Why do we put new mums on a probationary period?

New mum

It struck me the other day that, as my three and a half year old will be starting school later this year, I will probably be past the “mum probationary period”.

If you’re scratching your head, wondering what I’m on about, cast your mind back to those early newborn days and try to remember some of the things you were asked by well-meaning visitors.

“How is motherhood treating you?” might have been one question. “Are you settling into motherhood well?” might have been another. And then there are all the comments you probably had to field about sleep and feeding – both the baby’s and your own. 

I caught myself asking this exact same question the other day. The thing is, I wasn’t even asking it of someone I knew. “How is she settling into motherhood?” was my question. The answer was an immediate, “Oh she loves it, she’s a natural.” It wasn’t until later that I realised I’d fallen into the trap of becoming a “tester”; one of the types of people I actively avoided as a new mum.

I remember now, so clearly, the spotlight I often felt under when Frog was a newborn. To a certain extent, I suppose it’s only natural – people are seeing you in a different way for the first time. And then, they want to make conversation with you about this new phase of your life. But so often – oh SO often – I felt like a new employee, on some kind of probationary period, desperate not to muck it up on the first week of the job.

Eager to prove myself and live up to the role, I would sometimes find myself lying. “Oh things are GREAT!” I’d say, even if I’d been up ALL night and had boobs that were rock hard and sore. Of course I loved my baby, and I was lucky enough not to experience postnatal depression, but there were still some days where I didn’t feel like the jolly new motherhood recruit that I was portraying myself to be.

I’ve read lots since becoming a mother about competition between mums. There is absolutely no doubt that this goes on – from who has the “best” sleeper to who has the “fastest” crawler – but there’s an element of the whole motherhood thing that we sometimes overlook. An outside element, from well-meaning relatives, friends, friends-of-friends. All wanting to “check up” on you, make sure you’re doing OK and – occasionally – be a bit nosey.

So if you have a friend who has just become a mother, do her a favour and don’t put her under a spotlight. Chances are, she might feel she has to prove herself anyway, but don’t make it any worse.

Just make her a cup of tea, sit quietly and tell her how beautiful her baby is. That way, you may get an honest answer when she’s eventually ready to tell you how she’s really doing.


[Photo credit: CP Photography]


  1. says

    Great advice, and something I hadn’t really thought of until now. I hate competitive mums, and I sometimes find myself sounding like one by accident. I’ll say something like “Oh she can write her name!” and then I’ll hear myself and cringe, and – rather terribly – I have the urge then to balance this off by saying something negative about her!! Like “Oh, but she doesn’t know her left from her right yet, not like your little one.”
    Isn’t that awful?!

  2. Kate W says

    I count myself lucky that the 1st time I became a Mum, I was on the other side of the world to well meaning family and friends……I was able to flounder my way through the early weeks and months without feeling the need to prove myself or my Mummy abilities!
    I always try and help out by doing things I think I’d have found helpful, like cooking/cleaning/washing, and hope desperately that my friends would feel they could admit to me if they weren’t coping, without fear of judgement!

  3. says

    I also do what Alison does and end up putting my kids down! I’m not sure I ever really felt on probation, but this post has made me wonder. I do vividly remember being totally overwhelmed with all sorts of conflicting and well meaning advice and comments when my first was about six weeks old and felt instinctively that I wanted to keep myself away from the world for a few days and just be with him. After I had done that I felt much more able to go with what I thought was right. It was quite a watershed moment.
    The other thing that makes me wonder if we/they do this to new Mums is that it was so different the second time around. People just shut up and let you get on with it. Bliss

  4. says

    Wonderful post. This definitely goes on, even by those who are well meaning. New mums need so much support, they don’t need to be asked how they’re measuring up against some imaginary yardstick of good mother-ness. Lovely advice. x

  5. says

    I remember, as someone with mental health issues, feeling like all the people my life were wondering how on earth I was going to cope with Motherhood. So I totally get this, lets love, help and offer no judgement instead.

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