The Emotional Journey of New Parents: an interview with psychologist Rachel Tomlinson

The Emotional Journey of New Parents: an interview with psychologist Rachel Tomlinson

Nicky: Rachel is an experienced psychologist and parenting expert who has worked with children and families in general counselling, play therapy, women's refuge, education settings, children's care, domestic violence and trauma counselling. She has a book teaching kids to be kind, which is due out in November of this year. She has also delivered at presentations, at national conferences on topics relating to play therapy and trauma.

She is going to be talking to me today about parenting, motherhood, about the emotional and mental journey we go on when we first become parents. We're going to talk about some tips and methods that you can employ to make your journey into parenthood a bit smoother. We're also going to be talking a bit about the pressures that women and mothers face today, in terms of being a mother, being a partner or a wife, wanting to have a career. And then, of course, the pressures that are put on us by society and in particular the pressures of social media on mothers. These are all areas I am very passionate about. So I am really excited to be talking to Rachel today and I hope there is a lot that you are able to take away from this chat.

Need support figuring out your newborn's sleep?
Being a new parent can be overwhelming. You probably have lots of questions. Find the answers to all your questions and more in our Sleep App to future-proof your newborn's sleep.
Get support

Nicky: So Rachel, can you tell me about your own journey into motherhood and what did you find a struggle? What did you find easy? What was challenging?

Rachel: Yeah, I wasn't entirely sure I would be a mother. I've got a number of health issues that made having my little girl, let's say a challenge and then a surprise when we got her. So, I've never been the person that was like, "Yes, yes. Motherhood, motherhood." So it was, amazing that we got to have our little girl. And I've always been very career-driven, I'm a hustler, I've always got like three jobs on the go. And so for me, adjusting to actually having my baby was probably the challenge that time is no longer my own. It was, entirely about this other little person. And I wouldn't change it for the world. But it was just, I can't just pick my bag and go.

Nicky: It's consuming.

Rachel: Yeah so consuming. It took me a little while to get back to a space where I felt comfortable being me, but also being a mom. I think I can balance those two now. Probably the easiest part was I had the easiest pregnancy. Oh, I was just happy and round and I had this fabulous pregnancy and most women will probably be quite angry when I say I had no morning sickness.

Nicky: I didn't either.

Rachel: Oh yes, high five.

Nicky: High five.

Rachel: It was a beautiful pregnancy and she's just, a wonderful, wonderful, delightful character of a child. And it's been wonderful getting to know her, but yeah, the adjustment to the new role of being a mother, and my previous life had been so selfish and so much about only me that it was definitely an adjustment.

Nicky: Along that journey, what would you now give as advice to new mothers having experienced that yourself?

Rachel: I think it's almost that permission that it's okay to be Rachel or it's okay to be Nicky. As well as I think the role of mom can be so encompassing, with full of this love hormone or we're just so taken in by time of what it takes to raise a baby, and the stress and the pressure as well, of what it means to be a mother and the role of mothering. I think it's giving yourself permission to also be you and that it's okay to still do the things that make you, you will find out what that looks like now with a little person in tow. And to find the village of people who support that.

Nicky: I agree.

Rachel: So other like minded, I'm not just going to say women, the village could be men it can be any diverse group of people who get you and who support both of your roles, as a mother and as a woman, as a friend, as a sister, as an employee, as a community member. Anything else that you really align with so that you don't lose touch of that stuff.

Nicky: I agree. It's so important. And how talking about that community or village, which we obviously like to call it a village. How do you think that, not necessarily that community you were talking about but the communities we live in today, how do these communities, and it might be a physical community or an online community, how do these communities impact your experience of motherhood?

Rachel: Yeah, look, I really think that it's a divide. So on one hand you've got these opportunities that women and mothers and parents have never had before to connect. So there's so many more opportunities to meet like minded people who share your views and to create that village that you talk about. But on the other hand, some of the messages that are in the community, are very pressuring for mothers. You've got the keyboard warriors, you've got the people that you know on social media who are, it's almost like a guilt or shame that they bring on and it's under the guise of caring, terrible baby, worrying about the mother and her intentions and choices, but it's actually just, it's making women doubt their choices or decisions for their bodies and for their families and their children. And so I think there's also that pressure as well, of the Instagram perfect families, the glossy, shiny and they've got it together, they're not like messy top on, food stains etc.

