It’s perfectly normal to feel uncertain about how to express your needs as a mom to the people in your support system. After all, you’re new at this too, so having open and honest conversations about these things can be tricky. You may not even know exactly what you need from your partner and family, let alone how to communicate it in a way that works. Here are some suggestions for discussing your support needs in a healthy and effective way:
Help Them Understand Your Mental Load
A fundamental part of discussing your support needs with your partner and family is helping them understand the mental load of motherhood. If they’re unfamiliar with the concept, introduce it by discussing how for most moms, the general overseeing and completion of family-related tasks is typically their responsibility. Then share some insight on specific ways the mental load affects you. For example, “There are so many things I keep track of for our family that it seems like my mind is constantly racing through a running to-do-list, and it’s hard for me to be present when we’re together.” Reassure them that you’re not trying to place blame or criticize anyone – you’re just sharing your experience so you can explore it together.
Be Intentional with Your Timing
When it comes to important conversations, choosing an appropriate time and place is key for increasing the chances of a positive outcome. It’s likely that you’ll become aware of things you want to discuss in the heat of the moment, but sometimes mentioning it right then and there works against you if it’s not a calm situation. Maybe you have feedback for your frustrated partner who’s in the middle of chaotic diaper change, but your baby is crying loudly and you’re both feeling tense. Maybe you’re upset about something the baby’s grandparents said, but you’re at a busy playground together and it’s hard to concentrate. Be intentional with your timing by letting them know you have something important you’d like to share later, when everyone is more grounded and able to give their attention to it.
I-Statements are an effective communication tool to express how you’ve been affected by someone else’s behavior without blaming, criticizing, or judging them. This type of emotional expression focuses more on your thoughts, feelings, and perceptions than theirs, which can help them feel less defensive and more open to listening. It’s a formatted, fill-in-the-blank statement:
- Format: I feel (your emotion) when you (their behavior) because it seems like (what you perceive their behavior to mean). (Share a specific request here, if applicable.)
- Example: “I feel hurt when you use your phone during dinner, because it seems like having quality time together isn’t important.”
- Request: “I would appreciate it if from now on you left your phone in another room during dinner,” or, “In the future, could you leave your phone in another room during dinner?”
Commit to Regular Check-Ins
You might feel as though your baby’s routines change right when you’re getting the hang of things…which means your needs and expectations will change right along with them. This dynamic nature of new motherhood can make communicating needs to your support system feel more demanding and complicated. Commit to regular check-ins with them (daily/weekly/monthly sit-downs or phone calls – whatever works) where you talk through what you’re struggling with lately, share new expectations, offer feedback, and make specific requests for the future.
Identify Types of Support That Seem Helpful to You
The type of support you need from your partner and family may change based on your overall mood and the situation you’re in – you might need more physical support (like a babysitter) one day, and more emotional support (like someone to talk to) the next day. Take some time to reflect on the types of support you think you’d benefit from in different situations:
- When you’re angry: Would you prefer alone time while someone looks after your baby, or someone to listen while you vent?
- When you’re sad: Would you prefer a hug, or some words of encouragement?
- When you’re overwhelmed: Would you prefer advice, or hands-on-help with something?
Share this insight with your partner and family to help them feel more confident about taking the initiative to step in and help in the future. For example, “When I’m struggling with ___, what I need from you the most is ___.” If something doesn’t end up working well for you, let them know it’s not helping as much as you thought it would and you want to try something else.
Give Specific Guidance on What You Do Need vs. A General Idea of What You Don’t Need
While it’s nice to have your needs anticipated without having to ask, it’s important to recognize that there will be times when you must give specific guidance on what you expect from the people in your support system. Share the things you’d like them to aim for or do more of, rather than only communicating the things you want them to avoid or do less of. For example: “Please have the baby in bed by 7pm” vs. “Please don’t keep the baby up too late.” Sharing specific expectations is beneficial for everyone involved because it can contribute to the other person’s success, help your needs be met, and ward off potential arguments about miscommunication.
Consider Couples or Family Counseling
If you feel like you keep having the same conversations with your partner and family about your support needs but they don’t seem to lead to lasting change, consider suggesting couples or family counseling to help you work through it together. This could sound like:
- “It seems like we’ve been having a hard time communicating about ___ lately. What are your thoughts on working with a therapist to help us figure it out?”
- “I’ve noticed that whenever we come up with a plan for ___, we end up back in our old patterns and the change doesn’t stick. Are you open to seeing a therapist together to work through this?”
Just like every other aspect of new motherhood, learning how to communicate with your support system in a healthy and effective way takes time. Be compassionate with yourself as you go, and remember that no one has it all figured out.
This site is intended for informational purposes only and does not provide medical advice. Please consult your physician or other health-care professional.