A study lead by researchers from the University of Tilburg found that a mother’s self-esteem decreases during pregnancy, rises after birth until the child is 6 months old, and then drops steadily until it reaches an all time low by the time her child is three years old.
The data, collected from more than 85,000 Norwegian women from 1998-2008, shows a consistent pattern among the majority of those surveyed for the study. The team, led by psychologist Weibke Bleidorn, who set out to find the effects of motherhood on a woman’s self-esteem, published the findings in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
The decrease in self-esteem during pregnancy is mainly due to anxiety about childbirth and the future, body-image issues due to physical changes to the body, mixed with a surge of hormones. After the 6-month honeymoon period with motherhood, a mother’s self-esteem gradually decreases until it drops around the time the child becomes a toddler.
The demands of caring for a toddler, is well documented by mothers’ various anecdotes funny or otherwise. It’s not surprising that the pressures seemingly coming from everywhere and everyone, coupled with the physical demands of keeping up with an energetic and curious little tot can take its toll on a mother’s self-esteem.
According to the study those who reported a decrease in self-esteem also reported a decline in the quality of their relationships with people especially with their partners.
Let’s list down a few reasons why a mom’s self-esteem could drop (along with the quality of relationship she has with her partner) around the time the child becomes a toddler.
- The demands of caring for a clingy curious little ball of energy, is time consuming. You can barely go to the bathroom by yourself, what makes you think you can get your nails done, mom? You’ll be lucky if you could find the time to apply conditioner and comb your hair, really comb your hair like a normal person.
- This lack of time to take care of herself might also mean lack of time to nurture her relationship with her partner. How can you expect her to bring breakfast in bed honey when she doesn’t even have time to sit or eat? Because munching on a half eaten pancake doesn’t really count.
- And have you ever tried sleeping on the same bed with a toddler? Good luck trying to squeeze cuddle time with your husband when you feel like there’s a tiny foot lodged on your esophagus or when there’s a sharp elbow two inches away from your eye.
- Eating left overs—half eaten peanut butter sandwich, ice cream that’s half filled with your child’s saliva, or fruit she licked all over but refused to eat—could really take its toll on your self-esteem. You’ll find yourself thinking “How did I even get here? Is this what I went to school (and graduate school) for?” while finishing your child’s plate.
- Blame it on celebrities and their unrealistic post-baby bodies that look photoshopped. And their perfectly put together family photos supposedly taken at home (which looks spotless BTW). How did that even happen? Well with an entire production team of course. And because celebrities bank on their appearance of course they have an army of fitness instructors, nutritionists, and stylists working behind the scenes. But you know mothers they don’t know this. All they see is a fictional image of a perfect mother, one they should aspire to become. An image they will pressure themselves to achieve. They will stare at these beautiful photos of celebrity moms looking dolled up at home at night, and then wonder how come they can’t be like that too.
The study just proves what we all know—that parenting is difficult. It will kick every parent’s butt, will turn your world upside down, drive you nuts, and take its toll on your self-esteem. As much as parenting is beautiful, and magical, we have to accept that it’s also darn hard. It’s messy, sticky, stinky, crazy but,yes, still beautiful.