A problem shared: My wife thinks she’s a bad mum

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My wife and I delayed having a family in favour of pursuing our careers and getting our home the way we wanted it.

Last year, when we were ten years into marriage, we decided the time was right for us to have children.

Conceiving didn’t take long and in July, my wife gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.

We were both delighted, but our daughter is only a few months old and already my wife has admitted that she’s regretting having given up her job.

She’s found it very hard to adjust to being a stay-at-home mother and the prospect of not going back to work, even though this is what we discussed and what she said she definitely wanted while he was pregnant.

I’m getting worried, though, because she seems to constantly be miserable and keeps saying over and over that she’s a lousy mother and is never going to get any better. She’s convinced she’s not doing it right and that our daughter cries because she isn’t getting what she needs from her mother.

She is worried she will never be a good mum. I often find her in tears when I get in from work and, although I do my share of nappies and feeds when I’m there, she says she struggles when she’s alone and that it’s all getting to much for her.

I’ve tried to boost her confidence but nothing seems to be working - what should I do?

I’ve heard about post natal depression and know it’s pretty common and that there is a lot of help available for women who suffer from it, but when I tried to broach the subject with my wife she got really angry and upset about it and said I was labelling her and that there’s no way she’s depressed.

She says it’s all about feeling she’s lost her status in life. She did love her career and had done really well, getting promotion after promotion and being well respected by her staff.

I didn’t suggest she ended her career to become a mother - she did. She said it was what she wanted, but now it’s clearly not.

Do you think she IS depressed?

Jo advises:

You entered into parenthood in a very organised fashion. You waited a decade, until everything was just right. But then, on baby’s arrival, you’ve found all that planning cannot cushion you.

That lightning bolt of love you feel for your baby is inevitably accompanied by an almighty thunderclap of reality. Her very survival is down to you and life as you knew it is over.

The books and the websites and the advice from family and friends do help, but there are so many times when you’re floundering. Add the woman gets the rawest deal - not to mention the nether regions! She’s exhausted, her hormones have just ridden the big dipper and she’s gone from a job where she felt confident and knowledgeable to a new one in which she feels utterly inexperienced. Plus it’s a full-time role; weekdays you head for a familiar workplace.

I think you know this and are a caring man who wants to make his wife happy. I suspect you’re right about the depression. She probably realises it, deep-down, and gets angry because she’s being pushed to analyse what is happening to her.

Get some information on post-natal depression, read through it so you have a more informed view, then leave it around for her to find. It may help her to realise that many women have felt exactly how she does now and got through it. If that doesn’t help, talk to her mum, or her midwife.

Also consider discussing whether she should go back to work. Some women can’t settle into full-time motherhood. Maybe she would be happier and better mother if she was a working one.

Nik advises:

Despite what your wife says, I believe she IS feeling depressed, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to start bandying around terms like ‘post natal depression.’ Most of us suffer with periods of emotional upheaval at some point in our lives and, more often than not, these feelings resolve themselves, given time and the understanding of those closest to us.

Clearly your wife feels she is losing sight of who she was and is getting lost in her new ‘mother’ role. It must be difficult, coming from an arena where she excelled and was respected - especially if she feels she’s failing at it. Reassure her that, no matter how she feels, she isn’t the first mother to feel that way. Does she have close female friends, who are also mothers, who can offer support and advice?

I’d recommend taking her away for a day or two. Leave your daughter with her grandparents and find a nice quiet relaxing hotel out in the country. Go walking, enjoy each other’s company, give your wife chance to relax and start to feel like her old self again. Maybe then she will be more open to talking about how she feels. She needs to know that you’re not judging her or, worse, dismissing her concerns. Talk about ‘we’ rather than ‘you.’ What can ‘we’ do to make this situation better for ‘our’ family? Remind her she’s not alone.

If you still feel your wife’s emotional problems are more serious, talk to somebody about it. You can’t force your wife to talk to a professional if she is unwilling, but would she talk to somebody with you? If she’s not ready, see someone alone and arm yourself with information and support in how best to help her cope.

Sara Gowen, manager of Home-Start Sheffield advises:

What your wife is feeling is common, but it isn’t often talked about. Everyone expects new parents to feel elated, but it’s hard work and can be emotionally and physically draining. While you both made the decision to have a child, the reality is you now feeling very differently to your wife. It is not possible to tell you if she is depressed or not, the important thing for her to know is that she is not alone, and to encourage her to seek help.

Home-Start (www.hssheffield.org.uk) runs a special project supporting mothers experiencing low mood after their baby is born – we have one-to-one home visiting by a volunteer, plus groups where mothers experiencing what your wife is feeling meet weekly to share experiences and support each other. Try Light too, a small charity run by volunteers (www.sheffieldlight.co.uk).