I’ve never had a ton of self-confidence. Once I became a mom, though, my self-esteem got a little boost. Delivering a baby and successfully caring for it upped my self-esteem. Like, wow, I can actually do this. Strangely, motherhood also kicked my confidence down a few pegs, too. Having a baby made me hyper-aware of my own behavior, because I viewed everything I was doing through the lens of this helpless creature in my care. This led to a lot of mom-shaming I brought on myself. No one was more critical of my parenting skills than me, which is saying something, because outside judgment and motherhood seem to go hand-in-hand.
I read a lot about how moms shame other moms, probably in an effort to boost their own self-esteem or find validity in their choices when they're faced with the opposite choices of others. However, us moms don't really talk about the internal shame we are constantly casting on ourselves. How many moms are hearing their inner voices cheerleading them on? Or, instead, is that inner voice constantly telling her she's "doing it wrong" or "messing up" or failing in some way? Personally, my self-talk as a mom has never been supportive, and until I learned that I need to talk to myself like I would a friend, I was constantly reminding myself about the awful job I was doing raising my kids.
I still catch my inner dialogue leaning more towards the negative, but I try to cut it off. If I am not confident in my abilities as my kids’ parent, then they may not feel good about me being their mom, either. When I took a real gut-check, I realized I was mom-shaming myself in the following ways and started to change that inner narrative of perceived failure:
When Your Kids' Cold Leftovers Become Your Meal
Motherhood prevents me from having a decent meal on the regular, if only because little kids are needy. Their food needs to be cut up. They need to be reminded to stay in their chairs. They whine about what’s on their plate. In other words, they need constant supervision.
Eating food while it’s still hot is a luxury now. I tend to be so busy during meals, tending to my kids’ needs, that I ignore my own. I need to eat too, you know, and preferably before the pasta turns to cold mush.
When You’re Not Patient With Yourself When You Forget Things
I write everything down. I have post-its and notes on my phone and reminders taped to the kitchen walls. Yet, I always manage to forget something. I get so angry with myself when that inevitably happens, too, but the truth is, it would be impossible to keep everything straight. After all, I'm managing not only my own life, but my kids' lives, too.
I don’t know why moms like me think we should have super-human powers to address everything going on in our family’s world, but I really have to be more forgiving of myself about the things I forget.
When You Think You’re A Failure Because Your Kid Gets Hurt
If only I refused to let my children run, climb, swim, skip, or play anywhere outside a cardboard box. Then, and only then, would they never get hurt. Totally realistic, right?
There is no way getting around the pain I feel when I see my kid in pain. I’m sensitive, and feel things pretty deeply, so I’m empathetic to what they are going through. But I have to learn that I can feel their pain without blaming myself for it. Accidents happen. Everyone looks away for that one second when a kid manages to topple over or jump off some tall thing or reach or some heavy thing. This can happen under any good mother’s watch. I have to keep reminding myself of that.
When You Squeeze Into Clothes That Are Too Tight
As someone who struggled with binge eating and body image issues, the postpartum period was a rough one. I desperately wanted to get back to my pre-baby weight, but I also didn’t want to do anything that might jeopardize my health, since I was breastfeeding. I liked seeing the numbers go down on the scale as I slowly lost what took me nine months to gain,then I’d punish myself by trying on my pre-baby skinny jeans. It was like I could only measure my worth by the smallest waistband. Once I fit in those clothes, I could be happy.
This was self-sabotage. I had a new baby and she was perfect and no tiny-sized jeans was going to give me the same feeling she did. It took me a long time to wrap my head around that, but I got to a much better place of self-acceptance and love when I stopped trying to squeeze into smaller clothes.
When You Constantly Compare Yourself To Other Moms
I’ve always been a little competitive. So naturally, I am checking out other moms on the playground and seeing how I measure up. What’s their method of coping with a toddler tantrum? Did they pack all organic snacks? How do they keep their kids so clean in all this New York City grime?
Making genuinely supportive, funny mom friends helped me to shed the stigma that I had to live up to some high standard that other parents seemed to have naturally attained. I am lucky that I don’t have any mean girl moms in my community. So that’s helped to curb my constant comparisons, because whenever I would check to see if I measured up, I always determined I was falling short. It really f*cked with my confidence as a mom.
