Matrescence and the Developmental Process of Motherhood

By Kendra Penski on April 6, 2023 in Blog

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Matrescence? What is that? Matrescence is a term that refers to the developmental stage of motherhood, including the physiological, emotional, social, spiritual, and physical changes that happen once an individual becomes a mom. Like the developmental stage of adolescence, it can be a complex and challenging period of time that is unique for each person experiencing it. Having a name for this experience,even if it is a confusing name or hard to pronounce, it can help us normalize and validate the changes to our identity and reality that fundamentally accompany the process of becoming and being a mom. 

The term matrescence originated in anthropology research in the 1970s to bring attention to the process of transformation that individuals experience when becoming a mother. It is typical and expected for those first navigating matrescence to have a range of physical and emotional changes that affect their mental health. For some, these changes can result in the development of mood and anxiety disorders like anxiety, depression, OCD, bipolar disorder, and psychosis that need the support of clinical treatment in order to improve.

Regardless of the presence of a diagnosable mental health condition, navigating matrescence can be a complex, scary, and confusing time. Again, this is not unlike adolescence in that regard. Remember those years? Big yikes for me there. A significant difference between matrescence and adolescence, however, is that adolescence ends, whereas matrescence is an ongoing process that often lasts throughout the lifespan after one becomes a mother. 

Wherever you are in the process of navigating your way through your own journey of matrescence, therapy can help you in some of the following ways:

  1. Providing a safe and nonjudgmental space to express and process the range of complicated emotions you may have about your own journey of matrescene
  2. Exploring your identity as a mother and the changes that take place over the course of your identity development, whether you’re a new mom, sending your child to school for the first time, saying goodbye when they move out on their own, or even welcoming their own children into the world
  3. Identifying and accessing supports within your community that fit with your unique values, cultural needs, and experiences
  4. Developing and utilizing healthy coping strategies to manage the day to day realities of what it means to be a mother in today’s world

Motherhood can be beautiful, complicated, terrifying, messy, isolating, empowering, and a thousand other things simultaneously. Your experience of matrescence is no doubt influenced by your own unique self, history, culture, and beliefs, but you don’t need to navigate this journey on your own. Finding meaning and connection through relationships with others, whether in therapy, family, new friendships, or other members of your community, can make all the difference as you come to understand your changing self throughout the journey of matrescence.

References: McCahon, N. (2022). Discover Matrescence. Dear Mama Project PTY LTD.

Written By:

Alyssa Theis