And it's just that pressure like, "It's not me. It's taken me two years to be able to do my hair again. That wasn't me." Those really high expectations that social media can have and I think in terms of the physical community. I think that we people working, more hours, more jobs, sometimes those opportunities to connect with physical village, your physical people around you can be hard on the pressure on women to return to work sooner. They might not get that time to really develop that or go to their local moms group, maybe there's financial pressure or maybe they want to go back. And so the role of a mother can be pushed aside, to be an employee, which can be very great, that can be a big balance to some women to leave mom at the door, and be Rachel again or Nicky again. But for some women that's really hard as well. There's not as many opportunities. So yeah, I think it depends on where you focus it and how you intentionally create your village.

Nicky: I 100% agree and I am quite passionate about, and especially in a historical and an anthropological perspective. The role of, yeah, the village and the community historically and how it did literally take a village to raise a child. And now we're parenting these tiny, tiny humans and basically in complete isolation. And do you think, that over the last sort of fifty-odd years, I'm sort of thinking more, since women came out of the home and moved into the workforce and the big feminist movement. Do you think that motherhood has fundamentally changed in that time span, from sort of 50 years ago to now and for the better or for the worse arguably?

Rachel: Oh really tricky one. I think ... So complex.

Nicky: I love talking about this.

Rachel: This is obviously my personal view that women still have the same expectations as full-time stay at home moms. Yet there is also an equal expectation for them to provide and contribute to the household income, not for every family but there is a lot more pressure in society to do that yet, they call it the mental load. The mental load of the mother has not reduced to slight a more equitable division of work duties. So there's really interesting research out there about the hours that a mother spends on the mental duties of, I know so and so goes to sports at this time, So they've got to be ready by this time, the kits got to be washed and dried so that they can do this. And blah, blah has art class and they've run out of paint and I've got to go the shop and buy more paint or whatever it is. And knowing the routine of the running of the family house.

Nicky: Yes.

Rachel: This causes this huge kind of like stress and invisible disparity. And it's not because men don't want to participate, your partners don't want to participate, but I still think there's that pressure for women about the role of mothering, and contributing and things like that.

And I think in some ways that has changed in a positive way, because it allows women to pursue other roles than motherhood if they wanted. Cause that's not, let's not get away from that's what some women want and that's their perfect life is to, stay at home with their children, more power to you, as long as you know that, that's what makes you happy. And for women who runs with your career, like I do, mothering 50 years later, it allows me to go back to work. I still think there's that really tricky, you're doomed if you do and you're doomed if you don't because people go, "Oh," when I was working part-time they were like, "Oh, she'd be bored going back to work full time or when are you going to go back to work full time?" And when I've gone back to full time they're like, "Oh, don't you miss your baby?" And I'm like, "Ah, there's no winning."

Nicky: Yes. There is no winning.

Do you think that ... You're talking about that mental overload? What did you call it mental?

Rachel: Mental load.

Nicky: Do you think that that is something we do to ourselves? I was reading something quite a while ago now about compensating. And so, if you're thinking about it in terms of a partnership or a family or a relationship, we sort of overcompensate, which allows our partner to then, under compensate because we're constantly overcompensating. We're doing it to ourselves as mothers that we are just so, we just think we have to be the ones who are constantly thinking about the after school activities and the lunch boxes and the groceries and things like that, or is there an actual, does society kind of expect us to think about those things?

Rachel: I think there's possibly a bit of both. And it really depends on who the mother is, and her views on mothering. And how she makes sense of that in her kind of schemas. So the schema is kind of like the shortcut that you create about everything in the world. And we have schemas about who we think we are, we have schemas about who we think mothers are or wives are, or partners are? And so a lot of that is inbuilt in us in what do we think about those roles, and then how we interface with those roles when we come into them. And then there's also the dynamics of your partnership if you happen to have a partner and what you kind of pre-negotiated or how you interrelate with each other, how you problem solve, how you deal with conflict, how you negotiate, how you create all those communication things. So that comes into power as well.

But there was a really interesting research and I can't remember where I read it, so I probably shouldn't mention it, because it's just sounding-

Nicky: Like you made it up.

