All over the world women are typically the first teachers of their offspring. As early as infancy, the child relies on the mother to meet his/her needs to eat, bathe, learn and explore the world. If not for the mothers, where would the children be? Well, what if the mother was sick and could not provide her child with nurturing support, guidance and love? Does the child then fail to thrive?
Once upon a time, a few old men from Europe began studying mother-infant relationships and discovered that as a result of the mother’s response to the child’s needs (or caregiver) the child would demonstrate a secure, disorganized, avoidant or anxious attachment to the mother. But since the early days of psychology, science and evolution have proven their positions inaccurate or only partially true.
Still, would you believe there are people who continue to believe that if a child’s first caregiver is cold or distant the child fails to thrive?
Well, take a look at the list of myths I’ve found very common in the general public about mothers who live with mental illness and have children:
1. Mothers cause mental illness in their children if they too are mentally ill. Research shows heredity plays a contributing factor to children developing a mental illness, however, it does not determine the child’s likelihood of developing a mental illness.
2. Mental illness has one specific cause. Not true! There are a variety of contributing factors such as genetics, biology and environment.
3. Mental health disorders show up later in childhood. On the contrary, behavioral and mental health issues can show up as early as infancy. Additionally, some theorists posit that personality and adaptability play a function in the development of a child’s capacity to thrive.
4. Children can only thrive when they have the attention of the mother. Not so! Children do not have to rely on the mother as the sole provider for emotional closeness, wellness or identity. The father’s role is also very important throughout the stages of development and as early as primary caretaking.
5. Women can wean themselves off of their medications while pregnant and still have a healthy baby. This is untrue. When a woman has a history of mental illness and is pregnant, treatment can and often does include psychiatric medications. Though women have a right to choose to continue or stop taking their prescriptions during pregnancy, research shows that about 85 percent of women have an upset mood after giving birth, regardless of a diagnosed mental illness. Having a mental illness can make a woman more vulnerable to worsening symptoms. It’s advisable that pregnant women speak with their medical practitioners before deciding to stop or add medications.
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Understanding that the more you know about your mental health and that of your partner’s, coupled with a healthy lifestyle, good eating habits, exercise and regular health check-ups the more prepared you can be to have an overall positive experience with child rearing. Women have enough burden to carry in their own lives, why complicate it with myths about motherhood and mental health?