3 Ways Motherhood Would Be Healthier If We Imagined It Like Adolescence

When do children become adults? When they turn 18? 21? When their bodies begin to change? Most people I talk with view adulthood as more of a process than a single moment in time- and we generally agree that the changes that occur happen during adolescence, a time of major changes in our lives. 

Did you know that there is a word for the physical, neurological, emotional, social and spiritual changes that a woman goes through when she becomes a parent? 


“Perhaps reviving the conceptual term matrescence, coined by and borrowed from anthropologist Dana Raphael (1975), would be most apt within the landscape of maternity. Much like adolescence, it is an experience of dis-orientation and re-orientation marked by an acceleration of changes in multiple domains: physical, psychological, social, and spiritual. We are indeed indebted to the early ‘maternal developmentalists’ who aptly characterized motherhood in its multi-dimension and dynamism, both the oppressive and the liberating—the dichotomous phenomena that are often the hallmark of any major life transition. Their perspectives equalized and served to normalize, rather than pathologize, the ‘mixed-feelings’ of women.” – AURÉLIE ATHAN

I absolutely love this word, because it puts a label on the process that every mother experiences, in a way that changes our entire way of thinking about motherhood.

Here are three ways motherhood would be healthier if we imagined it more like adolescence.

  1. We wouldn’t be as surprised when it was challenging and hard.  Most everyone remembers that adolescence was HARD. Things are changing, minute by minute, you have no idea what is going on, or what will happen next. You are on a roller coaster of hormones, emotions, and every experience feels like a brand new, scary “first”. Sound familiar moms? And because of this recognition of difficulty, we talk to teenagers about what they are going through. We explain to them that this is a difficult time. We offer support. We cut them extra slack when they don’t know exactly how to react. We buy books. We take them to counselors. We try to help them find supportive, healthy social circles. We try to help them balance fun and responsibility. Any and all of these reactions would be wonderful for mothers. Support, authenticity, very little advice, more support.

2. We would be more open to experimentation. Teenagers don’t immediately know “who they are” as people. They try things out, one day they’re into playing the guitar, the next they want to try drama club or cross country. They’re not flakey- they’re trying on different personas, seeing what feels right, what feels alien, they’re looking for “their people”.  Mothers need to do this too.  To try things out- be willing to say- nope, that may work for alot of people, but not for me. Find their tribe- and not feel flakey or judged while they sort things out.

3. We would expect it to take time.  No one, not even adolescents themselves expect that one day they will wake up and suddenly be “adult.” Imagine the pressure of that! But we do that for moms sometimes don’t we?  Deliver a baby, sign the adoption papers, marry into a step family, and suddenly we’re confused at why we don’t know exactly what to do.  Adolescence takes 8-10 years, I find moms are often impatient with themselves two days home from the hospital. Why am I not getting this? They rage at themselves.  Because you are normal! I want to say. This is hard, and its going to take time. 

Matresence is indeed a time of major changes, confusion and re-organization, skill building, hormone and brain changes, and identity formation/re-formation. I hope that all the mothers out there will use this word to help them embrace the journey into motherhood and feel more free to make it their own. Celebrating all the amazing Mamas out there! Jenny Schermerhorn. Licensed Professional Counselor. Specializing in the Journey and Transition to Motherhood.

This article is not meant to take the place of a relationship with a trained mental health therapist, or a medical professional. It is not meant to provide diagnosis of a mental health disorder. If you are experiencing a physical or mental health emergency, please dial 9-1-1

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