Rachel: Yeah. Making it up. It was about roles and responsibilities and they've done this research that women feel guilty for not doing stuff. And for men less so if they're not caught.

Nicky: Everyone woman out there is listening to this going, "I believe that."

Rachel: I was reading this article on the mental load. And it's the men unless there's kind of been an over like, discussion around or telling them there's not as much guilt for missing something or forgetting something. Whereas women have a lot of that kind of tied to their sense of self or that idea of who they are, their idea about mothers and stuff. So they tend to feel more guilty for the things that they miss or forget, and will likely to place importance on that.

And I don't want that to sound like man-bashing, it's not.

Nicky: No.

Rachel: That's still a long way to go for how we create those roles, and those community messages about who does what, and because you still get those horrible messages from them about, so let's just say I went out for drinks, someone goes, "Oh, so is your husband babysitting?" No, it's parenting.

He's the father, he's looking after his child like we both do. It really undermines men's role in the family and their autonomy and that sense of self-advocacy around helping and being involved and feeling like they're contributing to the parenting loads. So it happens on both sides where we create, the rock and a hard place sometimes.

Nicky: It's happened to me, I'm away, quite often for work for a night, and someone will say, "Oh, how's Ryan coping with the kids?" And I'm like, "He's actually probably got more tolerance and patience with them than I do. He's coping fine. They're his children."

Rachel: And no one would really ask husbands that.

Nicky: No, no. So if Ryan is a way for the night, nobody asks him, "How's Nicky coping with the kids, for the night without you?"

Rachel: Yeah, we're in different frames.

Say goodbye to sleepless nights.
Join over 300,000 families worldwide who are enjoying excellent sleep with our Sleep Programs, created by experts in the field of pediatric sleep.
Buy Now

Nicky: I noticed that firsthand, that's quite common, and it's really frustrating, because in our relationship, it's very equitable, he just does it. I don't need to leave lists or anything, I might text him every now and then to remind him about scouts, or something, but that's about it.

So talking about those roles and relationships, do you have any sort of tips or tricks or advice to new parents to help them through that big life change and how to navigate those waters together when they become parents?

Rachel: Yeah. I would definitely not wait till you've had the baby. Yes you're going to be sleep-deprived, no one's at their best, unless you've got a great sleep program.

Nicky: Who would say that?

Rachel: But you're going to be sleep-deprived, you're not going to be your most logical, reasonable rational, don't have those conversations in the midst of brand new parenting. Think about it beforehand, it can be so hard to imagine how your life might change and you can't over plan. Because otherwise, you can be left feeling bereft that things have happened in a particular way where you feel like you missed out on something, or maybe parenting it's not happening in this way. But discussing your roles and what you expect from one another, and negotiating that is really important. And it's really important to have your non-negotiables.

You can't argue every point and you can't fight tooth and nail, for every single thing, you've just got to have a couple of key no go, like, "This is my line, this is my expectation. And that's that."

Nicky: The things like the non-negotiables, are we talking things like the hubby going, "I still need to go to the gym every Wednesday at 6 PM." Or, me saying I still need to spend $50 a week on coffee or practical things like that?"

Rachel: It can be or it can be emotional things like, "I need you to ask me how I am or I need some of my own space or I need silence or I need you to take over," it can be emotional things, or it can be the really practical things. You've gone from two people who can do your own individual stuff still respectfully, interfacing with your partner, like, "Oh, yeah I'm going out with the girls this weekend," and they're like, "Oh, cool, have fun." When you've got a child you've got to negotiate more in that partnership, it can amplify some of the maybe the tricky or the challenging spots. So having discussions, real open discussions before you get to those challenges can be really important. And then also renegotiating once you stop being so sleep-deprived, what you're each going to be responsible for, and how you're going to take that on board with kind of minimal prompting from the other person. So it doesn't become a chore for one or the other.

And so kind of your requirements of each other in the things that you're going to do to help your family run smoothly, because it's both of your family. And also how you can still have your relationship. Because it's so, so hard to remember that sometimes, and it's very easy to get into the role of mom and dad, you forget, I'm Rachel, this is my husband, this is our relationship that we have, which is separate to our child, and something that's equally important. And sometimes people feel really vulnerable or guilty about still needing and wanting to prioritize that.

