By Sara Weiss of Shmooples
A friend of mine and I got together recently and started talking. I noticed how every other sentence had something to do with how we could be living better lives. “I need to clean out the garage,” “I should take a mommy cooking class,” “I need to cook more for the week and freeze it,” “I need to do more yoga,” “I need to find time to write,” “I should make an effort to do more in the community,” etc. etc. etc. I said, “Let’s try to have a conversation without talking about what we should or could be doing better.” We couldn’t manage to talk about what we were doing well. We were much more comfortable beating ourselves up.
My mom friends and I have a variation of this conversation all of the time. We feel guilty about needing to be stern and set limits with our kids or guilty about giving them too much freedom; guilty that the house is such a mess, that our hallway is a resting place for coats and nothing like the cute, trendy foyers on Pinterest. Stay-at-home moms feel guilty about needing a little help because they “should” be doing it all on their own. Working moms feel guilty about needing to send their kids to after school care and spending so little time with the kids during the week.
There is something gratifying about commiserating with one another, learning that we’re not the only ones who don’t have it all together and who beat ourselves up because of it. It makes us feel like we’re not alone. Maybe there’s a place for our guilt—it helps us to strive to be better parents. We feel like we should be giving all of ourselves to our kids, and the guilt is a way to do that. We’re thinking about them all of the time, even when we’re not with them.
Yet, these friends of mine are beautiful, intelligent women and loving moms. From my perspective, they should be celebrating their everyday accomplishments and not knocking themselves down at every turn.
One of these good friends always knows the right thing to say—she sees me loading the two girls into the car, getting my three-year-old’s juice and her shoe that fell off, pulling the visor down over the baby’s car seat so the sun isn’t in her eyes. “You’re doing it, girl,” she says, nodding slowly. “You’re doing it.” And it makes me feel good. I’m doing it. I might not be doing it all well, but I’m getting it done. That’s a feat.
What if we take a break from the shame cycle and try something a little bit different?
Here’s a little meditation:
Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, say “I’m doing it”—and then allow yourself to think about what exactly it is that you’re doing, something along the lines of: I’m providing a nurturing and loving home for my kids which will ultimately teach them to be caring individuals; or, I’m earning money for my family and ultimately teaching them it’s important to work hard and to go after what they want in life. Then think about what you have accomplished today: I got both kids out the door this morning; I made my daughter feel good about herself when I encouraged her to blow bubbles in the water; I showered.
Let’s start a conversation about what we’re doing well and just take notice—without judgement—if the “shoulds” creep into our language. Applaud yourself for getting everyone out the door in the morning even if you forgot someone’s lunch and had to turn back around. Give yourself credit for finishing that important thing at work or for choosing to stay home with your kids. Cut yourself some slack for not running as often as you’d like, for not being a gourmet chef, for sometimes making the wrong disciplinary choice in that moment. We’re human. It’s okay for our kids to see that, to learn that people aren’t perfect. They aren’t perfect, and yet we love them and always will.
Great, you might be thinking. More on the list of things to do—now I’m supposed to meditate and love myself? I’ll be honest, it feels easier said than done for me, too. I’m much more comfortable thinking about what I could be doing better. But I think it’s worth a try. If it feels too hard, let’s tell ourselves we’re doing it for the kids.
If we are nice to ourselves, we’re teaching our kids it’s important to be good to themselves, too.
About the Author
Sara Weiss’s writing has been published in Bustle, Brain, Child, Literary Mama, Underwater New York, Outbreathe, and The Hook Magazine and on her blog Shmooples. She holds a BA and MAT from Tufts University, and an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. She teaches yoga and creative writing and lives in the Hudson Valley with her husband and beautiful 4-year-old and 1-year-old daughters.