A friend who hates mothering
November 12, 2009 6:30 PM   Subscribe

A friend who hates mothering. Ideas?

A longtime friend of mine had her first child almost five months ago. Prior to her son's birth (and conception, actually), she was, at best, ambivalent about the idea of having a baby, but her husband was extremely set on having children immediately. Now that the baby is here, she is having a very tough time. She, frankly, gets no joy from her baby whatsoever. She is taking competent care of her son, but there is virtually no bonding at all. She is really at the end of her rope with frustration and desperation. Some of this is no doubt due to the fact that her son is a pretty difficult baby, although it's probably exacerbated by her depression. Additionally, she is not well supported emotionally (or with childcare/house chores) by her husband, and has little external support. She quit her job (at her husband's insistence) and is now home full time, often without her husband for up to weeks at a time.

I have already suggested that she see her doctor about her depression, and I am really trying to offer as much support as I can via meals, babysitting, etc. as well as emotional support. Any concrete ideas about how she can get through this? Any bonding exercises or activities appropriate for a five month old? How can I better help her?

I am truly worried about her. It is well beyond normal baby adjustment, and while her situation is really tough, her borderline resentment of the baby is worse than I would expect even in her circumstances. I am NOT worried that she is going to harm herself or her baby, but I am concerned that this will have lasting effects on her son's development and her general happiness.
posted by LittleMissCranky to Human Relations (31 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Her husband needs to get involved with the child care. She's at least interacting and bonding with the kid as best she can manage, but it sounds like he's never around and isn't bonding with anyone in the situation, leaving her to stew in her own resentment towards her husband. You're not him and you can't sub in for him in this situation, nor can you provide the constant emotional reassurance, support with chores, and so on that the father ought to be putting in here.

She needs her own therapist and psychiatrist for postpartum depression, and it sounds like they need a marriage counselor. If he wanted kids this badly, he needs to suck it up and get involved now that he's got one.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 6:35 PM on November 12, 2009

Does she refuse to see a doctor? This really seems to be beyond any friend's ability to fix, however well-meaning.

I mean, there are ways to have a better perspective on the early months of child-rearing -- reminding her that everyone has their own favorite stages of their children's development, for instance, and the ones who looooooove the newborn stage can have a hard time with the increasing independence of later stages. But this sounds a little too far gone for that kind of "think of it this way!" support.

Can you clue her husband in to the desperation of this situation -- get him to take a week off of work while he (a) observes her situation, and (b) provides care so that she can get mental help? And I agree with you, it's critical, in terms of her son's lifetime ability to find love and happiness in this world. Spending all those hours with someone who's not interested in his smiles, his coos of recognition ... it can mean very bad things. Babies need more than feeding and changing, as you recognize in your question.
posted by palliser at 6:41 PM on November 12, 2009

Sounds like it's likely postpartum depression, and it needs to be dealt with ASAP. If she doesn't have a psychiatrist, a follow-up appointment with her OB/GYN might be the best first step to dealing with this. They can make appropriate recommendations. For that matter, her son's pediatrician can be a good resource. If you can't prompt her to take action beforehand, encourage her to mention her frustrations to the pediatrician at the six-month check-up.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:43 PM on November 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I agree completely with fairytale and palliser, and as an at-home mother I think it might also be helpful for your friend to begin cultivating other at-home parent friends as she works on her own issues. Being at home with your child, even when you want to be there and have made the lifestyle changes necessary to make it possible, is tremendously isolating. Under your friend's circumstances, I can't imagine how difficult it must be. If I hadn't had a new moms' group when my daughter was an infant, I would have gone insane with loneliness - and my husband is a very "hands on" Dad when he is home.

I hope your friend can get the help she needs.
posted by chihiro at 6:46 PM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This sounds very much like a case of postpartum depression. Please encourage her to call her OB if she doesn't have a therapist already. They're typically better informed about postpartum issues than most GPs. Postpartum depression is not the same as depression and can change very quickly.

