I Don't Know What I'm Doing-7 Steps to Finding Confidence in the Postpartum Period
There is a beautiful quote by Virginia Henderson. It goes like this, "the nurse is temporarily the...knowledge and confidence for the young mother."
There is nothing more needed for the new mom (or new again mom) than support and knowledge and confidence. How could any mom, realistically knowing that she has never done whatever it is she is doing with this particular child, possibly feel confident about her skills, the results she will obtain, and the success it will lead to? In fact, knowing there are no guarantees for results and success, how could she ever have confidence- even if it is something she has tried with this or other children?
Is it possible to live without confidence without having anxiety and depression?
Is it possible to have confidence without having a guarantee of success?
What is success in motherhood?
And where, for the love of all sanity, can you find this elusive confidence (assuming you aren't wanting to wait for the kids to be grown so you can have time, experience, and hindsight to feel better)?
It turns out our best teachers are our toddlers. They can teach what to do and want not to do when it comes to finding confidence in the transition to motherhood. If you don't have your own toddler yet to learn from, don't worry. Toddlers are, by nature, loud and outspoken with their confidence in the face of constantly learning new things. You can simply tune in a notice the toddlers around you doing their thing. Toddlers especially like to showcase their confidence in public places. In fact, I'm willing to bet, you can easily bring to mind a time when you witnessed a toddler, dressed in completely mismatched superhero/princess gear and accessories, insist on doing something new without help with absolute assurance that their way is best. Even more, I bet you can easily recall a time when their bold insistence led to frustration and overwhelm/tears and tantrums and then they still insisted on doing the thing again on their own without help. But most importantly, I know you can also recall a time when they succeeded, with help (or without), and their entire little body puffed up with pride and lit up with joy from head to toe.
I'm not saying new parents are toddlers, but if the shoe fits...follow these steps.
Start by identifying what it is that you are trying to do and WHY you are trying to do it.
When everything is new, there can be so many thoughts about what needs to be done, what should be done, and what isn’t being done that it can be difficult to connect with the present moment of what am I trying to do right now? BE CAREFUL! It is easy to identify the “trying to pack the diaper bag” when what you really want to identify is “make sure I have the things I need to care for my baby.” While this may seem like the same thing on the surface, the devil is in the details. When you feel frustrated or overwhelmed by the details, take a pause and look at what you are doing and find the why. Could it be that you are losing control over something that doesn’t really matter? Are there other ways you could achieve the same results? Does what you are doing have to be done right now? Do you have too many choices or not enough information or resources?
Decide if you need help.
There is no shame in needing help. EVERYONE needs help at some point. That said, sometimes we just need a chance to try something on our own. If you are feeling paralyzed and can’t find the bravery to start OR if you are feeling pressured to try something that doesn’t align with your vision of parenting, consider this. Will your efforts right now at this moment cause catastrophic harm if you succeed or fail? Is what you are doing something that cannot be undone or redone if it does not work? If so, are the potential consequences undesirable or life-threatening? Is there something important you can learn, even if your efforts do not give the desired results? When we think about success as a parent, it is easy to feel pressured to perfection. However, if you go back to your why, you may find as much or more is gained in the process than in the results. For example, if you want to provide security for your family, modeling flexibility, independence, and innovation may be just as helpful as providing for their needs.
Identify the help you need and the best source to obtain this help.
Outgrowing the toddler's tendency to “do it all by ourselves” is a lifelong learning experience. But have you ever seen a toddler think through who they want to ask for help? For example, even a toddler knows to go to the best resource (in their case, whoever is most likely to say “yes”). As adults, we sometimes do the same thing by going to the resource that will most likely support our plan-even if it isn’t a good one. Or we may use social media to find what the “cool kid” is doing and copy that. Instead, look for people with experience or knowledge that you don’t have who can provide objective feedback. And remember, it is ok to consider several different points of view before intentionally deciding which support you will seek or accept at this time. It isn’t just about getting support and information, it also matters how the support and information are conveyed.
Now that you have determined what you are doing and why and lined up the help you need, it is time to take action! Yikes, this can be the scariest part where confidence is most needed. It turns out that if you can get started and get experience, confidence will improve, and to help you get started before you have confidence, you can make things easier by breaking your steps down until the point where you feel at least a little bit capable. For example, you might not be ready to implement a sleep routine but I bet you can be comfortable deciding whether you want to find a workshop, book, or blog to learn what programs are available.
Pat yourself on the back.
One of the best things about toddlers is their big feelings-especially when they are positive and not directed at us in a tantrum;) Toddlers are experts at getting excited about the small stuff. Unfortunately, one of the consequences of suppressing our big uncomfortable feelings (as many of us were taught to do as toddlers) is that we also tend to start suppressing our big positive emotions too and we forget that it is ok to get excited about the small stuff, especially when there are unpleasant emotions in the mix. Let’s be honest, the transition to parenthood is basically one big grab bag of all the emotions so often positive and negative emotions are in the mix. When you are learning new things and experimenting to find out what works best for you and yours, there will be times when you don’t get the results you want. Even in those situations, it is more than ok to pat yourself on the back and celebrate the bravery of trying and the importance of learning what doesn’t work.
Repetition with educated adjustment is the name of the game when we are learning something new. Just like when we encourage a toddler to “keep trying”, we can also give ourselves that same encouragement. Did you try with or without help? Does that need to be adjusted? Were you overtired, hungry, or bored when something didn’t work? What did you learn and are you still standing on the foundation of your why?
Pat yourself on your back again.
Remember, learning and confidence are a feedback loop, when you are lacking in confidence, you can remind yourself of all the things you have learned so far. With each step, this list will grow until you are patting yourself on the back for the thing today that feels so intimidating and overwhelming. Hopefully, on that day, you will allow yourself to puff up with pride and let the light of your joy shine…just like a toddler.