“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” –Eleanor Roosevelt
In my previous post, I addressed the idea that the overwhelming amount of external pressure in the world of Mommyhood can sometimes cause moms to suffer from low “Mom-Esteem” . Being a parent is hard work and, even on a very good day, there is usually some amount of unpredicted stress that gets internalized throughout the day.
There seems to be a new level of mom competition out in the world today. Moms are obsessively making comparisons, sharing their parenting stats, and commenting on the parenting styles of others. It can be hard to know who your friends are with so much competition clouding the conversation.
And then there are the experts: The grandparents, the friends and relatives with no kids, the people who seem to have the answers to all of the questions you never asked.
Add in the day-to-day stress of sickness, school issues, time management, trying to please others, trying to care for yourself, and, most of all, caring for your children, and you end up with multiple chances per day to see your mom-esteem plummet. I know because I’ve been there. Below are some tips to help you keep your mom-esteem high, even on the most tiring days:
1. Embrace your choices: You can’t please everyone. This is not a new concept, but it is one that can be hard to remember. Up until recently, I was a people pleaser. I struggled to make decisions in my own best interest because it might upset someone I loved. This past Fall I made a decision that some people close to me could not understand. I made it because I had to put my kids first. I had to do what was right for them. Some people turned on me. Some might never talk to me again. That was when it really hit me: You can’t please everyone. As a mom, everything takes a backseat to your kids. All important decisions come with the question, “what about the kids?” It took this hard decision for me to realize that pleasing other people for a few hours isn’t reason enough to put my kids through something very stressful. You can’t please everyone. Feel good about your choices. You made them for the right reasons.
2. Avoid comparisons: Sometimes we do it to ourselves; sometimes other people do it to us. Either way, comparisons rarely end on a positive. No two kids are the same. No two moms are the same. All families are different. Comparing milestones, preschools, language development, and eating habits is useless. Try to flip it. Sharing strategies that helped you might really help another mom with a similar situation. But if the comparisons just won’t stop despite an effort to focus on the positive, walk away. You know that you’re doing your best on any given day. That’s all you can do.
3. Accept compliments: It seems so simple, yet it can be so hard to do. There’s something about motherhood that conditions us to credit everything good in our lives with a little luck. You’re working hard every single day. If someone notices that your kid shares well, has good manners, is respectful, that you handled a situation well, or even that your hair looks great…just say thank you. You don’t need an excuse for your greatness. You earned it (do I need to remind you about the endless night feedings, diapers, and bouts of the stomach flu you’ve endured?). You’ve done the work; accept the praise that comes your way.
4. Choose wisely: Did you know that excessive complaining and negativity among women is actually contagious? It’s true. Studies have been done. Everyone needs to vent and blow off steam, but if you find yourself in a friendship fueled by complaining and negativity, it might be best to take a break. Try to surround yourself with positive friends who are willing to listen and show support, but who also know how to make you smile. I have one girlfriend who quite literally lights up every room she enters. Due to work schedules and kids we don’t get much alone time together, but when we do we spend the first 15 minutes discussing how happy we make each other. At 36, I’ve finally learned that it’s ok to walk away from negativity. I don’t have to be there for everyone, especially if other people are not willing to be there for me. Choose wisely.
5. Keep a small moments journal: Parenting is all about the small moments. Days can be wonderful and days can be overwhelming, but there are always small moments of pure joy at some point during the day. Capture them with your camera when you can, but use your words to remember the details. I’m not talking about a lengthy essay, just a couple of sentences. Like when your two year old finally figures out how to put the Mega Blocks together. Or when your three year old draws a picture of the whole family. Maybe it’s just a few funny comments you heard, or the first time your baby says, “I love you, Mommy”. Look for the small moments of wonder each day and write them down. Twenty years from now you won’t remember the sleep deprivation or the unfriendly comment that left you feeling defeated, but you will want to remember those little moments of happiness.
6. Challenge yourself: Whether or not you work in addition to being a mommy, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. When Sean was on tour I felt like I was just cycling through the same day over and over again. This blog is as much a challenge for me as it is a creative outlet. Every time I hit “post” I panic. Will I get any comments? Will they be positive or negative? Does anyone even care? But I truly enjoy the time spent doing the research, writing the articles, and communicating with other moms. It can be a challenge to keep up with it, but it’s incredibly rewarding. After years in the fashion industry, and then time spent at home, my best friend recently took a new job that is completely different than her previous life. She’s doing really well and always sounds really positive when I ask her about it. Whether it’s training for a 10K or taking an online class that interests you, try to challenge yourself. I think you will find that you feel really good about yourself when you are able to step away from the routine, even for just a few hours a week.
7. Avoid personalizing: I have to admit that I struggle with this a lot. Someone makes a comment intending to upset me, and I let it. Sometimes even just a look can leave me feeling unsettled. Here’s the thing: You never truly know what someone else is going through. On the days when I remember to just laugh things off or turn the other way, I always feel much better about myself. At the end of the day, I know that I’m doing a great job as a mom. If someone doesn’t agree with my parenting style it doesn’t mean that I’m wrong; it just means that we’re different. Try not to personalize the comments, stares, and feedback. Make that Eleanor Roosevelt quote your new mantra and release yourself of a huge burden. You don’t have to take on other people’s negativity just because they’re dishing it out.
8. Find your outlet: I read. A lot. I sometimes drive Sean crazy (when he’s home at a decent hour) because I read by way of Kindle on my iPhone. I hide under the duvet and cruise through chapter after chapter while I should be catching up on sleep. I can’t help it. It’s my outlet. Years ago I was in a book group and loved it. Sometimes we talked about the books, but often we spent the time catching up and talking about whatever was happening in the world at the time. If I had the childcare, I would be back in a book group for sure. I have a friend who has a monthly girls dinner out with a group of old friends. She really looks forward to those dinners. Another friend joined a running group and can’t get enough of it. Find what works for you. As much as we LOVE our kids, we also need a break once in a while. Take one. You deserve it.
9. Prioritize your marriage/relationship: Parenting can easily take up your whole life. It’s wonderful and amazing and everything you ever wanted, but it’s a full time job. It’s easy to put your marriage/relationship on the back burner. Plan date nights. Even staying home can be a date night. Turn off all electronics, light a candle, eat at the TABLE (gasp!), and spend quality time talking and connecting. It’s amazing how much a wonderful night with your significant other can truly help you forget about your stress and feel better about yourself.
10. Exercise: Believe me I know, it’s hard to find the time and the motivation. But, wow, it feels good when you’re on a roll. Whether you invest in the treadmill at home or find the YMCA (or gym) with the daycare, allow yourself some time a few days a week to get moving. It’s good for your body, it will help you sleep, and it will rest your worried mind. You do so much for everyone else; try to focus on you.
High mom-esteem won’t come overnight. It’s a gradual process of changing your thinking, your responses, and your ability to put yourself first some of the time. Hopefully some of my strategies will work for you. If not, maybe this will inspire you to figure what will work for you. Everyday I work a little bit harder to try to turn away from negative input and focus on the small moments of success instead. I hope you will give yourself permission to do the same.
You tell me: What coping strategies work for you?