Beyond medical intervention - sleep deprivation can make dealing with a newborn much more difficult. Just one good night's sleep can help quite a bit. If spending the night with her and handling the baby overnight while she sleeps wouldn't be too weird, that might help her feel a bit better.
posted by Dojie at 6:53 PM on November 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I wasn't very into being the mom of an infant, in fact, I kind of hated it. I was really tired, I'd had a c section, everything had gone wrong, I was isolated, and I wasn't that into babies in the first place.

Antidepressants, time, and sleep helped me. Your friend should see a doctor, ask about antidepressants, and form some contacts with women who have felt the same way. She can mail me if she likes, I'm my username at gmail.

Alternatively, there are lots of anonymous women at altdotlife.com who are smart and capable of absorbing someone venting--she should maybe roll on over there.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:12 PM on November 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Could her parents or sibling come out for a week?
posted by salvia at 7:14 PM on November 12, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks very much for the responses so far. To clarify, she has an appointment with her doctor soon, which I'm hoping will really help. Also, I know that her husband needs a radical attitude shift, but I can't really make that happen. So really, I'm looking more for things that either I can do or suggest to help this situation as it stands right now. I know that I can't fix it, but ideas on mitigating it would be great.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 7:16 PM on November 12, 2009

Google PPD and her city. There may be resources - a hotline, a mother's group. This is serious.
posted by k8t at 7:23 PM on November 12, 2009

Best answer: Perhaps you could encourage her to hire a mother's helper. That would take the load off a bit, and give her some company.

Also, let her know that it gets better--the baby gets a personality, starts to walk, talk, can say your name...not everyone likes babies, even if they end up enjoying being a parent.
posted by kathrineg at 7:32 PM on November 12, 2009

Best answer: Looks like the high-risk things are mentioned above.

My suggestions:
- look for things she can plan to do with the baby next week, month, in January; that this stage won't last forever and she can start doing things with him soon. Local recreation centres (there are mom and tot swimming here that will take children at 6 months!), mom and baby yoga (cliched, but you can't exactly take him on a treadmill).
- figure out something the two of you can do together or she can do at home (while you babysit maybe?) that can be completed in a day. Going from being productive at work all day to being home with an infant you can't 'fix' has got to be frustrating; accomplishing something tangible would be a nice change
- bonding: baby massage. You need to be a little careful with tummies (going in the right direction etc) but a decent book would do the job. There are classes here offered by parks & rec that are two hours. It's a pleasure to massage soft baby skin, almost as soothing as it is to the baby.
posted by variella at 7:40 PM on November 12, 2009

Best answer: Is she getting any sleep? Sleep deprivation can lead to depersonalization - apathy, a lack of emotive outreach, I guess, in my own words. A separate issue from PPD, but a legitimate and important one as well. Can friends and family work together to make sure she gets a 2 hour or so break a day - to read, nap, take a hot bath, anything? Focusing on getting HER emotional needs met a bit might help her have more room for the emotional needs of others.

Beyond that, in terms of bonding exercises and activities - it's not always intuitive how to play with a baby that young. Can you help her with that, or can other experienced moms? Mom groups in the area might be a nice resource, although it might be hard for her to hang out with glowing, excited, bragging mothers when she is just not feeling that way.
posted by bunnycup at 7:45 PM on November 12, 2009

Best answer: Weeks at a time, eh? Good thing he wanted to be a parent. He's missing all the hard parts.

If the baby is five months, she's dealing with some really brutal sleep deprivation right now. For me, the interruption of sleep patterns led to really significant mood changes.

Its good that she's seeing a doctor, but I'm going to answer your question about what you can do. (I'm assuming/hoping you live local to her.)

My best advice (and the best thing a friend did for me) is that you should offer to come over and stay overnight at her house. Once would be great, but if you can manage once a week for a few weeks that might be even better. The key here is that you're going to be awake with the baby in the very early morning (and you're going to be cheerful about it!) while she sleeps. She may need to get up and nurse or whatever, but she needs to get 8-10 solid hours of sleep. For me, since my son was born, even when I can sleep, the sleep I get is worse, because some part of my brain is always "awake" listening for my son. Tell her you're going to be there as the night nurse, and that you'll take care of the baby. If he needs feeding, you'll bring him in to her (presuming here that he doesn't want a bottle/that she'll want to night-nurse him, for comfort if nothing else, if not breastfeeding ignore this part) but otherwise she's too sleep until she feels like getting up.

