Grace. It’s one of my favorite words. Just speaking the word out loud is like a sweet sigh of relief. Grace. Grace to be imperfect. Grace to be human. Grace to acknowledge your strengths. Grace to acknowledge your weaknesses. It is a beautiful concept, yet so difficult to apply. It’s as if shame and guilt are our default settings and grace requires intentional effort and energy. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Grace is important for many aspects of life, and is so necessary when fighting postpartum depression.
Motherhood especially is one area where I notice women struggling to give themselves grace. And unfortunately this mode of self-criticism only increases the power and intensity of Postpartum Depression. You see, depression and anxiety will lie to you. They will make irrational things feel rational and make you operate in extremes rather than in balance. Thoughts become very black-and-white, very all-or-nothing, very debilitating. If we fall short of perfection, it equates to failure in our minds. The expectations are far too high which leaves little room for error or inadequacy. We use #Momfail far too loosely and allow everyday errors to make us feel like we are not good enough, not productive enough, not loving enough, not “fill in the blank” enough…
The Power to Change
At our April PPD meeting, we discussed the chemical and emotional changes that take place during pregnancy and after birth. Unfortunately we can only do so much to edit and improve the physical components of postpartum depression initially. But we can find empowerment in knowing that changing our thoughts, expectations, and choices can elicit freedom from the weight of it. By giving yourself grace to be imperfect, you are essentially opening a little release valve and letting go of some of that pressure to perform.
So with that in mind, here are 5 practical steps you can take to give yourself grace as you allow yourself to be beautifully imperfect as a Mama.
1. Break Free from All-or-Nothing Thinking
There are very few things in life that actually exist as absolutes. It is essential that we learn to think more fluidly, more in the “in-between”. You are not the worst mom ever but you are also not the greatest mom of all time. In between those two extremes lies a wonderful mom with room to grow, with bad days and good days. Try to find that gray area in between the absolutes where both strength and weakness can coexist and where breathing room exists.
2. Mental Filter in Reverse
One of the “cognitive distortions” we will talk about at our June meeting is called Mental Filtering. It’s when you filter out all of the positives and solely focus on the negatives. This is what we do with postpartum depression. We only see the negatives in ourselves, in our spouses, in this season of our life. One simple way to fight this is to look for the positives and filter out the negatives. What are the things you did accomplish today? What is wonderful about your partner? What is one blessing about this time in your life? Try to emphasize the good while leaving room for the not-so-good.
3. Realize that Perfection is a Lie
I tell clients regularly that the closer you get to perfection, the further it gets away from you. It is a false reality, an impossible standard. You will never achieve it. Never ever. So stop trying! Once you allow room for imperfection, you realize the value of grace. Something perfect doesn’t need grace. But to accept our shortcomings demands that we give ourselves grace and allows us to live in freedom from impossible expectations.
4. Set up Guardrails on Social Media
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” (Theodore Roosevelt). So if social media causes you to compare your pregnancy, your mothering choices, your worst day to their best day – get off of it. Very few people walk away from social media feeling better about themselves – and good self-care sometimes means deleting that Instagram app for the time being.
5. Keep Expectations Realistic and Manageable
Did you feed your baby today? Did you feed yourself today? Did you keep them alive? Good job! Sometimes our to-do list is far too long and will lead us to feel overwhelmed with everyday tasks. This feeling of being overwhelmed is a huge contributor to postpartum depression. It causes irritability and a paralyzing feeling of being overwhelmed. It’s just too much for us to manage. And it’s okay to let it be too much. Take a break, walk away, and create a more realistic “to-do” list. As we all know, newborns are needy, and to expect yourself to have the house clean and dinner on the table by the time your partner walks in the door is just not reasonable in the early stages. That’s okay! Give yourself permission to do the best you can.
Giving yourself grace doesn’t mean you don’t try or that you don’t care. Instead, it frees you to do what you do best, to do what God has enabled you to do, and to do it with joy instead of obligation. I can’t wait to talk about this more at our May PPD meeting. Come ready to share, vent, and be encouraged as we learn to operate in grace!
Come join us at Breath of Life Birth Center on the first Monday of every month, for our PPMD Mom’s Groups. This is a group for all women, and those who may be experiencing postpartum mood disorders or similar symptoms, are curious, or just want to connect with women on this wild ride we call Momming. Click here for event details.
Courtney Ellis is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor providing confidential, spiritually-sensitive therapy to the Tampa Bay area. Learn more about her at www.healinghurtinghearts.com.