Nicky: Yeah, I think that is really, really important. Because we made all of those mistakes with our eldest, we didn't negotiate anything, we didn't plan anything, we just planned the child, but that was about it.

Rachel: Sometimes you even forget to do that.

Nicky: And then we struggled and it was like this, it was just warfare. It was, we didn't have expectations of what each other would do. But then I think I did, but I hadn't voiced them and so I'm resentful about things that he's not doing when he doesn't know he should have been doing them, and it's ... Yeah, you're right. She was a terrible sleeper, everything was just exemplified, and it was really, really, really hard. But then by the time you have your other kids, you're just so brain dead anyway nothing matters. But, yeah, you are so right about having defining your roles and like, who's gonna do what, and I think even practical advice, like decide who cooks dinner on a roster each night of the week, things like that are things that have really helped us as well, even with our kids who are older now.

Even still, I take the kids to these activities, he does these activities, this is your night that you cook, this is mine, and you're taking the kids to school these days, and I'm doing these days, it's just, it seems so simple. But yeah, that's my advice also, in this situation, is plan it, make lists, make rosters. Because you're right, it could just start a big, angry, guilty, resentful kind of cloud that I think a lot of people perhaps don't make it out of.

Rachel: Yeah. And it's really hard to go from having 100% time for each other as well and then having this really little person in the middle of that. And you desperately love this new addition to your family, but to you it makes it really hard on your relationship and you just don't have that time, or sometimes enough emotional capacity to go there and have those discussions. The baby is there, yeah your tired, and then you are resentful or maybe your hormones are making you really sad or distressed or anxious, or whatever it might be. And it's really tough. It's a really tough time anyway. And I like that too, because I'm a type A personality, I love good list, checking off this makes my heart sing.

But not everyone would go, "Yes, great tip Rachel." But even if you can just get good at communicating, and instead of it being a vulnerability to express your needs, your partner is going to listen to you, they want to know what you need. Sometimes you just need to really tell them and lay it on the line so that you both know exactly what that means. So even if you just work on that as a communication rather than needing to plan everything, I think that's okay.

Nicky: I was just thinking about what you were talking about earlier with how you need to still prioritize your relationship. And I was just thinking how true that is, and how accurate that is. And I think, also what goes hand in hand with that is understanding and accepting that your relationship is different now. And it's irreversibly different, because you've gone down this really different path in your life together, but it will never be like it was before. And it doesn't have to be a bad thing or a scary thing. And I think it's really important for people to remember that, yes, it has changed and then just that to explore how it's changed. And it might be that your romantic night is like getting the baby asleep at seven and then watching Netflix on the couch with your fluffy jammies, and the cat, and a whole block of chocolate and that's it now. But that may be just what you need together instead of a night out.

Rachel: And it's prioritizing that, and it's taking advantage of those little moments and being really present. So I find it really hard when people are on their phones all the time, because we talked about, the impact of what happens from 50 years in the past to now, and we're also together, but we're so alone sometimes because we're just so separate on our phones, with our technology and so immersed in click, click, click, click, click and sliding, and swiping and whatever else you were doing online. I'm not technological I don't know what all that stuff is about, I try to stay off it fairly, religiously-ish.

But yeah, it can also be putting that down. And actually, making that real-time and that real connection, and actually being with your partner, yet it doesn't have to be you're going out for dinner. We couldn't go out for dinner for the longest time. My little girl just didn't like being in restaurants, she wanted our attention. And it was really hard to do that. So it's finding other ways and getting creative, or it's also adjusting to the, maybe it's disappointment that you can't do that just yet. Some people write that babies are very portable and could take them and that's wonderful. And some not so much. So it's finding what works for you and actually admitting of being okay, if challenged by that or maybe it makes you sad and frustrated, or maybe you have any number of not so nice feeling that you probably judge yourself for happening, but don't, it's so normal.

Nicky: I was just thinking about taking your kids or your baby to the restaurant. That's actually something you should probably try and avoid. Because it would be really nice to just have the two of you. The kids go to bed at seven, and then we know they're going to stay asleep. So we'll get the in-laws or babysitter, and we know that, that is our time. Clean our pockets and it's our time we can go out for dinner, we can go out to the movies, we can sit on the couch, it's very mentally, it's like a big sigh of relief. I find it quite relieving. It's grown up time, we don't have to talk. We can sit here in silence. But we're sitting here together.

Rachel: I think there's a lot of, when we talked about sort of the roles of women and those expectations on women, sometimes it's a very mounted, selfless role. And sometimes we feel guilty for needing and wanting to have other things that make us feel fulfilled. Motherhood could 100% leave you feeling fulfilled. Or you could need to have other stuff too. And it's not feeling guilty about that.

Nicky: So linked to that actually, let's just talk quickly, or not so quickly, about the mom shaming that we talked about a little bit earlier. And we see it on social media, but you say it sometimes and the way people look at you, or I've heard people saying they're at a cafe and they're feeding a baby with a bottle, and someone's glaring at them, or they're breastfeeding a baby and someone's glaring at them. And you just ... It is that sort of whole kind of mom shaming army and you were saying you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. There's somebody who's going to openly criticize you for it. What is that doing to us?

Rachel: I know very good things. Yeah. It's really tough because a lot of it is under the guise of the well wishes. Giving advice like, "Oh, no, you shouldn't be eating out when you're pregnant or older? Or is that a decaf coffee, oh." What those messages do is they undermine the confidence of the mother to make decisions for herself and her family at least for second guessing that. And when women lose that confidence, they lose their way. And they then become reliant on things that they see online or news articles that they're reading, and the news articles themselves might be great, but you see the comments underneath that are just slating those choices.

Nicky: Yeah. You don't have to tell us, You see the words baby sleep anywhere on the internet, and we get slammed. You would not believe, actually you might being a psychologist, some of the comments that we see and receive from people who, and it still blows my mind that people can just be so nasty.

Rachel: And it's under the guise of I know best and I'm stopping you from making a terrible decision. Its kind of they can justify it because it feels like they're helping to them to stop you from doing terrible things to your child by making certain parenting choices. And look, there are some subtle ones, that "Yeah, we know I'm not so good." But when we do that we lose our capacity to make decisions and to feel safe about what decision we're making,

Nicky: To test out anything.

Rachel: Yeah, that instinct to stuff, or even, this is my family. And this is what I need to make my family work. What would make all the areas of my life work. Based on the decisions that I'm making. And actually, it's up to nobody else, yet people feel an intense need to comment and critique and it's so damaging to women self-sustaining, to women's mental health, to that village of folks, as I said. Then women would go online and more often than not, see the Instagram mothers who have it all together, like we said, and if you put it all together, amazing. But the mothers who don't already feel lacking, because they've been undermined and their choices have been not supported.

That's a really hard thing to say, leaves them feeling even less and less capable somehow or less able to parent. And that's a horrible thing.

Nicky: What would you say to those people who write those kinds of comments? What would you say to them?

Rachel: Don't, just don't. I wish it was that easy.

Nicky: Do we need to put a lot of beeps for swear words.

Rachel: Yeah, I'm trying to find a really nice PC way of saying, "Nick off, like just stop." It's not helpful. If in particular, someone's making a comment about parenting choices you came to that decision by making choices for yourself and your family. And that worked for you. And that's great that that worked for you. And you can communicate that without it being a judgment, so you can share just like what worked for me, if you really feel the need to share, which I don't mind, that's great. There's so many different opinions, you might hear someone else's opinion and go, "Oh that sounds really great maybe I'll bring that into my parenting practice." Then you won't maybe you go, "That sounds terrible," and walk on by.

But it's really about if you do feel the need to share and claim it from the point of the perspective of well, "when I did that, this is what I did. And this is how this worked for me." And it doesn't have to be a criticism, it doesn't have to be you're doing it wrong. Because this is how I did it. Because that's still that person's parenting choice that five other people over there are going to be taking. So just think how its framed and how the other person might be receiving that. And you also don't know what else is happening in that person's day. If the person's reaching out online, maybe things aren't going so well from that side. Maybe they need the village around them, to go, "Yeah, you got this mama, yes you're nailing this." Or, "Here's some tips try to see what fits for you." I don't think they need that criticism. So being really compassionate about who is on the saving end door of that message. Even if it's well-intentioned. Just being mindful.

