One of the most shocking experiences of becoming a mom is the scary thoughts that flash into your mind like a lightning bolt.
“What if I drop my baby and she cracks her skull?”
“What if I accidentally let him slip in the tub and he drowns?”
“What if I get so frustrated and shake her?
“What if someone steals her from the stroller when we’re at the store?”
What I want you to make sure you know, loud and clear, is that literally every mother has experienced unwanted thoughts (or they will at some point). One study found that 100% of mothers reported having scary thoughts of accidental harm coming to their baby (like images of them suffocating, getting extremely sick, being abducted, or having major accidents). And about half of the moms in the study also experienced intrusive thoughts about them causing the harm (like shaking, drowning, smothering, or molesting) (1).
You are not alone.
You are not bad.
You are actually more normal than you think (we just don’t talk about these things openly in society). Women are often reluctant to seek help for this because they worry that others won’t understand, they’ll be judged as dangerous or crazy, and they’re scared that their child will be taken away.
Here’s a brief guide about intrusive thoughts during postpartum, what you can do about it, and when to get help.
What Are Intrusive Thoughts?
Intrusive thoughts are basically any unwanted thought or image that come into your mind, which usually have a scary or otherwise disturbing quality to them.
These automatic thoughts are called “intrusive” because they literally feel like an unwelcome guest that barged their way in! Moms don’t want to think about these things… they just happen, and it’s usually quite upsetting.
Again, it’s normal for new moms to have intrusive thoughts. They seem to be part of the territory of new motherhood for some reason. When my kids were babies, I remember wondering if these thoughts were part of my brain’s attempt to plan for all possibilities… out of some kind of desperate and animalistic drive to keep my baby safe.
But whatever the purpose, these thoughts can feel awful. They can make you feel like a bad mom, that you’re dangerous, or going crazy. But remind yourself that having scary thoughts doesn’t mean anything bad about you. They’re just thoughts.
Common Types of Intrusive Thoughts
There are common categories of intrusive or unwanted thoughts, although the possibilities really are endless (thanks to our creative brains). Here’s some common categories:
Sickness: being exposed to germs, contracting diseases, touching dirty animals, bacteria from pacifiers or bottles, germs on toys, etc.
Physical Harm: thoughts of injury from mom’s carelessness, horrific images of harm from others, thoughts about acting on unwanted impulses, baby dying of SIDS, someone stealing baby, etc.
Sexual: thoughts of accidentally touching a child inappropriately, thought-images of their genitals, fears of molesting the child during diaper changes, fear of other’s molesting your child.
What’s often most disturbing for moms is when intrusive thoughts are about them harming their own baby (for example, thoughts of throwing them, hitting, leaving them somewhere, suffocating them, or molesting their baby). This leads to intense fear that they’ll act on these thoughts, that they’re dangerous, and shouldn’t be left along with their child.
Some moms might worry about whether they are at risk of harming their children because of these thoughts, and this is an important aspect to talk to a professional about. One important piece for moms to know is that if they are disturbed and bothered by these thoughts, it’s most likely because they DON’T want them to happen – that’s the very reason they are so distressing.
The scary thoughts are normally not in-line with how moms want to treat their children.
These kinds of thoughts become dangerous when they ARE aligned with a mom’s intentions. For example, if she has thoughts about harming her child and feels justified in these thoughts, or truly does want to act out on them. If this is the case, it’s imperative that this mother gets support, and she could experience postpartum psychosis (call a crisis line, 911, or talk to a doctor right away).
For the vast majority of moms who experience intrusive thoughts, they are unlikely to act upon them. Again, the important question is whether or not these thoughts are inline with your intentions.
My hope is that with these steps I outline below, you can find some ease in this journey, and little by little, learn to balance all that’s on your plate in a way that makes you excited to wake up each day.
Here’s 9 things to do each day to enjoy being mom a little bit more:
1. Wake Up Before Your Kids
I believe I heard this first from Rachel Hollis, but part of me knew this from day one. When your kids wake you up, you start the day on defence (it feels stressful just saying this!)
It’s like you’re being attacked! You’re instantly demanded upon, pulled at, needed before you’ve had a second to sip some hot coffee.
But when you wake up first, you’re in the lead … on offence, even! You get a chance to create a quiet moment that’s just for you. Even 10 minutes of silence, of enjoying your hot coffee or tea, and begin able to meet the day with a bit more ease can do wonders for your mood.
2. Find Alone Time Each Day
One of the hardest parts of becoming a mom is that your identity can fade away and it feels like your purpose revolves around your kids. Your needs take the back seat or you might just forget about them completely.
