Postpartum Depression and Expectations of Motherhood

Alex Robboy, CAS, MSW, LCSW
Individual, Couples & Family Therapy
IMAGO Certified Marriage Counselor
AASECT Certified Sex Therapist Supervisor
Founder & Director of the Center for Growth Inc.

Posted by: Alex Robboy
CAS, MSW, LCSW Individual, Couples & Family Therapy IMAGO Certified Marriage Counselor AASECT Certified Sex Therapist Supervisor Founder & Director of the Center for Growth Inc.
267-324-9564

Postpartum Depression and Expectations of Motherhood When experiences don’t meet our expectations — what we imagined something to be like or feel like—it is a big disappointment. And, when we have expectations for ourselves, and we fall short of fulfilling those expectations, we can be very hard on ourselves, and unforgiving. This is especially true for people who are used to being able to handle whatever comes their way. Many times our expectations are unrealistic, but we don’t realize it, and instead feel depressed. For that reason, it is important to have realistic expectations for things. If you find that an experience is nothing like you expected, you need to revise those expectations and make them more reasonable. This doesn’t mean you failed, it means you set up a scenario that is simply not possible for you or anyone else. Now that the reality is here, its time to adjust your expectations and goals for yourself.

Some women who experience postpartum depression find that everything they imagined motherhood to be like is completely different from what it is. People in general tend to imagine the future positively, and slightly unrealistically, because in general people are optimistic.  As a result, women feel that they failed, when the truth is that they had unrealistic expectations. All they need to do is figure out what is realistic for them to expect to be able to handle.

As a new mother, you may have imagined taking care of your baby in one hand, cooking with the other, and cleaning in between. Your baby is now here, you have no time alone, you don’t get any sleep because the baby needs to be fed and won’t sleep, you are responsible for cooking, cleaning and caring for your husband and child, and you are completely overwhelmed. You are wondering what happened to the joy you thought children would bring you. After wondering this and having other negative thoughts about your child, you add feeling guilty to the mound of emotions you already feel like you can’t handle. Maybe you think that the reason you can’t keep up with everything is because you aren’t strong enough.

You are not alone in how you are feeling and what you are thinking. In order to feel better about yourself and your parenting you need to examine your expectations and where they came from. Are they realistic? What would realistic goals and expectations be? What can you do to reach that place?

In order to examine and reform your expectations, follow this activity:

Ask yourself where your expectations come from. Is your mother your role model? Do you see that she raised you, and maybe your ten siblings, and never batted an eye? If she can do it without experiencing postpartum depresison, you should be able to also, right? Lets examine this more closely:

  • Did your mother have support from friends, family or hired help? Do you? Support is absolutely necessary to function as a mother.  If you don’t have support, other than your husband, you will not be able to overcome your depression. Some mothers feel guilty having other people help them take care of their children, and some mothers don’t trust other people to care for their child. However, you need time for yourself to maintain your sanity. During the time that you are taking for yourself, or to tend to other responsibilities, you will have to let someone take care of your children. They may not do so as you do, but as long as your children are safe and happy for that hour or few hours, everyone will be better for it. It is hard to let go, to trust other people, and to accept that you need help, but everyone does. You can find hired help through a friend’s recommendation, a religious organization, a doctor, or in a newspaper (you can check references). If you have family, you can ask them. A lot of times family won’t offer because they don’t want to overstep any boundaries, but will be more than happy to help you. It is important to ask for what you need!
  • While your mother was busy taking care of everyone and everything, were you able to develop a good relationship with her? Was she controlling? Always busy? Would you rather have a good relationship with your children or would you rather have everything under complete control? You may feel like having things under complete control would be better, or you may think if things were under control, you could spend more time with your child and develop a relationship. That is an unrealistic expectation because if you had the time or energy to keep everything under control, you wouldn’t have any left for your child, and would end up right back here.  If you ask people for help, you will be able to have things under control, even if you alone aren’t doing it. You need help! You can ask for what you need!
  • Have you asked your mother how she did it (what you perceived she did as a mom)? Did she give you tips or details? Most likely your mom will tell you she’s not sure how she managed because it was long ago, her kids are now raised, and she remembers more of the good than the tough parts. Ask her specific questions such as what her support system was, or how she managed to make time for herself, etc.


Did you look around at all the happy children having fun with their parents at the park or other fun place? Did you mostly imagine those moments when you imagined being a mother?

  • Keep in mind that what happens in the fun park is hardly representative of what people’s lives are like. That mother having a great day with her child may have the same messy home that you do, dirty dishes in the sink, crayons everywhere (including on walls), and a hungry husband waiting for dinner. Either this mother decided that fun time in the park couldn’t wait, but the mess could, or she got help from someone.
  • Or, this woman has asked someone for help in her home, or hired help is she could afford to.

Are you used to being able to handle everything? Are you a perfectionist?

  • Being a mother is impossible to be perfect at. You simply have to accept that you won’t be; no one is, and that is not a reasonable expectation.
  • You could never have imagined just how difficult having a child could be. You have trouble finding time to eat or sleep, and that was most likely not part of your expectations for being a mother. Without sleep and food, you can’t function as well as you could before. Don’t compare raising a child to working hard in college and getting that 4.0 average. Raising children is not comparable to anything you have done in the past.

Next:

1. Sit down and write a description of what you expected being a mother would be like, no matter how idealistic or how different from the reality. Think about where you got this image. Is it realistic?

2. Now write down what motherhood is really like. You will see how different your expectations were from reality. Be sure to include both good and bad aspects of motherhood.

3. Now form and write down new expectations of motherhood, including goals to make motherhood a positive experience.  Also write down ways to reach those goals, including who you will ask for help and how. Make sure your goals are reachable and reasonable. Otherwise, you will set yourself up to fail and will not feel any better than you do now.

Reachable goals are goals that are not perfection or completion. Goals should reflect a point of progress. Start small. An example of an unreasonable goal that people often create (unrelated to postpartum depression) is: “I will go to the gym for an hour everyday”. If a person never goes to the gym, it is unlikely that this person will go everyday, and is setting him or herself up to fail. A reasonable goal is: “I will go to the gym twice this week”.

Review your new expectations and goals for motherhood, and keep track of the progress you are making.

If you find yourself struggling with Postpartum Depression and you live in Philadelphia (or nearby) call 267-324-9564 and schedule an appointment today!