The unhelpful myth of blissful bonding

We have a cultural obsession with the bliss of bonding that I think can be very unhelpful.  We set new parents up to expect that their first months with their newborn baby will be euphoric.  But not only that, we prime them to believe that the moments of rapture are the vital, essential moments in which the parent-child bond is forged.  When new parents, instead, feel exhausted, stressed and overwhelmed, they can easily think that they’ve done something wrong and begin to question the power of their fledging love.

Yet, the idea of a purely blissful bond is utter nonsense.  Think for a moment about what a parent bonding with their newborn baby actually means.  It means growing a whole new heart, one that beats just for that child, in time with their moment by moment needs.  It means a sudden and sharp new awareness of just how dangerous the world is and how vulnerable a newborn baby can be. It means being displaced from the centre of your own life and putting your child there instead.   It means learning how to dance, moment by moment, in time with your baby and to let them lead. That doesn’t sound blissful.  That sounds painful, disorientating and overwhelming.  Of course, there are blissful bonding moments.  Enjoy them.  But there are also painful, disorientating and overwhelming bonding moments — moments of choking on your many new worries, of being swept away by the emotions thrumming through your new second heart, of loss at your own displacement from centre stage, of frustrated confusion in learning how to dance in time with a newborn.  Those moments are just as much a part of developing a new bond as the moments of bliss.  The painful, disorientating and overwhelming bonding moments are just as much an indication that you are, in fact, doing it right.

Apply it to your life:

Did you experience painful, disorientating and overwhelming bonding moments?  Were these moments, too, part of developing a new bond?

About Koa Whittingham

Dr Koa Whittingham is a clinical and developmental psychologist, a research fellow at the University of Queensland and the author of a new book for mothers called Becoming Mum.
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3 Responses to The unhelpful myth of blissful bonding

  1. Fiona says:

    Loving your blog Koa; a beautiful mix of personal and professional insight to support parents.

  2. Karen Hansen says:

    Yes!!! Thank you! As a mother of a beautiful 6.5 month old daughter, I wish I’d read this 6 months ago!

    • koa says:

      Hi Karen,

      You are welcome. We really don’t talk enough about the normal, healthy pain of bonding…

      All the best,

      Koa

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