Many mothers think they are supposed to be super human, and juggle raising children, the housework, their career, partners, parents and everything else in between, all while in their fancy costumes and flashing white smiles. Yet underneath that cartoon façade can be the guilt…. the guilt of not being seen as productive at work, the guilt of missing a school play, the guilt of thinking about work when you are in the playground, the guilt of not having the energy to go out to dinner with your partner…the guilt, oh the guilt!
The guilt - That is the mother’s kryptonite.
As a mother of three I can relate, sometimes it can feel like you’re stretched to maximum capacity and yet you still fall short of the mother you thought you were going to be. It is like you are starring in your own Superhero movie and leaping buildings in a single bound but not quite getting to vanquish the villain and have peace reign across your metropolis.
Funnily enough, most of the time, it’s not the demands from others that adds the extra stress but the pressure we place on ourselves of unrealistic (superhero) expectations.
That is because we are our own kryptonite! We are our own worst critics (49% of mothers surveyed said so according to an EY survey)
I’ve coached some working mothers who put incredible pressure on themselves to be perfect to the point they burn out. However there is no “perfect way to parent” (in my view); every child, every parent, every stage and situation is different.
As the Care Factor coach (www.thecarefactor.com.au), I want to ease the guilt for mothers and help steel themselves against this “kryptonite” to boost their confidence and ‘have it all’ with a clear conscience and a balanced mind.
5 Ways to Protect Yourself
So here’s 5 ways mothers can quit wrestling with the constant guilt and bring out the best versions of themselves at home and at work:
1 Look after yourself first. This is NOT selfish, it is VITAL. It is self CARE.
If you don’t look after yourself then you can’t look after others.
It’s kind of like they remind you to fit your oxygen mask first before your child’s mask on an aeroplane. Your survival depends on it.
Five years ago, I was looking after everyone else first and my blood pressure skyrocketed, plus I developed acute bronchitis that winter where I sat in the doctor’s office breathing in medication through a mask for hours at a time. It was the wake up call for me to make sure that my health and wellbeing was my number one priority. Simple exercises like yogic breathing or combat breathing (and some days it seems like combat breathing is more appropriate!) helped calm my nerves and blood pressure. I used yogic breathing techniques at the kids’ bedtime. I would sit there in the dark with my pranayama app sounding the chimes and saying to the kids "Breathe in, hold, breathe out hold" It got them to sleep more quickly and I was much calmer. 2 for 1 deal!
Now that my health is better and my mind is clearer, I can be that mum I promised myself I would be.
Being mindful is about being focused on the present. When you are focused you are more productive because the brain does not technically multitask, it simply changes focus very quickly. Yet those seconds that it takes to change focus add up over time and so if you can focus, you can be more productive.
Focus also enables gratitude because if you are thinking about the present and are fully aware of what is happening now you are not thinking about “what could be”. Therefore there is less comparison and more gratitude which tends to bring serenity and happiness into your life.
OK – Focus! There’s no point being at work and thinking about the kids and being with your kids and thinking about work because you aren’t doing either situation justice. FOCUS and be PRESENT wherever you may be.
This may require extra effort and attention at first in being mindful so that you do get it done. The results of a more productive workplace and happier home life are well worth the extra brain power.
3 Stop comparing yourself to others
The school yard can be brutal with mothers comparing themselves to other mums all the time - plus social media with its filtered reality. The gossip at pickup time is relentless. If you can – avoid it (the gossip I mean, not pick up)
US past president Theodore Roosevelt said “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Worrying about what others are thinking about you just prevents you from focusing on what’s important – you and your kids who are right in front of you with their big eyes asking to play or tell you about your day. Enjoy them.
Lastly, remember that when someone judges or compares you to a standard it says more about what is important to them and furthermore what they worry about. Think about it. Why else would someone point out someone else’ deficiency or good fortune in a gossipy way if they didn’t want to feel better about themselves in the process. It’s about them not you so let them keep that. Don’t take it on.
4 Drop the “should” word
A mother’s guilt can be unrelenting. The worry from the extra pressures is a byproduct of the increase in brain matter in those respective areas. We worry about our children and about taking care of them because we are hard wired to do so. Then we add in all the extra societal pressures on top of that – the “shoulds”. That's a lot!
Our “shoulds” are a never-ending pit of social expectations and unspoken rules we often buy into without realising.
If you find yourself saying you “should” get to that basketball match or you should have the house spotless, try replacing it with "choose" or "will….because" instead. This gives you back the power and will remind you of what is important in your life and the reasons you make these choices. If you choose to go to the basketball match because your daughter asked you and that is what is most important to you, then go with gleeful abandon and enjoy the game!
I am not the perfect “Stepford Wives” mother with a spotless house and freshly pressed dress. Some days I do send my kids to school with Fruit Roll ups in their lunch boxes instead of apples. I also give my kids raw carrots as their vegetables most days, not because I am a health nut but because I am not the greatest cook and can’t quite seem to cook the carrots properly. Anyway my kids eat them! Bonus!
I work on dropping the “should” everyday and tell that to my kids too. We work on sticking to our priorities and standing up for ourselves. I work on letting go of the unrealistic standards (mine and others) that were pushing me down paradoxically. My kids are happier and so am I; and that’s most important to me.
5 Resilience is key
You have to roll with the punches as a parent and believe that you can handle the unexpected.
When you are a parent, there will be sacrifices that you have to make and change is inevitable. Understanding that most stress is self induced by how you react to situations is key to being resilient. Once you realize that your approach to life impacts your own well being, you can choose how you wish to respond rather than react. You take back power over your life and your happiness.
One way to build resilience is to realize you are good – right now. An exercise shown in research that the most effective leaders do is write down 3 things every day that they did well or are grateful for. This trains your mind to see the positive in life and thus builds resilience for the curve balls or trainwrecks that happen.
Those are 5 ways to steel yourself against that Kryptonite. Use these 5 tips to drop the guilt you are holding on to and realise that you’re doing a damn good job of keeping it together in this hyper connected, overly demanding, and increasingly judgmental world and don’t worry - your kids will turn out just fine if you are.
At the end of the day, we are good mothers doing the best we can with what we have, know and are at the time. Give yourself a pat on the back.
Your kids see you as a super mum no matter what!
Shannon Young is a mum of three children and the Care Factor coach who runs workshops, retreats and group/personal coaching programs to help professional mums to thrive calmly at work and at home.