“Mom-Esteem”: How Do You Rate Yours?

**It’s mom week at Practical Parenting!  Today I’m tackling the way we feel about ourselves as moms, and Friday I will provide tips for improving our “mom-esteem”.

Self-esteem.  Some people spend a lifetime working on it.  The Random House College Dictionary, Revised Edition, defines self-esteem as:  (n.) respect for, or a favorable impression of, oneself.  I have counseled many children, and their parents, through periods of low self-esteem.  Recognizing your own unique greatness can be a difficult task.

People struggle with self-esteem for a variety of reasons.  Some internalize their feelings and feel compelled to compare themselves to others on a regular basis.  Others feel like they just can’t seem to catch a break and that life is out to get them.  Many have been the targets of bullies, either within their families or in the outside world.  Loss, traumatic experiences, medical conditions, and various disabilities can all cause people to question their self-worth.  There’s generally a trigger (or a series of triggers) that requires some working through in order to raise self-esteem.

Having spent the past four years at home with my kids (with a little work on the side), I’ve seen (and felt) how moms are on a constant ride on the emotional roller coaster.  It’s hard work being a mom.  In fact, I’ve come up my own term for how moms feel about themselves:  “Mom-esteem”. I would define mom-esteem as (n.) respect for, or feeling good about, the choices one makes as a mom.

When you’re raising kids, some days are great, some are ok, and some are downright difficult.  You never know what you’re going to get.  And at the end of the day, moms have to find a way to decompress and cope with whatever was sent their way that day.  On a good day, it’s easy.  On a difficult day, your mom-esteem can really plummet.

Trying to rely on the theory that you can’t control everything and it’s not always your fault is easier said than done.  While this is certainly true, moms are conditioned to feel like they need to be able to handle everything.  Moms are the ones who keep everyone healthy, well fed, and, above all else, happy.  Moms are running things from the control tower.  When something isn’t right, or a day is really difficult, it’s the mom who is left to internalize the resulting emotions.

Then there are the external factors.  The moms who insist on sharing their greatness at the park.  The moms who allegedly never let their kids have any sugar and cook everything from scratch every night using only organic ingredients (my two year old currently lives on bagels, yogurt, and fruit.  Does that make me a failure?).  The moms with impeccably dressed children with clean faces and perfectly coiffed hair.  The moms who found the perfect preschool with the perfect teachers and the perfect play yard.

Not long ago I was at the grocery store with both kids.  They were on foot, “helping” me pick out the groceries.  I’m sure it’s a familiar scenario:  Two items in, one back out.  It takes three times as long to shop this way, but the kids have a little more fun.  If I have to do it, I might as well make it fun.  The check out line is always the hard part.  They compete to see who can put the most items on the belt.  It gets a little hard to control.  And that’s when an elderly shopper shot me a dirty look and commented, “it would be easier if those kids were in a cart, you know”.  My defenses went up.  I bit my tongue (respect your elders) and feigned a smile to avoid a sarcastic reply.  But she got me.  When my defenses are up, my mom-esteem is down.  I tell myself to ignore the people passing judgment, but that can be hard to do.

Another time I picked up Riley at school to have a teacher make a comment about her hearing (while I was signing her out and Liam was running toward the parking lot unattended).  Hearing loss?  Impossible.  It never occurred to me.  I speed dialed Sean and then my sister, and then spent the rest of the day sneaking up on her to check her hearing.  She later passed the hearing screening with flying colors.  Low mom-esteem.  One questionable comment and I immediately assume that I’ve failed my child in some way.

And then there are the endless comparisons.  The race for developmental milestones.  Did you potty train him yet?  Does she get herself dressed in the morning?  Do they sleep through night?  Can she write her name?  Does he know his letters?  These are the conversations I quietly walk away from.  Sometimes even a compliment seems like an accusation, “wow.  He really talks in complete sentences at a young age”.  The subtext is there.  This conversation won’t end until the other mom is back on top.  It can really cause the mom-esteem to take a hit.

Forget about a public temper tantrum.  It can take a week to come back from one of those.  A few disapproving stares and the mom-esteem is almost non-existent.  I’ve learned to grin and move on, but I’ve had some experiences where I ended up emotionally exhausted after coping with the tantrum, the exhausted child, and the input from the passersby.  It’s hard to tune it out every time.

Do I need to mention the constant feedback and unsolicited advice from older (who might think they are wiser) family members?  They always seem to remember having done it just right.  Did they really?  Was their mom-esteem always a perfect ten?  It’s doubtful.

Great days are amazing.  You end the day feeling very connected to your children. You had fun.  They had fun.  Everyone ate something green and lots of fruit.  The stars were aligned.  Your mom-esteem is at an all-time high.

But the bad days are horrible.  The kids are tired, cranky, sick, and picking on each other every time you attempt to make a meal or clean a dish left in the sink.  The house is a mess.  The laundry still isn’t done.  You end the day in a state of complete emotional exhaustion.  You question whether or not you raised your voice just a little, and what impact that had on your child.  You wonder if that trip to the germy indoor play space caused the colds.  You might even start to envy someone who seems to have an “easier” time with this motherhood thing.  Your mom-esteem ceases to exist.  So you break out the chocolate and ice cream, because what else can you do?

The truth is that we all have hard days.  I’ve been told that I make it look easy.  More than once.  It’s not always easy.  Some people spend years working on their self-esteem, but from the minute your first child is born, you will likely spend the rest of your life working on your mom-esteem.

And you know those moms with the perfect kids who only eat organic everything?  Let me let you in on a little secret:  They struggle with their mom-esteem too.  Why else would they feel compelled to share their stats with unsuspecting strangers at the park instead of just enjoying their kids?  They strive to feel good too.

What causes shifts in your mom-esteem?  How do you cope with difficult days?

**Please remember to check back Friday for “Tips on Raising your Mom-Esteem”, and look for my weekly article at Mommy Moment on Thursday, where I will be talking about mom stress.

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About Katie

Katie Hurley is a Child, Adolescent, and Family Psychotherapist and Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She works in private practice in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, writes for PBS Parents, Washington Post Parents, and the Huffington Post. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World" (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015) and the forthcoming "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" (Penguin Random House, 2018)