When You Beat Yourself Up For Not Being More Involved At Your Kids' School
When my daughter entered elementary school, I told myself I couldn’t possibly get in the P.T.A. since I had a toddler in another location. Once I had both kids in school, I promised myself, I would jump into the fray.
Cut to now, and my children have been in the same school for the last two years. I have been to exactly one P.T.A. meeting in that time frame, and only because my daughter was being presented with an award. I feel guilty about not being more involved, but I work full-time. My kids’ school is not in our neighborhood, which makes it challenging to attend meetings regularly, since we don’t have a car.
But I have to remind myself that I am involved. What I can’t give in time, I give in the form of a check to support the school’s fundraising efforts. I send the kids in with canned food for their hunger awareness drive, and purchase squished homemade cookies at the school bake sale. Doing something, I have to remember, is always better than nothing. And I hope that, in the future, I can shift some things around to make more room in my schedule to be part of the P.T.A. But for now, we do what we can.
When You Fault Only Yourself For Your Kids' Failing Grade
More than anger, I felt embarrassment when my daughter brought home a failing grade on a math test this year. She’s not a straight-A student, but she had never failed an exam before. It was like I failed her. Did she not know the material? Was she struggling and I just didn't notice? Did I not realize she might have been having trouble because I only see her for about an hour in the evenings, after I come home from work and before she goes to bed? This grade taught me to check in with her daily, to ask if she understood everything she learned about on that particular day. It also gave her the freedom to admit that sometimes she didn’t quite get it.
For the most part, though, I recognized that when my daughter didn’t study she didn’t do well, and it was on her to study so that wouldn't be the case. She is in fourth grade, and can’t rely on her parents to structure everything for her. It’s a painful learning point, but a necessary one. We both have to realize that failure has a lot to teach us. It taught me that I am not solely responsible for how my daughter performs on tests, and it taught my daughter that she can control her destiny by studying and communicating to her parents if she needs help.
When You Hold Yourself To Higher Standards Than Everyone Else…
Type A perfectionist here, and it’s a hard habit to break. Regardless, though, motherhood has been the wake-up call I needed to realize that there is no “winning” in parenting. Making it through the day with everyone fed, dressed (albeit in backwards shirts because my son just doesn’t care), and in one piece is good enough.
…Including Your Co-Parent
My husband and I “divide and conquer” when it comes to how we tend to our kids’ needs. He does the food shopping and the laundry, while I pack their lunches and fold my son’s clothes (my 9-year-old daughter folds and puts away her own clothes now, amen). He figures out what we’re watching for movie night and I handle all the school correspondence: parent-teacher conferences, trip slips, medical forms, and test-signing. A lot of what he does is based in physical labor, while most of what I take care of uses my mental capacity. Recently I discovered that he didn’t have our kids’ school’s number in his phone. He didn’t know the kids’ classes off the top of his head. This would mean, should something unexpectedly happen to me, he’d have no way of finding this crucial information.
This realization honestly upset me. Here I was, with all emergency info about our kids and school at the ready, and he was blissfully ignorant. I enabled that. I realized this was not OK, and it shouldn’t all be on my shoulders to be prepared on this front. To that end, he’s made sure he has contact info in his phone and we both take responsibility adding school events to our shared calendar. I don’t just see it as my burden any longer.
When You Don’t Give Yourself Credit For Anything Remotely Well
I berate myself for packing the same lunch every day for my kids, because I don’t have the mental bandwidth to prep a variety of food combinations. In the end, automatically knowing what they're going to eat, that it'll be healthy, and that it's something they've actually enjoyed before, is enough. Oddly enough, though, I consider myself a sub-par parent for not providing them with a combination of lunch choices. But I shouldn’t. After all, I am giving them a square meal. I am making sure the remember to take it to school every single day. I am doing some things right, and instead of brushing off the good stuff to focus on some perceived failure, I should be patting myself on the back.
I wasn’t raised to be congratulated for doing what’s expected of me, but now that I’m an adult, working full-time and bringing up kids with someone whose career ambitions are just as high as mine and in one of the hardest cities in the world to survive in, I need to admit that I’m doing a remarkable job. I would say that to a friend in my position, so I should be saying that to myself. It’s OK to feel like I’ve done the impossible after folding the last bit of laundry. I’m entitled to that glory and it adds to my cup. Shaming myself for not being “the best” or near “perfect” is undercutting anything I’ve done well. If I want my children to grow up with healthy self-esteem, I need to model that for them.