Nicky: Be kind.

Rachel: Exactly.

Nicky: What would you say to somebody who is on the receiving end of this kind of mom shaming, their second guessing, they're not sure what to do, because somebody online just said, "God no, that's the worst decision you could ever make for your child," what would you say to them?

Rachel: I would first of all, be having a bit of a research, get some facts, have a chat to your doctor or your health nurse. Have a chat to a professional, maybe a mental health professional depends what the situation is. Find the professional that you align with, that you feel like you connect with, and that hears you. Just because someone is a professional also doesn't make them right for you. You got to find someone you actually connect with. So find that person, this is another person in your village, find that person and ask them the facts. Google's a bit, if you want to google yeah fine but take it with a pinch of salt.

But find the stuff that aligns with your values. Because everybody in the world has got a different set of values that put a different set of moral priorities and got a different set of life priorities, and goals, and ideas about what they need to make their life happy fulfilling their wellness, their well being. It looks different from everybody. So really spend some time figuring out what that is first. Finding some stuff online or through your trusted group of people that aligns with what you need for your life. I would also recommend taking maybe a little detox from being online or doing a call of, am only going to follow pages or spots where I'm going to visit sites that actually align with who I am and my beliefs and my values, so that the stuff you're receiving and seeing is more consistent or more likely to be consistent with what you believe. So kind of just filtering or taking some time away.

Nicky: That's really good advice.

Rachel: Yeah, detox.

Nicky: Yeah. Hard when you own an internet company.

Rachel: Yeah. But it's also, I think, when you hear those messages, if you're not confident in your role as a parent, those messages can feel more impactful. So the other day, I got mom shamed by a lady in Cole's.

Nicky: No you didn't.

Rachel: Oh, yeah. And I just told them pretty much where to go in the nicest way I could manage.

Nicky: What did she shame you about?

Rachel: My daughter pulled the jar off the shelf. And I said, "Put that back on the shelf, please." And she looked at me and dropped it and smashed. Red beetroot everywhere.

So I got down, on her level, and I was like, "I asked you to put that on the shelf, and you dropped it. And now we have some mess." And I was just in the middle of having a bit of a conversation about choices. And some lady passed on, with the trolley, and she's like, "You need to stop that." She said, "That was an accident, don't you tell off your child like that." And I said ...

Nicky: I would die if someone said that to me. I would punch them.

Rachel: Yeah. I'm quite confident in who I am and my parenting choices. And I'm a human, and I'm flawed. And sometimes I make terrible choices. But on this occasion, I was setting some limits for my child that smashing glass jars in Cole's is actually not a good thing to do. And so yeah, basically said to the woman, "Excuse me, I had asked my child not to touch that, and she did it. So now I'm speaking to her about the consequences. And about it not being okay to smash things in coles." And I said, "I don't like that you have interrupted me and talking to me about my choices. So I'm just going to continue my conversation with my child and just turn back and continue." And I was just like, "Roll on, just roll on." And I'm like but you know what for, and I'm not saying I'm perfect, because I have vulnerabilities about parenting choices, and you want to be perfect, want to be a perfect parent and it's not there. Doesn't exist.

So there's this stuff that we all feel vulnerable about, and we could do better tomorrow, maybe I'll try again. But for someone who's not feeling confident and not confident in their parenting as well, that's just not helping. And so it's about really getting to know who you are as a parent and who you are as a person and what you value and why you value it. And you know those non-negotiables for you as well, again, there's no negotiables. What do you want in your parenting role in being a parent and how you going to do that. And then the rest of the stuff is all just white noise in the background, it's just something that's happening that might be happening to me, but it's absolutely nothing to do with you. And it really being able to answer those questions about yourself can help you to not be as impacted by those, really horrible messages.

Let's get your little one's sleep sorted ASAP!Our award-winning Sleep Programs will solve your baby's sleep challenges in no time. Take advantage of our new low prices while they last!
Buy Now

Nicky: And that's actually a really good example, your coles example, of somebody seeing a tiny part of that whole story and making a massive judgment call based on one little thing that they have seen. And they have just thrown their full opinion and judgment on this one part of the story, without really understanding the rest of the context. And I think that's what we see everywhere online. Because we all know you can, it's really hard to gauge context that, like if someone's writing something in an online forum or on comments on a post or an article, you're only reading and they're only writing a little part of the story. And so people are jumping on to judge, and to shame, and to disagree on something they actually know nothing about. And so I think it's important to all of people to remember that they are the ones who know their child the best. And their parenting the best and their family situation the best. Trust your instincts I think comes into it, make yourself have instincts and trust them.

