for you to create a loving, nurturing home for your child, as well.
I am sending you a huge, heartfelt hug and lots of encouragement.
Dr. Suzanne Gelb is a clinical psychologist, life coach and family law attorney.
She believes that it is never too late to become the person you want to be. Strong. Confident. Calm. Creative. Free of all of the burdens that have held you back -- no matter what has happened in the past.
Her insights on personal growth have been featured on more than 200 radio programs, 200 TV interviews and online at Time, Forbes, Newsweek, NBC's Today, The Daily Love, MindBodyGreen, and much more.
Step into her virtual office at DrSuzanneGelb.com, explore her blog, book a coaching session, wave hello on Twitter and Facebook and / or sign up to receive a free meditation and her weekly writings on health, happiness and self-respect.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional or psychological advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always contact your health practitioner before beginning any new health or well-being practice for yourself or your family.