Second, in those rare moments that her husband is home (I'm sorry I'm being snarky about this, in the current economy he may very well have good reason to need to travel, but in the way you phrase the question it just sounds like he was insistent on doing this now even though their lives were not yet set up to accommodate the changed rhythms of the new family) -- some night when her husband is home -- or, better yet, on a Saturday -- get her out of the house, go to a movie, eat a meal, go shopping for clothes or makeup or cooking stuff or camping supplies or whatever she liked to do in her pre-mommy life -- and just let her be an adult for a few hours. Again, try to make this a standing date. Babies are cute, but they can be sort of dull, and part of the reason its so isolating is that its tough to leave the house and do stuff. This gets worse in the next year, then gets easier again.

Finally, encourage her to talk to you, and don't judge. You're a good friend for worrying about her.
posted by anastasiav at 8:18 PM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Help her find a competent daycare/babysitter so she can spend timer looking for work. Where others see post-partum depression I see the natural result of what a normal woman would feel if she made a deal with her partner and he failed to live up to it. She sounds like she is driving herself crazy trying to prove how wrong her husband was by making herself into a martyr and he isn't even noticing. She can be right, or she can be sane, she has to choose one, which means admitting she made mistakes too ( in having an unwanted child, staying in an unequal relationship, and quitting her job) but she can learn from her mistakes. She isn't powerless.
posted by saucysault at 8:24 PM on November 12, 2009 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Your friend might have PPD, or she might not like babies. Plenty of parents find babies alternatively frustrating, boring, cumbersome and alienating. I know one mother who openly admitted that she dread the first two years of all her children's lives but then reveled in them as soon as they were speaking full sentences. The growing awareness of PPD is a great event, but it's applied somewhat liberally to any woman who doesn't bond immediately with a squalling chicken-newborn. The cult of motherhood tends to pathologize women who don't enjoy every. single. second. of babies, and it puts way too much pressure on women to act monolithic flocks of endlessly patient caretakers.

Your friend is stuck in a really bad situation, a bad marriage even, if your description of her husband's various pressures ("have a baby!" "quit your job!" "my feelings are more valid than yours!") and reluctance to actually help with his agenda are indeed accurate. I'd wager that much of her despondency is founded in marital dissatisfaction and helplessness that she's fully channeling on her problems with the baby. Speaking to her about this, gently, would be helpful. Emphasize that lots of mothers don't bond with babies, especially with difficult infants who test their reserves of patience.

In terms of the baby, see if she's tried The Happiest Baby on the Block, which really is a great little book about soothing fussy infants. A baby's cry is supposed to trigger stress hormones, and even the calmest and most capable caretaker will lose confidence in their abilites after spending days alone with a wailing kid. I once had to babysit a colicky two-month old for four straight days (she had a single mother who was also losing her mind) and I was near tears by the end of it. I can't imagine how lost your friend must feel after five months.

Your place in this scheme is minimal, because as others have pointed out, this is a domestic/marital problem that you can't really fix beyond what you've already offered. You're a great friend for babysitting, cooking, and just listening.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:29 PM on November 12, 2009 [9 favorites]

I don't know much about this, but maybe a "mommy and me" would be a good way for her to bond, get out of the house and meet others?
posted by cestmoi15 at 8:35 PM on November 12, 2009

I don't mean this in a snarky way at all, but I'm a little puzzled as to why people attribute this to post-partum depression. It sounds like a reasonable reaction to something incredibly difficult and life-changing that your friend wasn't sure she wanted.

