It’s a fact: life changes when you become a parent. And even if you think you’re prepared for the lack of sleep and change in routine (not to mention changing diapers!), adjusting to parenthood can bring challenges you never expected you’d face.
We asked a group of therapists to share with us the most common concerns they hear from their patients who are new parents. They may surprise you — and, if you’re a new parent yourself, offer some comfort.
“I don’t like being a parent. I miss my old life.”
“It’s common for new parents to have had unrealistic expectations or judgments about parenthood prior to the arrival of baby (“Our social life won’t change at all, we’ll just take the baby with us wherever we go!” or “My child would never act like that in public!”) This is easy to do as there is simply no way to understand what new parenthood is truly like until you’ve been there. As rewarding as it can be, it is also extremely unpredictable and hard! Therefore, some new parents come into therapy sharing an extreme amount of guilt about disliking their new role as mom or dad. This feels like a dirty little secret, as the common myth is that having a baby will fill us with feelings of unconditional love and joy. However, new parents may long for their lost personal freedom and feelings of resentment can occur as post-baby life becomes a reality. In therapy, it’s important to normalize these feelings with new parents and remind them any major transition often feels uncomfortable and unsettling at times. Get support, don’t be afraid to share your true feelings with others who have “been there” and, in time, life will again settle into place.” ― Tara Griffith, a therapist and founder of Wellspace SF
“Other parents seem to be better at this than I am.”
“One of the challenges I hear new parents bring up is the pressure of holding their own parenting abilities up against those of their peers. Eight percent of millennial parents say social-media posts by other parents often make them feel like an inadequate parent. This is twice as many parents from previous generations. There are so many ‘right’ ways to parent, from the type of bottles you give your baby, to the crunchy food regiments, to the social media movements encouraging breastfeeding proudly in public. While all of these are fine practices, they lead many parents to question their own opinions and decisions when it comes to what is right for their family. New parents are up against the opinions of their personal social media circles, their own parents, and the wider reach of external social media influences.” ― Liz Higgins, a licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Millennial Life Counseling
“I’m worried I’m losing myself.”
“Many new parents struggle with the change of their own sense of self when becoming a parent. Women tend to feel this more strongly than men, but all parents can struggle with identity changes and processing and accepting what it means to be a parent on top of your own individual sense of self.” ― Shanna Donhauser, a child and family therapist and founder of Happy Nest
“What if I don’t measure up?”
“Many men come to me very worried that they are going to pass on their lack of emotion to their children, and they are aware of how much steeper their learning curve may be from their female partner. They may have never babysat for siblings or cousins ― never even held a baby before ― and they want to be present, they want to be involved, they want to share responsibility, and they don’t want the burden of all of this to fall on their female partner. Yet they are so worried that they’re not going to measure up. Early on they may try a few things a few times, not do it well, get discouraged, and back off. Their partner then thinks they don’t care and they’re labeled as lazy, and they disengage more. These guys also often reference their distant, stoic father ― whom they care about, but are aware that he did not model for them the dad they want to be.” ― Justin Lioi, a men’s mental health and relationship expert in New York
“Am I doing it wrong?”
“The number one thing that I hear from new moms is concern that they are doing ‘it’ wrong. When women become moms they are overcome with all these emotions: love, worry, hope, strength, responsibility. It can be a lot to sort through, but what it really boils down to is that they want to be a good parent and make the right choices for their babies. I work with new moms to develop a sense of confidence in their ability to parent, I help them to understand that mistakes are normal and OK, and I help them to come to terms with and to understand that there really is no such thing as a perfect parent.” ― Gwendolyn Nelson-Terry, a marriage and family therapist in California
“I am so worried all the time. I wasn’t like this before.”
“When a woman becomes a mother, her brain changes. Amygdala fires up, gray matter becomes denser and oxytocin increases the activities in the regions that control empathy, anxiety and social interaction. The plus side of oxytocin is increased maternal bonding, the downside is overwhelming love and protectiveness, hence the anxious feeling. You love the baby, and it’s a good thing. I work with women with learning mindfulness strategies to alleviate the anxious response and to find resources to help decrease the stress. Remember, as long as you have your basic safety covered, most babies can adapt to various circumstances. My sister once forgot to change her baby’s diaper for a whole day, now her baby is in college. Have more faith in your baby. After all, your baby is the product of millions of years of human evolution.” ― Mabel Yiu, a marriage and family therapist in California
“Parenthood is putting a strain on my relationship with my partner.”
“One of the greatest issues new parents bring to therapy is the issue of losing quality time with each other. The new baby is very demanding of their time, especially that of the new mother. Parents’ emotional, physical, sexual and spiritual intimacy are often challenged and sometimes threatened by the lack of quality time together. Practical approaches to helping them to deal with this issue are to have a weekly date night, securing the help of trusted family members and friends to assist with childcare and to give mom a break during the day, ensuring her own physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual care. Further, mom and dad must decide on a division of labor, including household chores, especially if they are both working outside the home.” ― Joyce Morley, a marriage and family therapist in Georgia.
“This is supposed to be the sweetest time of my life. Why don’t I feel it?”
“We have all been exposed to the beautiful mother-baby bonding images in baby product advertising and social media. What those images don’t show is the woman feeling exhausted and having clots bleeding out of her woman hole. Other mothers don’t talk about it because exhaustion begets selective memory. Having a baby changes everything, mind and the body, so take it easy. Here are a few things you can do. First, take a moment and detach from that ‘supposed’ beautiful mother-baby bonding image. Search for some parenting humor sites that ‘get’ you, and then Google the word ‘lochia.’ Take note of the small, endearing moments because there are little moments you can still savor.” ― Yiu
“I’m afraid of becoming my mother.”
“Having a child often triggers us to reflect on our own upbringing and parental relationships. Therefore, in therapy, fears or concerns can arise in new parents about potentially repeating dysfunctional familial patterns and/or parenting styles. Clients who did not have positive parental role models may worry that they don’t have the necessary tools or experience to draw upon in order to raise their own children in a healthy, loving way. This can be particularly worrisome for new parents who come to therapy with a history of trauma or abuse. Although it’s true that our childhood experiences can shape who we are and how we may instinctually parent, it does not always mean that we are doomed to recreate the mistakes of our parents.” ― Griffith
“I’m so overwhelmed.”
“After the birth of a baby, family and friends often want to come help, but it is so important for new parents to set their own boundaries, decide how they want to spend this precious time with their baby and focus on settling into their new normal as a family. It is completely OK to say ‘no’ to the uninvited houseguest if it doesn’t fit into your plan or vision for the first few weeks or months of your child’s life. New parents receive many tips and pointers from well-meaning advice-givers, but sometimes this advice can come across as intrusive and even judgmental. I sometimes advise new parents to have a short response ready to go for these situations, which can help them remain grounded and empowered in such moments.” ― Sarah Weisberg, a licensed psychologist and founder of Potomac Therapy Group
“I feel so alone.”
“New parents in therapy at my practice will often talk about feeling isolated, lonely, sad and very often worried about doing things ‘right.’ It is so important that we lift the stigma around seeking mental health care and that new parents are encouraged to build up a solid scaffolding of support before and after a baby arrives. I encourage new parents to seek therapy and join a new parents support group online or in-person (if feasible).” ― Weisberg
Quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity.