I worried that I wasn’t a good enough mom, especially at the beginning, although it still lingers today. Am I doing right by them? Should I be doing more?
So many of us have an image of the mom we want to be – it could be what our mom was, what we see on social media, or some phantom that we’ve created by adding up all we “should be doing.” It can be exhausting to try to live to a ‘supermom’ standard – especially now, when we’re juggling everything – our work, their schooling, parenting, entertaining, cooking. It can easily leave us with a feeling that we can’t measure up anywhere. While it’s in our cultural mindset to expect mothers of young children to be exhausted, for some, the experience of exhaustion goes beyond merely being tired. It can reach a burnout level and cause intense feelings of guilt, loneliness and questioning whether we’re really ‘good.’ It’s easy to fall into this trap of comparing ourselves to an ideal that we hold in mind and to start actually believing that we’re failing even when we are doing a perfectly good job.
What To Do (Bites)
Take fear by the hand
Research suggests that fear plays a central role in leading us from mere tiredness to actual burnout: “As our results have shown, the fear of not being a good enough mother is central to the experience of maternal burn-out.” The concept of good enough parenting was first developed by (Dr.) D. W. Winnicott, (a pediatrician who was influential in the field of developmental psychology) to acknowledge that the perfect mother does not exist, and that excessive norms and undue pressure would undermine some mothers’ capacity and self-confidence. Winnicott acknowledged that every family is unique and that most mothers, while doing their best but not everything for their children, do a good enough job in taking care of their children, provided they are able to relate positively to their children, i.e., to enjoy the time spent together with them. really ‘being with them’ and not losing track of ‘the quality of the present moment.’ More on this study.
Take “Good Enough Mothering” to heart
What D. W. Winnicott actually meant by the “good enough mother” is one who fails—in little ways, all the time—and in doing so helps a child adjust to reality. This mother is not a perfect supermom, nor should she be; instead, she is someone who has her own life and her own thoughts and preoccupations and doesn’t always understand her child or what he needs. She messes up. She tries and responds well enough to make him feel safe and loved.
Share the load with intention
Some of us—especially those who identify as the “type A” high-achieving, striving type—may find ourselves unknowingly intensifying our burnout by not sharing the load with willing partners, friends, and family members. It’s hard to give up control, especially when doing it all has been so gratifying in the past and such a part of what felt right and satisfying. You also may have entrenched the pattern if you were the parent who took parental leave. You’ve established patterns, what you think is the only way and may feel you really know your baby’s idiosyncrasies. But now it’s downright threatening to your well-being. Share the load.
I know some moms who just say “I won’t let guilt into my thoughts” but for me, it’s not that easy.
Try naming the fear when it emerges. Say to yourself: “Ok, I’m feeling worried that I’m not good enough.” “I feel scared that if I don’t do this ‘perfectly,’ my child won’t have a good enough start in life.” The idea is not to do anything with this awareness, necessarily, but to recognize that this is what’s happening before any feelings of shame, guilt, etc. creep in and take you away from the moment.
Consciously think about who you’re comparing yourself to. Is it your mom from a different era? Some perfect version on social media?
Try listing out the individual tasks that you do during the especially stressful times (i.e., getting-ready-for-school time, returning from work/children’s dinner and bedtime) and decide which can be handed over. Be specific and have an explicit conversation with those who are able to support you—no beating around the bush or vague suggestions: “I really need you to do bath time on the nights I get home at 7.” “I need a minute to unwind when I come home by taking the kids for 10 minutes and letting them help you with dinner prep while I stretch in the other room.” Note, this isn’t really a question – ‘no’ is not an option. It’s just a kind way to share what you want.
I was always a high achiever and excelled at whatever I put my mind to. I was struggling to continue to pull that off after I had a baby – both at work and home.
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