Motherhood: "I thought I could cope with anything"

Deana Tynan and her daughter Mia.
Deana Tynan and her daughter Mia.  

Since having her baby girl Mia a year ago, Deana Tynan has been struck by how rewarding being a mother is, but also how challenging it can be.

"The reality of motherhood was so much better than anything I had expected, but also so much more challenging on many levels," Ms Tynan said. "Nothing can prepare you for the sleeplessness, the emotional roller coaster, and the many questions you'll constantly ask yourself."

Before Mia arrived, Ms Tynan didn't think much beyond the birth and surviving the first few months with a newborn. But she's since had to adjust to juggling motherhood with the demands of running her own business.

"[The most challenging thing] has been managing guilt, both in my personal and professional life, and balancing the responsibilities of my new role as a mother, with those other pre-existing roles as a boss, wife, friend, mentor," she said.

Career women are hit hardest by the reality of motherhood, which rarely matches up with their pre-conceived notions, according to Edith Cowan University research. "The more high powered their careers are the more intense this seems to be," families researcher Bronwyn Harman said.

Dr Harman has interviewed thousands of women as part of her long-term research project on mothers. She said women consistently told her that motherhood was not how they had anticipated it.

"The expectation of motherhood was completely different to the reality of motherhood – and usually not in a good way," Dr Harman said. "What they thought they were going to get was not what they got."

Dr Harman said her research had identified this was particularly true for women who had enjoyed a successful professional career before having babies. These women were accustomed to control, predictability and productivity in their working lives, which disappeared when the baby arrived.

"They say 'I had all these people doing whatever I asked them, now I'm at the beck and call of this tiny person. Before I had so much more power than I do now. I don't understand'."


One woman interviewed said: "I thought that I could cope with everything thrown my way, but I don't think you are ever prepared for what motherhood is really going to be like."

Another said motherhood was more challenging that she realised. "It seems to be based on extremes. You either have a very good day or a very bad day, and there doesn't seem to be anything in between."

Dr Harman said the realisation that motherhood was vastly different to idealised expectations could cause intense emotions, feelings of helpless and potentially lead to post-natal depression for some women.

"It's very overwhelming thinking you're responsible for this child's entire life, and what you do now will impact on their future," she said.

"But what your kids remember when they're grown up is the overall feeling, being loved and accepted in a family. Those small things you sweat, no one ever remembers."

She said the stress was exacerbated by the "good mother" syndrome that is still perpetuated by society, which dictates there is a right way and a wrong way to bring up your child. "Women are still measured by our ability to mother."

Dr Harman said women who had good support networks, and tried to remain positive and realistic through the first few months of their baby's life, adapted better to becoming a mum.

Ms Tynan said the best advice on mothering she had received was to trust her own instinct and go with the flow. "Above anything else, each day, month and year is rewarding," she said. "Seeing your little one grow and learn how to do things by themselves is especially nice."