Being a parent means being willing to sacrifice a lot of things. Sleep. Money. Time, energy and self-care. Most of us know and understand these things heading into the adventure, but we still choose to soldier on and carry forward. Because being a parent can also be a hugely rewarding experience.
But being a parent, especially being a mom, also comes with some unexpected side effects. Even though we’re expecting it, the changes our bodies go through are pretty incredible. Also, our moods are affected in ways we never though possible. Because you know, those damned hormones, not to mention the pressure of trying to keep a tiny, little human alive.
So perhaps this latest joint study from the Netherlands, California and Norway shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.
Researchers set out to examine the relationship between self-esteem and pregnancy in women, and what they found is that, after having kids, our overall confidence levels tend to decrease for not one, not two, but at least three years postpartum. Finally, some science to back up what all moms have known forever: parenting is an emotional roller coaster. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, another epic drop is on its way.
For the study, researchers looked at 84,000 Norwegian women who were pregnant between 1999 and 2008. These women were asked to complete a survey during their first pregnancies and at three points following the birth. (The last of those were filled out at the three-year mark.) Some of those women were also asked to complete the same surveys for their second, third and fourth pregnancies.
Interestingly, the first decline of self-esteem usually came during the pregnancy itself, but it rebounded six months later. At that point though, confidence fell again and continued to fall. By the time the kids were three years old, their moms still recorded lower self-esteem than they did at the outset.
The scary thing is that self-esteem may have continued to fall, but that was where the study ended. But here’s the good news: by the time the women who became pregnant again filled out another survey, their confidence had returned to its original “baseline” before the roller coaster started all over again.
Geesh. Parenting really is hard.
Of course there are tons of reasons why self-confidence may decrease. Most new moms report they have no idea what they’re doing, and your body goes through all of that turmoil in order to have the baby in the first place. Lack of sleep, little-to-no time for yourself and a life that revolves around baby, baby, baby are all certainly factors too.
The one thing researchers did find is that there was a correlation between women who reported decreased self-esteem with women who reported relationship declines. Given that having a new baby is a pretty big stressor for most relationships, we can’t say that’s completely surprising either. However, it’s still unclear whether a declining relationship causes lower self-esteem or if it’s the other way around. Obviously more research still needs to be done.
For now, we do know that parenting — and motherhood — is hard. There’s no denying that. So the next time you see a new mom, give her a hug, tell her she looks beautiful and remind her that she’s doing a good job.
Her self-esteem will thank you in one to three years.