Rachel: Yes, pay attention to it. It's important. And some people in my work, some people will sometimes go, "What do you think? Tell me what you think the right and what I should do here?" And I'm like, "Without copying out I can't, I am not your own expert, you are your expert, you are the expert of your child, and it would be disrespectful of me to assume I knew more." And I think it's maybe not really respecting boundaries of other people when you, when some people, not everybody. Most of the comments out there are so lovely and so supportive, but the ones that are not is really sort of what ... That it's disrespecting that other person's choices and disrespecting their experience and their expertise as parents and in making those choices.

Nicky: Yeah, I totally agree. So then, and what, in your opinion, is the thing or the situation or the experience that probably has the biggest impact on motherhood, on new motherhood? If you could narrow it down to one thing, that impacts our experience of motherhood the most, what would you say that it is?

Rachel: I think it would be our own ideals of what we think mothering is, will underpin your confidence as a mother, your choices as a lot of the values that you hold, how you interfaced with other people's expectations of you as a mother, society's expectations of you as a mother, it all comes down to those internal messages and schemas about what you think mothers are? Who they are? What do they do? What do they like? What do they eat for breakfast? All those things that make up what each individual woman sees mothering as. I think that's the one-

Nicky: The one overriding.

Rachel: It might be. Yeah, yeah.

Nicky: Yeah. It's kind of just believe in yourself, I suppose, know yourself.

Rachel: And being really open and honest with yourself, if some of those messages are maybe not helpful, maybe some of those messages that you have about who mothers are, are making you feel guilty, because maybe you're not aligned with that foreign phrase. And maybe your circumstances, maybe you have to go back to work, and you were dead set on being a full time stay at home mom or maybe you feel guilty for really enjoying being a stay at home mom, and you thought you were this career person, and you built this idea around, being a career person and now you have a change mark, whatever, when we're not aligned with our kind of internal schemas when we're old, we can feel really distressed and really upset. So it can be uncomfortable, but being really open with what we're expecting of ourselves and how we're aligning or how we're meeting or not meeting those expectations.

Nicky: Let's just talk a tiny bit, our last talking point. And let's just talk about the mum guilt. Because it's come into play, for a lot of these discussions, how, yeah, we placed pressure on ourselves, or we feel guilty for going to yoga, because we didn't tidy the house or for doing this because we didn't spend an hour reading to the toddler, this favorite book for the thousandth time. How is it normal? I don't like that word, but isn't normal, the overwhelming mum guilt that we all feel, literally every choice we make all day long is accompanied by guilt. How do we not feel the guilt so much?

Rachel: Intending to be 'normal' I think it's common. And I think we want to be the best mothers that we can be. And we do set high expectations for ourselves, based on those kind of schemas that I mentioned. The tricky part is that we have many schemas about many things. So you also have a schema, about what it means to be alive, or a partner, what it means to be an employee or a family member or a friend. And if you think about all the different responsibilities that you have, in each of those different roles, there's no way you can be doing that all the time, at the same time, it's just not possible just cannot do it. So it's being really mindful of not beating yourself up, like if you catch yourself having those negative thoughts going, "Okay, where's this coming from? Why am I feeling guilty? Is there something I need to address?" Let's not beat around the bush, sometimes we are selfish, sometimes we do need to justify our behavior, or make a change, or be more considerate of others or whatever, sometimes there is that stuff.

Rachel: But sometimes it just comes from trying to balance all those expectations we have of ourselves and just not doing it very well because we can't. And being okay, we can't and cutting ourselves some more slack. So you got to notice that you're having the negative thought first so that then you can kind of address it and generally counteract it with some reality. So like, "Okay, let's have a look at this. Okay, so we're going to yoga for an hour. Does that actually make bad mom? What does a bad mom mean? Does that mean going to yoga? Probably not. Do I feel guilty because of the pressures that I should somehow be spending all my time with my child and being Betty Crocker, and baking from scratch? And all that. Maybe that's where that's coming from. But does that make me a bad mother? No probably not."