I don't have any advice, but you are being a wonderful friend and I hope you can help her.
posted by walla at 8:48 PM on November 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You mention that the baby is "difficult." I found this article about "colicky" babies to be fascinating, and it paints a clear picture of the frustrations and emotional difficulties of people whose babies are just plain challenging, through no fault of anybody's.
posted by Miko at 9:29 PM on November 12, 2009

Best answer: She might like www.mumsnet.com/talk, which is based in the UK and full of down to earth advice and people ready to sympathise. It's more common that people suppose for mothers to have trouble bonding, and with all her external problems, it's really not surprising. I think as well as everything else, she needs to understand that she shouldn't feel guilty for her feelings, that they will (probably) pass, and that she can't do everything - she needs support, she needs a place to vent, she needs time to herself, she needs hubby to help out.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 1:55 AM on November 13, 2009

I'm a little puzzled as to why people attribute this to post-partum depression

You might be right, and the poster above might be above that it creates a pathology where none exists, but it might be helpful nonetheless because it creates a framework that says 'you're not a freaking weirdo'. There are other things that could contribute (I think the effects of sleep deprivation in general are kind of under-appreciated) but I sounds likely that she does have depression that would be helped by anti-depressants and that could be caused by several equally valid factors.

One thing that kind of distance can help you with is to understand, as others have mentioned, is that you aren't awful if you don't like the part of being a mother of infants, but there's kind of a monolithic view of being a mother that kind of makes you feel like you should love every second. You get bombarded too with these media images of women in commercials in a haze that looks almost post-orgasmic snuggling with their babies and hawking lotion and soap and just general pink awesome.

So, it might not be necessarily accurate in this or every case, but I think going through the motions of taking care of ppd can help women who are kind of going a little bonkers with their babies. As, I want to emphasize, I did.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:05 AM on November 13, 2009

this will have lasting effects on her son's development

Last thing about this. I know some will likely disagree with me, but I think there are very limited things you can do with infants to make them develop 'healthily'. You keep them clean and safe and warm. You hold them when they cry, or when they want to be held, or when they can't fall asleep. You pick them up when they look bored. You stick around.

But development, in my experience, at that stage, belongs to the child. They are still getting used to the idea that they have feet, that there are different colors in the world, that some things are rough and some are soft. They don't need us for all of this. A lot of modern parenting notions, in my opinion and nothing more, come from the guilt of how divided we feel by our modern obligations, our working lives, and our children. I do not think Baby Einstein would have shown up on the market at any other time in history.

The baby needs to know he's safe and loved, and she needs to watch out for his needs and respond to him. But she does not need to be sitting there teaching him sign language or holding up flash cards. She does not need to be Super Mom by modern standards, she just needs to be Pretty Decent Mom.

I learned to read reading Good Housekeeping magazine.

There are lots and lots of ways to be a decent parent and help a healthy child develop.

Also, I think Baby Llama was older than six months when I really started to feel connected to her. I think before that, there was a lot of going through the motions.

I don't know, it's all kind of foggy, that first year. Tell your friend it gets better.

Although, my God, it's hard to believe when you're in it.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:15 AM on November 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

Having a new baby is hard; you're a Good Person for supporting her. Her husband, on the other hand, needs to pitch in.

I work all day and my wife is home with the herd. It can be hard for me to come in the door and immediately start parenting, but she's been at it all day and needs me to help carry the load until bedtime. *shrug* That's just being a parent and a spouse.

And yes, it's even harder when they're sick or too young to communicate or just crabby.

I try to remember one thing: the perfect is the enemy of the good. Don't kill yourself (herself) trying to be a perfect parent now if it burns you (her) out for the rest of your life.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:52 AM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't mean this in a snarky way at all, but I'm a little puzzled as to why people attribute this to post-partum depression.

I'm going to out myself here as the author of the "I'm pretty sure I don't love my baby" question. Because of my experiences at that time -- which were NOT PPD in the traditional sense (the meds, they do nothing!) but rather was simple, hardcore sleep deprivation at its worst -- its the "lack of joy" that is the key for me. She could certainly also be depressed and dissatisfied with her relationship, but the grind of taking care of an infant 24/7 is unbelievably wearing. But the description the poster gives reminded me instantly of myself.

Also, my experience was that my baby got less "difficult" (he wasn't really ever THAT difficult) as I got better, because babies are very sensitive to the emotional state of their caregiver.

