Studies show that people who spend time thinking about how lucky they are tend to feel more positive. So, while you’re hanging out the washing or changing a diaper, think about three things that have gone well in your day so far. Spend some time considering each event individually. Perhaps a naptime went without a hitch, or you and bubba had fun looking at clouds in the park together. Recall the sounds, smells, sights and emotions of what happened. The event doesn’t have to be huge or remarkable, but simply something that made you feel good.
By focusing on occasions when you felt positive, you’ll send messages to your body that you’re relaxed and can “trick” your mind into feeling that way again. It only takes a couple of minutes and can be done anytime, anywhere.
Have a care
You were a rational soul once. Then, you had a baby and now you weep over abandoned puppies. Welcome to new-mum empathy...
Now that you’re a mother, do you struggle with any kind of negative news involving babies and children? You’re not alone in feeling more emotional as a new mum.
This increase in empathy isn’t solely down to a fresh perspective on life, it’s also a result of actual chemical changes in your brain. “The increase of empathy mothers experience is something that can’t be underestimated,” notes clinical psychologist Dr Emma Svanberg. “Throughout pregnancy and immediately after birth, your brain undergoes some enormous changes.”
While it used to be said that motherhood had a detrimental effect on mental function (also known as “baby brain”), it seems that it also purposely rewires our brain to make us better at multitasking, while enhancing our natural empathy and motivation to care.
“While you’re expecting, there is an enormous increase in the love hormone, oxytocin,” explains Dr Svanberg. “This is known to increase empathy and communication in all relationships, so you can see why heightened levels in a new mother might make her more sensitive.”
This dampens down after birth, although the changes in our psyche seem to last longer.
Don’t tune out
Constantly feeling so raw isn’t easy. And, as Dr Svanberg points out, there can be a conflict between your new-mum empathy and the demands society puts on you. “As well as survival, these feelings encourage bonding with your baby. This should be a positive thing, but a major difficulty for mums now is that our culture doesn’t always encourage this.”
Many parenting styles work on the premise of getting babies into a routine, but these might require you to tune out your empathy. For example, if your cherub cries, you’ll instinctively want to hold him, but is this always the most useful approach? “Women can be left feeling conflicted between biological changes and societal demands,” Dr Svanberg adds.
While you want your kids to understand rules and routines, don't shy away from your heightened emotions. “They help you to strive to provide the best possible environment for them, and you can also use them to improve your relationships,” notes parenting expert and author Karen Doherty.
“If you know how another exhausted mother is feeling, offer to help her out and forge a new friendship.” However, if you're feeling overwhelmed and fearful, give yourself a reality check.
“Your primary urge is to protect your child, but you can also get caught up in caring too much and become overprotective,” Doherty says. Providing your heightened emotions don’t tip over into anxiety, the empathy you’re feeling right now is a natural part of becoming a mother.
And if you can use it to your advantage, this new trait could enlighten your whole parenting experience.
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Now that you’re a mum, here are a few things that are okay for you to do...
Switch off news stories involving children
As long as you’re not operating on an information black-out, it’s fine to protect yourself by censoring stories you find heart-wrenching. Just don’t wrap yourself up in cotton wool.
Moved by a cheesy Facebook post
When you have a child, you begin to realise just how important it is to live in the moment. So, don’t feel ashamed if your friend’s puppy photos make you well up. “As a parent, you have a new insight into the world,” notes Lisa Clegg, a maternity nurse and mum of three.
Tear up at a sappy love song
Love has taken on a different dimension as a mum. If you find yourself unexpectedly moved by a Michael Bublé number, go with it (or just change the radio station). “There are all sorts of things you feel as a parent that you would have had no understanding of before,” Clegg explains. “Just relax and enjoy it.”
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