Last year, my husband and I welcomed our first child. These last six months have been such a whirlwind. We have experienced more joy and love than we can imagine but also definitely our share of growing pains. Our baby girl struggled with acid reflux and pretty intense colic for the first four months of her life. She also seems to have inherited her parents’ active, always on-the-go nature because sleep and naps are definitely not her forte. When we are asked by friends and family how new parenthood is going, it is tempting to discuss only the cute smiles, new milestones reached and all of the incredible joy.
It would be easy to shy away from telling anyone about the sleepless nights and during the first four months, endless crying. After all, who wants to admit to struggles that can be interpreted as signs of weakness? We often hear the phrase “putting your best self forward” meaning showing only the polished parts of self to others. What if we were to start putting our “true selves” forward? I have come to learn that when we ignore our hardships, we are not necessarily putting our authentic selves out there. As humans, we all experience our share of struggles. It is part of living. For this reason, I have made a conscious effort to be transparent with my support system about BOTH sides of new parenthood, and try to have gratitude for the entire experience, not just the “good” stuff. After all, without struggle there is rarely growth.
Oftentimes I have clients in my therapy office who are struggling with a multitude of issues: Depression, anxiety, divorce. One common theme I hear when asking them who in their lives that they are talking to about their difficulties is, “I’m not. No one wants to hear about my struggles. I don’t want to be a burden.” While this concept sounds selfless, it can lead to these individuals never revealing their entire selves to their loved ones. It may seem easier to put on a mask of never ending happiness that we wear around others but in reality it takes much more energy to do this. It is so freeing to be open with those closest to us and show our true, genuine selves: the good, the bad and the ugly, without judgement.
People are so often surprised that when they remove the masks that they are wearing and are honest about any difficulty that they are experiencing, family and friends tend to WANT to help out and support them. Think about it this way, if you knew that your spouse/parent/sibling/close friend was struggling, would you prefer that they be transparent with you about their situation or would you rather them “sugar coat” what they are experiencing to avoid worrying you with their problems? Would you see it as a “burden” if they turned to you for support? Chances are if your relationship is positive, you WANT to help your family and friends in need. However, there is no way to support others unless you realize that they need it.
One of the goals that I have for 99% of my clients has been to strengthen their ties with their support systems so that they do not have to shoulder their problems alone. This seems to make such a difference in the experience of their problems, even if the problem itself remains. So next time you are asked by someone close to you how you are doing, I challenge you to be genuine in your response, even if the answer isn’t picture perfect.