LittleMissCranky, if you or your friend want to email me and talk about this further, my email address is in my profile.
posted by anastasiav at 7:26 AM on November 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The baby needs to know he's safe and loved, and she needs to watch out for his needs and respond to him. But she does not need to be sitting there teaching him sign language or holding up flash cards.

I agree with this utterly -- babies need human touch and voices, and consistent, responsive, loving adult presence(s). They do not need "teaching," in any organized sense, and there are many ways to raise babies.

My sense of the OP's question is that she is concerned that her friend is not currently providing the baby those emotional basics, because of regret and resentment. I don't get the sense that the OP is at all setting up unrealistic expectations for her friend, or suggesting that her friend ought to be in the baby's face all day with flashcards.
posted by palliser at 8:01 AM on November 13, 2009

I don't mean this in a snarky way at all, but I'm a little puzzled as to why people attribute this to post-partum depression.

It may very well not be. Not everyone loves or is good with babies. My husband didn't truly bond with any of our kids until they were toddlers. Crying infants drive him up the wall with frustration. If he had been in this situation - difficult baby, problems with spouse, probably sleep-deprived, he would have also probably shown the classic symptoms of postpartum depression. Sometimes even those of us who do love babies and bond right away get exhausted and completely sick of the little buggers. And having had a difficult baby myself, I know they can make ANYONE hate them from time to time.

The thing is also very well might be PPD. If it is, it's treatable and things can very easily get much better. And if it is PPD and it is untreated, things can get much much worse. Scary Bad Worse. There are lots of suggestions here that the OP can do that could help either way, but treatment for PPD if it's there has the biggest potential to help this family in a substantial way.
posted by Dojie at 8:07 AM on November 13, 2009

As others have said, there's little you can do as a friend with the bigger problems she's facing. If you can swing it, I'd offer to babysit for a regular block of time every week -- 2 to 3 hours every Tuesday, or whatever. Even if she stays home and naps, it will be a big help. Making it a regular scheduled time will help her have something to look forward to. When my niece was a baby my mom was able to take over one afternoon a week and it really helped my sister regain her sanity (or at least take a few steps closer to it).
posted by chowflap at 8:48 AM on November 13, 2009

Best answer: If they can afford it, maybe the baby could go to daycare a few hours a week. This would give your friend time to regain her non-mommy identity, and give the baby some more stimulation and interaction with other caregivers. Being home all day with a 5-month old is intense! Myself, I had to go back to work out of financial necessity, but my SIL became a SAHM and she was pretty unhappy. Cabin fever, loss of previous identity, etc.
posted by Knowyournuts at 11:22 AM on November 13, 2009

Best answer: Visit often. Do tasks that will free her to rest, like dishes and cooking. Go visit, and tell her you're there so she can get a good shower. Then ask her to go outside for a walk, with baby in stroller. Sunshine and fresh air help a lot. I can remember how badly I just wanted a chance to take a long shower. Don't judge, do offer to help her get to a doctor.

Walla, the hormones in a woman's body get quite extreme during pretty much all phases of pregnancy, birth, post-partum. Those hormones generally predispose women to mothering behaviors. Post-partum depression is well documented. Even if it's plain old depression, it sounds like depression, which is a serious illness that can have nasty results.
posted by theora55 at 2:58 PM on November 13, 2009

Response by poster: Yeah, with two infants of my own at home, I don't really have any illusions about flash cards or any such nonsense. I think that my friend is actually doing a fine job in terms of what she is _doing_ with her son; I am much more concerned that she is a) not meeting her son's emotional needs (given the developmental risks to even very young children of depressed mothers) and b) just really, really unhappy.

Again, I really appreciate all of the comments and suggestions.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 4:03 PM on November 13, 2009

How about dr. sears' attachment parenting? He has a lot of good tips for dealing with high needs babies and moving from lose lose situations to having babies that are a joy to parent...
posted by zia at 1:17 PM on November 14, 2009

She needs to go back to work and put the baby in day care.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:20 PM on November 14, 2009

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