But frankly, this is not sustainable. Yes, you have a lot to manage and it can seem impossible to find a second for yourself, but it’s so important to try to work this in each day. If there’s no way that you can have alone time, then think about how you can do something that’s just for you even when your kids are around. The point is, you don’t have to be doing things for your kids all the time. You deserve your own attention too.
3. Do Something Creative
Don’t say you’re not creative! We all have a creative side, it’s just a matter of finding out how to express this. Maybe it’s cooking, drawing, decorating your house, fashion, gardening, singing… the possibilities are endless.
When you express your creativity, you shift into a different part of your brain and take a break from the to-do lists and all the expectations of motherhood. I like to imagine us all having this creative part inside that’s waiting to express herself… this part of you deserves some attention too.
4. Get Some Fresh Air
There’s a few reasons why this is good for your mood. Firstly, unless you live in a glass house, you could probably benefit from the outside light. Vitamin D is a known mood booster, so take advantage of this!
Also, don’t you find parenting easier when you can get outside? The kids love it, you might get a little break, possibly some exercise, and breathing some cleansing air might shift your mood.
5. Get Ready, Even When You Have Nowhere To Go
As a mom who works from home, I completely get how hard this is sometimes! If I don’t have a counselling client or anywhere to show up to in a professional sense, it’s way too easy to schlump around all day. Yup, schlump… you know exactly what I mean!
But how do you feel when you don’t get ready for the day? Sure, jammies are way cozier but they aren’t great for your well-being (they can make you feel lazy, tired, and unproductive).
When you get yourself ready each day, as if you had somewhere to go, it puts you in an energized place, ready to seize the day. Try it for a week and see how you feel.
6. Get Your Kids Involved In Tidying
My husband and I used to sing this annoying little diddy, “make and mess and clean it up, make a mess and clean it up” (but I’d be secretly dying inside because it was so true and not funny at all!).
Read this a few times over: I am a mom, not a maid.
It’s incredible what those little kiddos are capable of, and believe me, they tidy up all day long at their preschools and daycare! They can do this at home too.
Get your kids involved in the tidying and have some daily age-appropriate chores that are their responsibility (like making their beds or tidying toys). They’ll like the responsibility and structure, and you’ll appreciate the help … even if they can’t do it as well as you.
7. Nail Down Your Routine…
… so the kids don’t ask for a snack every 34 minutes.
Kids thrive on structure, so give it to them (and you’ll benefit too). While spontaneity can be lovely, make sure to also have some solid structure to fall back on. For my household, structure around eating (as in when snacks happen and where kids can eat) made a big difference.
I’m not talking about refusing snacks when your kids are hungry, but rather, not acting like a hotel with 24 hour rooms service. I remember drawing the line when my kids started asking for snacks 20 minutes after dinner (that they didn’t even eat).
When you have a schedule, your kids trust that their needs will be met so they don’t have to worry about asking 4200 times for a snack. They know it’s coming.
8. Get Your Kids To Bed Early (Then Do Nothing For Anyone Else)
One of my favourite things is to tuck my kids in, wander back into a clean living room and spend the evening either by myself (bliss) or hanging out with my hubby (also bliss). Those days when I haven’t kept up with dishes or I slacked through dinner prep and didn’t unload the dishwasher and then have a mountain of a mess to deal with after the kids are tucked in are so hard!
So consider how you can get as much done when your kids are awake so that you can have peaceful you-time afterwards.
If you still are blessed with a napping child, then absolutely do NOT do housework when they’re sleeping. You can fold laundry when they’re awake, sleep time is sacred. Don’t miss it!
9. Practice Gratitude. Seriously. Do It.
You’ve heard this a billion times, I’m sure. But usually when you see something over and over again, it’s worth pausing and giving it some thought.
When we think about what brings joy, or what we’re grateful for, we strengthen these thought pathways in the brain. And alternatively, when we focus on all the things that are hard or going wrong in life, then our brain just becomes more and more likely to feed those thoughts back to us.
When you practice gratitude (like writing a list each day of things you’re grateful for) you literally rewire your brain to pay more attention to the positive things that are already there.
It’s quite a transformative practice, and I encourage all moms to do this. Start by writing down 5 things that you’re grateful for each day. I like to keep a little gratitude log where this is the only thing I write down. It’s fun to review your gratitude… sometimes you realize that the things that bring most joy aren’t always what you thought they’d be.
Here’s a video tutorial I created to support you during this hard time! It’s FREE! Click the image to learn more 😀
What would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments!