mother holding a crying newborn

Motherhood is often portrayed as a blissful and fulfilling experience, filled with love, joy, and a sense of purpose. However, for many mothers, the reality is far more complex. Maternal ambivalence refers to the experience of having contradictory emotions concerning motherhood. It is essential to recognize that this ambivalence does not stem from a lack of love for one’s child. On the contrary, mothers who identify as ambivalent are clear about their unconditional love for their kids. In this article, we will delve into the concept of ambivalence in motherhood, the role of ambivalence and embracing the diverse emotions that shape this profound and transformative role.

Ambivalence in motherhood

It is normal for a mother to feel immense love and affection for her child while also experiencing doubt, frustration, resentment, anger and exhaustion.These contradictory emotions may lead to confusion and guilt, as societal norms often dictate that mothers are expected to experience nothing but endless love and unwavering devotion to their children. In 2015, after having my oldest son, I grappled with feelings of failure as a mother due to the struggle of meeting my own expectations. My newborn’s prolonged crying evoked a range of emotions, from sadness and concern for his discomfort to anger and resentment that impacted my well-being and happiness. 

After becoming a mother, I struggled with the changes in my physical, emotional, and mental state. My expectations of enjoying walks, a smooth breastfeeding journey, and a calm maternity leave were not met. Instead, my body did not recover well after a c-section, and breastfeeding was painful due to overproduction. These challenges made me feel like a different person, and I resented my child for it, leading to feelings of shame and guilt.

Maternal ambivalence is a rarely discussed topic, overshadowed by the ideal of possessing unwavering love and effortless patience. Yet, these unrealistic expectations impose significant pressures, leading to guilt and shame when mothers experience feelings of resentment and rage. It is crucial to acknowledge and address these complex emotions to create a more supportive and understanding environment for mothers.

The myth of the ‘perfect mother’

The myth of the perfect mother can have detrimental effects on women’s mental health and well-being. It suggests that a perfect mother is always loving, patient, and selfless, never experiencing negative emotions or moments of frustration. In reality, no mother is perfect, as perfection itself is an unattainable concept. They may feel ashamed or guilty for experiencing natural emotions such as frustration, anger, or moments of self-doubt, as these emotions are not aligned with perfect mother ideals.

The struggle with guilt and shame

Guilt and shame often walk hand in hand with ambivalence in motherhood. Guilt can be particularly overwhelming when a mother experiences moments of frustration, exhaustion, or even resentment towards her child. However, it is essential to recognize that these feelings are normal and do not make a mother any less loving or caring.

Shame can also accompany ambivalence, as mothers may internalize the belief that their mixed emotions are wrong or abnormal. Feeling shame in being ambivalent towards one’s child is not uncommon, but it is essential to understand that these emotions are natural and normal.

Ways that you can embrace maternal ambivalence

Embracing ambivalence can be a transformative process. Here are some ways to embrace the complex emotions that come with ambivalence and motherhood:

  • Practice self-compassion: Recognize that your feelings are a normal aspect of motherhood. Be gentle with yourself and allow space for a range of emotions without judgment
  • Normalize emotions: Seek out other mothers that will share their experiences. Being able to express those shameful feelings is helpful – it allows women to feel less isolated and better understood.
  • Set realistic expectations: Challenge the myth of ‘the perfect mother’. It is important to understand that motherhood is multifaceted and it is okay to not feel joy all the time.
  • Prioritize self-care: Make time for activities that provide you joy and relaxation. Do not be hesitant to ask for help when you need it.
  • Connect with your child: Strengthen the bond with your child by engaging in meaningful activities. Connecting with your child can help you navigate conflicting emotions.
  • Seek Support: Reach out to family, friends and/or a psychotherapist to help provide validation and reassurance.

Motherhood is a complex and multi-faceted journey, filled with a wide range of emotions. Maternal ambivalence is a common experience that does not diminish a mother’s love or dedication for her child. Rather, it is a natural and normal aspect of being a mother.

Embracing ambivalence in motherhood is transformative and an act of self- love.  It  allows mothers to navigate the ups and downs of motherhood with self-compassion and can help mothers build stronger and more meaningful connections with their children.

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