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What Is Being A Good Enough Mum?

This role-play demonstrates how we can support a client to reflect on and discuss a time when they didn't feel they were a 'good enough mum'
When you become a mother, you might have lots of ideas about what kind of mum you would like to be, and sometimes how things work out can match what our expectations were, and sometimes they don’t. So have you noticed times where your idea about what kind of mum you want to be wasn’t matching with how things were going and maybe left you feeling worried or low about being a mum? Can you recall a recent instance when this happened? Yeah. This is really hard sometimes, but last week, I let my baby play on the mat. And how did you feel? Numb, really, drained. I looked at him, and I just felt overwhelmed and trapped.
I just couldn’t bring myself to play with him. So feeling that way and watching Salim, what did you do? I just kind of checked out. I just sat there on the sofa, just kind of watching him, staring out the window, glancing at the TV. I just couldn’t focus on anything, and I just left Salim to lie on the play mat the whole time. So letting him stay on the mat to play by himself, what happened, and how did that make you feel? Well, at first he was distracted by the TV, so to be honest, I was relieved that I didn’t have to play with him.
But then he kept looking over at me, and I just felt guilty because I knew he wanted my attention. He wanted me to talk to him and play with him, but I just didn’t feel up to it. And to be honest, I don’t feel like I even know how to play with him. And then I worry because what kind of mum doesn’t know how to play with her baby? What kind of mum just lets her son lie there? And if I’m not playing with him when he needs me, then how is that affecting him? I just feel awful, like I’m just being a really rubbish mum. These are hard situations, and it can feel easy to judge yourself in them.
Firstly, though, it sounds like Salim was safe, and he knew you were there even if you weren’t interacting a lot with him at the moment. Is that right? Yeah. I wouldn’t leave him in the room by himself for a long time. I mean, I might nip to the loo or something, but I would always be right back. Exactly. So he was safe. But it sounds like you were feeling bad, because you worried that if you weren’t paying attention to him that he might be upset, or that maybe you hold ideas that mothers should be attentive to their babies as much as possible.
Yeah, I mean, all those images of these happy mums always talking about their babies, it just makes you think that that’s what you should be doing and that you should always like it. And sometimes, I’m just really tired, and I just want a moment for myself. Of course you do. And it can be really hard then if you don’t feel like interacting with your baby. And of course, feeling low can get in the way of feeling enjoyment or pleasure. And then can affect the way you’re feeling about being a mum.
And also, it isn’t always fun, interacting with young babies. And this may leave you feeling like you’re not doing things right, and it’s all hard work. Yeah. Yeah, that’s it. That is often how I feel. Yes, and it’s easy to get stuck in feeling bad and then not wanting to interact with baby, and then feeling low, because you’re feeling like you’re not being the kind of mum you want to be. And it all becomes a cycle. I know. So before we’ve talked about how these cycles or patterns can develop, and we’ve talked about different ways of breaking these cycles. Yes. And maybe that’s something we can use here as well. OK.
So it sounds like on the one hand, you get tired, and you need a bit of a break. Is that right? Well, yes. But I also don’t want poor Salim to be left on the mat looking at me with his yearning little eyes and me not giving anything back. It just makes me feel awful. Yeah, that must be very hard for you. So you want to give Salim what he needs, but you also need a few moments here and there for a break. Yeah, that’s it. You know, I think part of the problem is knowing the right time to do what. OK, tell me more about that. Well, it just might have been a wrong moment to take a break.
How is that? Well, sometimes he doesn’t really need me. I mean, feeding him and takes a long time, and I know they always say to watch your baby the whole time when he’s feeding. But you know, you can’t watch a baby for 30, 40 minutes all the time. And there’s times when feeding that I can gaze off and sort of drift away in my mind, or sometimes I’m on the phone with my free hand. And in those times, how do you feel about taking that space for yourself?
I hope it’s OK to say, but I feel fine. I mean, when he has the latch on, we’re looking at each other, and we’re usually watching each other a bit when he starts feeding. And every once in a while, I’ll glance down at him. So it feels fine to also take moments in between for me. So that feels like an OK time to balance you space with Salim’s space. Yeah. But it doesn’t feel OK with moments like when he’s on the mat. No, not then. So what’s different than? Well, he’s kind of in the mood to interact then. He kind of expects it. Right. So those quiet alert moments. Quiet alert?
Yes, so those moments, they’re usually about 50 minutes long, give or take a bit, every three or four hours in a baby’s daily cycle when they’re fed, changed, relaxed, not yet getting sleepy. So those are the moments that they like to interact. But it sounds like you’ve already naturally noticed that. Yeah, I have actually. So the quiet alert moment seem to be the moments that he wants to interact. When you don’t interact with him during those times, that’s when you’re more likely to feel bad. Yeah. But at other moments, it seems OK to do a more give and take between you and him space. Yeah, it does. Looking at it that way, it doesn’t seem so pressured.
So during the quiet alert moments, what would work better for both you and Salim? Well, I guess firstly if I don’t feel so pressured to always be giving all of myself to him, then that helps. And I feel like I can do more during the little quiet moments. I feel like I can give myself to him then. OK. And what would you do different during those moments? Well, I guess I’d interact with him. It’s hard sometimes. Tell me about that. I don’t know what to do. Well, I kind of don’t anyway. I jiggle things at him. I do nursery rhymes. I try to smile. Sometimes I sing to him, but it just feels like such an effort.
And actually, I find it quite boring. Well, sometimes it is boring, particularly when they’re little and don’t give a lot back. Although that changes. Thank goodness for that. So for now, of all the things you mentioned doing with him, are there some things that seem to work better for you or better for him? Well, I’m not sure about the jiggling of toys and stuff actually. I don’t know if he likes it. And sometimes he seems overwhelmed when I do that. What is it that makes you think he gets overwhelmed? He fusses, or sometimes he looks away. Sounds like you might be right. So maybe he likes less energetic interactions. I think that’s probably the case.
He seems to like it if I just look at him and kind of talk to him a little bit, just kind of notice what he’s doing. I guess I don’t have to put on like I’m all enthusiastic. OK, so just calm talking works then. Yeah. And that’s easier for me to do. So are there things that you prefer doing that he also seems to like? You know, he seems to like it when I sing. I don’t even have to sing directly at him. I can just sing and look at him once in a while, and he seems really fascinated by it. And I don’t mind singing. Well, I sing a few songs at least.
So it seems you have a couple of things then, so maybe singing, maybe commonly talking to him about what you notice. Yeah. And those are things I could do. I guess I don’t have to do them all of the time. No. And it seems that doing those things during those quiet alert moments are better times for both of you. Yeah. And I can balance that out against not having to do it as much as some other moments when he doesn’t need as much, like when he’s feeding or seems to be getting sleepy. Yes and yes. Babies definitely don’t need lots of interaction when they’re getting sleepy. It’s more the opposite. So they need less interaction at that point.
And it sounds like you actually know your baby quite well. I do, don’t I? I never thought I’d get to this point. We never do. Babies are always an adventure in getting to know. So for the next week, does this sound like something you can try out and see how it goes? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, that feels much better and a doable kind of plan. So let’s just take a look at the worksheets and go through our plan for the next week.
Using a clear and specific concrete scenario makes this tool more effective. If your client is struggling to think of something specific, think about looking back to the mood diary to see what times of day or which activities had a big impact on mood frequently and what was going on when this mood shift occurred.

Here is a role play of a therapist and her client (Tamala). Tamala is asked to recall a recent example where she didn’t feel that she was a “good enough mum” that they then reflect on and discuss together.

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Addressing Postnatal Depression as a Healthcare Professional

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