Nicky: It's challenging your feelings and your thinking.

Rachel: Yeah, exactly. The sudden reality of, "Okay, so is that thought based in any kind of reality? Or is that just an expectation that I'm having with myself? Is that realistic? Can I actually do that? Probably not." So yeah, catching them is sometimes the tricky part, that we sometimes have the yucky, druggie, guilty, shameful black blood feelings. But if we haven't really thought about or kind of sat down and reflected on the thoughts that are kind of underpinning it, and to be harder to find something to counteract that and balance it with something neutral. It doesn't even have to be positive. You don't have to go, "Yeah, I'm doing yoga. So that makes me the best mom." Sometimes it's just nature. That doesn't make me bad. It doesn't need to go all the way to the opposite end. But yeah, definitely capturing the thoughts and noticing them is really key. And where those messages are coming from.

Nicky: It's just so complex, this whole world of motherhood, right?

Rachel: Yeah, right?

Nicky: And fatherhood and parenting.

Rachel: Yeah, yeah.

Nicky: So many facets. No wonder so many people struggle. Both of us are obviously passionate about helping people make their lives easier.

Rachel: Yeah. And when you talked before about the village because we no longer have that village around us of parents who showed us and supported us and things like that. I think it can get more complicated, because we're relying from so many pieces of information now to try and make our own truth that we just get so caught up in what is right, what is right for me, because there's so many different options, and so many different views out there. Now it can get so confusing and I think it needs to be.

Nicky: And I think you absolutely hit the nail on the head when you said, just find something you believe in, find something you believe in, find some people you believe in. And basically just surround yourself with those things. You don't need the negative activity, you don't need the people who are going to make you second guess yourself, just surround yourself by the thing, that you believe in. And then believe it yourself.

Rachel: Also true.

Nicky: Well, that's been a really enlightening and quite passionate conversation, I think. And I think something that ... I think there's things in there that a lot of people can take out. So thank you so much for your time.

Rachel: Thank you for having me. It's a topic obviously, I'm quite passionate about and any of the comments that I have made have been drawn from my reference. So it's not that they're the right things, but it's what feels authentic for you. So you might go, "Oh, Rachel that didn't really connect with me." So for the people that are watching later, and that they genuinely connect with that particular comment that mom was bang on. That's okay. Because I also am aware that sometimes as a psychologist or as a professional, sometimes people go, "Oh, that must be what you need to do." But it's still not true. You still need to find your stuff in that and maybe I didn't represent every single gamete of potential feelings or family scenarios or situations and it's not intentional, but I can only draw from my stuff. So my stuff is quite personal so it might not have connected but definitely starting those conversations about being true to yourself and finding yourself and believing in yourself is, I'm hoping it's universal.

Nicky: I think that's just what it all comes down to. It's just yeah, finding what's right for you.

Rachel: Yeah,

Nicky: And it sounds easy. It's anything but, I think. It's all a journey. Nobody's perfect. And there is no right way. There is no right way to do anything, except possibly to boil eggs because that's a fine art.

Rachel: Yeah, no, I'm failing at motherhood if that's one of the tasks you've got to get correct. Not a thing am good at.

Nicky: Well, awesome. Thank you so, so much. And it's been really lovely to talk to you and to meet you.

Rachel: Thanks so much. Thank you for having me.



About Rachel

Rachel is an experienced psychologist and parenting expert who has worked with children and families in general counselling, play therapy, women’s refuge, education settings, children’s care homes, domestic violence and trauma counselling. She has a book “Teaching Kids to be Kind” which is due out in November 2019 (internationally published by Skyhorse Publishing). Rachel has also delivered presentations at national conferences on topics relating to play therapy and trauma. She has ongoing working relationships with journalists in Australia, USA and the UK providing media outlets with content on a variety of mental health topics, including: relationships (including divorce, sex, friendships), child development, parenting, and mental health conditions (amongst other topics).

Preorder her book here:

Find her website here:

Twitter: @RachLTomlinson

Insta: @towardwellbeing

See all articles in Resources
Close dialog 2

Receive product and services updates, promotional offers and other marketing communications based.