Pregnancy is often portrayed as a time of great joy and excitement for expectant mothers. However, the reality is that not all women feel this way. While some may experience a strong connection with their unborn child and a sense of anticipation for their arrival, others may feel overwhelmed, anxious, or even resentful towards the changes in their body and the demands of pregnancy. Despite the prevalence of these emotions, there remains a cultural expectation that women should be nothing but ecstatic about their children, leaving those who don’t fit this mould feeling ashamed or alone. Maternal ambivalence is a term used to describe the mixed, complex, sometimes contradictory feelings mothers have towards their child or children and while it’s normal, it’s not talked about as much as it should.
Signs and causes of maternal ambivalence
Signs of maternal ambivalence
Here are some of the signs of maternal ambivalence:
- Mixed emotions where the mother feels both positive and negative emotions towards her child such as love and resentment, joy and frustration, affection and intense anger.
- Indifference where the mother feels apathetic or uninterested in the child’s well-being and development.
- Feelings of guilt or shame regarding the child which can lead to feelings of inadequacy
- Distancing yourself from the child such as avoiding physical contact or refusing to engage in activities with the child
- Difficulty bonding with the child which can lead to a sense of detachment or disconnect
Causes of maternal ambivalence
The complex mix of feelings some women deal with is more common than people realize because those are not the images we’re surrounded by not just in media but also by the mothers around us.
- Feelings of loss of identity.
- Societal pressure in a culture pushes the false idea of “perfect” mothers and idealized images of motherhood.
- A poor relationship with your own mother.
- Changes in hormones and mood swings.
- Lack of sleep.
- Excessive stress.
- Lack of support from family and friends.
- Having a child with health problems such as colic or trouble sleeping.
- Traumatic interruptions in the development of the mother-child child bond such as family problems, illness, and physical separation from each other.
Why we need to talk about maternal ambivalence
Maternal ambivalence is so common, it happens to every mum at some point, yet because we don’t talk about it, mothers assume it’s unique to them and incontrovertible evidence that they are a bad mother. Here’s why we need to talk about it more:
- Not acknowledging it can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and isolation for struggling mothers
- Talking about it can help normalize these feelings and provide support and validation for mothers while being empathetic
- Understanding and addressing it can improve the quality of care provided to the children because it can help us create a more responsive approach to parenting with other parenting adults stepping in to help
- Ignoring maternal ambivalence can have a negative impact on the mental health and well-being of both mothers and children
- Addressing it can help promote a more honest and realistic portrayal of motherhood which can help reduce the stigma around it, promoting the acceptance of more diverse experiences
- Supporting mothers through maternal ambivalence can help strengthen the parent-child relationship and promote positive outcomes for children
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