Feeling like a failure as a parent seems almost inevitable…
If I had to count the number of times I felt like I was doing something wrong, or not cutting it as a parent, I would be well beyond my fingers and toes. At every milestone it seems there is a new curveball that I need to adjust to, and I know I am not alone. It seems as though feeling like you’re failing at some point in your parenting journey is almost a certainty. And oftentimes as birth workers we see parents feeling this way, especially within the first couple of months after giving birth.
How do you know if you are doing things right? I feel like I am failing at this; why am I finding this so hard?”
When my clients reach out to me, the message typically looks something like this: “How do you know if you are doing things right? I feel like I am failing at this; why am I finding this so hard?” And each time I see this message my heart breaks for these parents, as I can wholeheartedly relate.
So, I’ve created a top 5 list for you!
Here are bebo mia’s Top 5 Things To Do When Your Client’s Feel Like They’re Failing.
1. Hop on a phone call, rather than texting (at their earliest convenience of course).
Texting and email is fantastic; personally, talking on the phone is not my favourite (or listening to my voicemails lol); however when someone reaches out sharing feelings of overwhelm or discouragement, leading them to a place where they could feel a sense of meaningful connection can make a world of difference and that simply cannot happen over text.
Almost every time a client reaches out with a message like, “How do I know if I’m doing this right?” and we hop on a phone call there are tears; big, messy, soul-cleansing tears that really needed to come out. When we talk on the phone, we can hear tone of voice, the words being used, any pauses in speech and all of these things can help us better understand how our client is feeling. When we understand how someone is feeling this presents us with the opportunity to hold the space that is needed so the person on the other end of the phone can feel through their feelings. Which brings us to our next point…
2. Validate emotions and experiences.
One of the most powerful gifts that we can give our clients is empathy. This can sometimes take work and practice. It is necessary that we hone our ability to understand our clients without judgement or negating their experiences. It is not our job to tell our clients that they are not failing (even though the chances are VERY likely they are not). Our job is to listen, to validate what they are going through, let them know that they are heard and that they are allowed to feel their feelings.
While the act of being empathetic is NOT to stop their big feelings, by using empathy we can help them begin to process and potentially move through those feelings. Rather than saying “you are not failing you are a great parent!”, we could say “being a parent can be really hard, I’m sorry you’re feeling overwhelmed, do you want to tell me more about xyz?”. This creates an opportunity for your client to share more about what they are going through.
3. Let the client know that they are not alone in feeling this way.
Let them know they are not alone in feeling this way, that in fact ALMOST ALL parents feel like they are failing sometimes and that is okay. Just because someone is a parent does not mean that they are no longer human. We all make mistakes, we all try things that don’t work, we all go through periods of feeling good and confident, and then not so much.
There is no one right way to be a parent, which means that we are all trying to figure it out as we go, one day at a time. What might work for one child won’t on another, and what you hoped would work might not. The unpredictability or unknowing can be hard, and there can be comfort in knowing we are all in it together… or at the very least, experiencing the same things.
4. Discuss the importance of building a village.
It goes without saying that support is CRUCIAL after having a baby, and the support of a birth worker can play a key role in supporting a new parent and/or family through the transition. And part of our role as the postpartum support person is to work ourselves out of a job. We want our clients to feel confident, comfortable and capable as they walk through their parenting journey, and eventually that will mean saying goodbye to our support.
While it is often bitter sweet when a contract ends with a client and you will no longer be providing the in-person support, one of the best ways to help them continue to thrive is to build up their village while you are working with them.
Making friends as a new parent can be hard, and having social support during the postpartum period is very closely linked with maternal mental wellbeing *. As maternal support practitioners we can connect clients to resources locally, as well as create meet-ups and gatherings that invites our clients and other community members into a space. This can be a great way to encourage a sense of connection and belonging and sets us up to “take our hands off the wheel”. Folks can meet one another and build their own relationships and not rely on you to be the catalyst for conversations… Which leads us nicely to our next point.
5. Keep on the lookout for Perinatal Mood Disorders.
As I’ve already mentioned, feeling like a failure at some point during parenthood is pretty much inevitable, and feeling overwhelmed or discouraged periodically is very normal. With that being said, when a client is unable to move through and then past the feeling of being a failure, and are stuck in a negative thought loop around their ability to parent, is when we might want to put some additional professional support in place.
“Clinical manifestations of postpartum depression include inability to sleep or sleeping too much, mood swings, change in appetite, fear of harming, extreme concern and worry about the baby, sadness or excessive crying, feelings of doubt, guilt and helplessness, difficulty concentrating and remembering, loss of interest in hobbies and usual activities”. (Patel et al..2012).
As maternal support practitioners, we are often in a position where we may notice the signs and symptoms of a perinatal mood disorder before anyone else. While we cannot diagnose a PPMD, when we observe signs and symptoms that could be associated we can provide our clients with resources. If you have not already, you can check out our Supporting the 1 in 5 Workshop with Olivia Scobie to learn more about PPMD, and the signs and symptoms.
Birth workers provide such important and personalized support. Without a doubt, I know that each of you bring incredibly unique skills and tools while working with your clients, and I hope that this list can be added to your toolbox in helping you support your clients as best as humanly possible.
*Please note that this linked article utilizes gendered language. There has been very little research done to examine the experience of PPMDs for trans, non-binary (NB) and gender-non-conforming (GNC) birthers. We do know that trans, NB and GNC birthers are often misdiagnosed with a PPMD as there has been little effort put towards understanding the postpartum experience for trans, NB and GNC folx. Stay tuned for more information on this topic right here on our blog, in our courses and our Live Interviews!
Meg Kant, Hons.B.A., MSP
Meg (she/her) is a certified fertility, birth and postpartum doula with an honours degree in Psychology. She is the owner and founder of Northern Mama Maternal Services and Director of Education here at bebo mia.
Meg experienced a challenging initiation into parenthood, including a second-trimester pregnancy loss, and antenatal depression, which sparked a passion for supporting parents through some of the most vulnerable times of their lives.
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