Hello everybody, welcome to Episode 12 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take your questions on life and answer them on the show.
I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino, and today’s question on mom anxiety goes out to all the mothers out there. We have a really touching question sent in about motherhood and it’s my pleasure to be able to answer this one.
QUESTION: “All of my life, I’ve been raising children. When I was young, I raised my brothers. When I was a teen, I was a nanny. I quickly had children of my own and even still, 20 years later, I feel like I’m not the mother I should be. I try my best. I do everything I should for my children while trying not to smother them. I don’t know if this is all in my head, but I still can’t help but to think I should be doing a better job. What can I do to get rid of these thoughts?”
“Should” is a Dangerous Word
This might make it sound like I wasn’t listening (that is not the case) but I’m telling you I took one word from this question, and that word is “should.” Well, I believe it was said three times, so maybe that counts as me taking three words, I don’t know.
“Should” is a highly dangerous word. It’s dangerous no matter what context. It is often used with the BEST of intentions and even surrounding wonderful scenarios like this one; we’re talking about motherhood, we’re talking about love, giving, family, support, etc.
It’s easy to feel like we SHOULD be doing our best within concepts like this. Because they are such wonderful parts of life, we don’t feel guilty for using the word “should” about things like this.
What I mean is we don’t mind putting pressure on ourselves if it’s for a good cause or a high, moral value. But pressure is pressure, and too much pressure to give our all to one thing can lead to resentment over time. Resentment is often the last thing we want for ourselves or could even envision ourselves having when it comes to something as meaningful as parenthood.
So I think the focus here is not so much on how you’re treating your kids, but how you’re treating yourself.
What Does “Motherhood” Mean to You?
Let’s talk about “should.”
The best thing I believe you can do for yourself right now is to get to the bottom of this word and what it means to you — especially with regard to being a mother.
Where does “should” come from for you? Why “should” you be a perfect mother? Who says so?
I really want you to take some time to challenge and analyze each of these preconceptions and figure out who — or what — implanted this idea in your head that you should always be doing more as a mother.
It seems as though motherly duties have been on your shoulders for your whole life. Have you found value in other areas of life? Have you felt valued in other areas of life? If motherhood is all you’ve ever known, and you inevitably need progress as any human does, then I could see how progress in motherhood is the only means of feeling progress in life. Should that be the case, we want to break through that and get to know the many other areas of life you can find value in alongside your value for motherhood.
An Exercise for Mom Anxiety and Breaking Through Self Concepts
But that’s hard to do if we still have the nagging “should” of motherhood floating around in your head, so to begin the process of breaking through that, here’s what I want you to do: Take the answers you’re able to come up with about where the “shoulds” began and who started them and when, and all that.
Get a clear image of the remarks that have been made to you about motherhood and who or where they came from. For each one, think up a new, ridiculous persona that you can act out.
Maybe one thing you heard was “women are put on this earth to be mothers” — I don’t know. Take that comment and practice saying it in some stupid accent, with some idiotic face, maybe some dumb looking hand gestures. Play with it, have fun with it. Make it very separate from you by taking it outside of your head and giving it a personality different from your own.
For those of you laughing this off, this is a serious thing. You see, in doing this, you’ll set yourself up to start seeing these thoughts as something different from you. They don’t define you; they’re simply opinions that came from somewhere else. They aren’t a part of you.
And the more you realize that they aren’t a part of you, the clearer you’ll be able to see what IS a part of you. In this case, you’ll be able to see what your own thoughts about motherhood might be. You might be in a fit of maniacal laughter due to whatever damn voice you came up with and realize, “I just need a vacation, I need to go to the Bahamas for a little bit. I need to get away from these children…who are now 20.”
You’ll be in a position to generate free thoughts for yourself. And you might find that your own thoughts do actually mirror some of the advice you’ve gotten. That’s okay if that happens — at least you’ll now have a better understanding of them and feel more in control of them.
But to break out of our head with these types of things, we need to lean into them. We need to challenge them and explore them.
Be Vocal about Your Struggle with Mom Anxiety
Honestly, a fantastic way for you to do that would be to express the concerns you’ve expressed to me to the people they affect — your kids.
They’re not 8 anymore. They’re not going to say, “Yeah, but where’s my toy?” They’re 20. They’re adults. You’re in a position to communicate with them and thus stand a chance to improve your relationship with them.
Tell them about your concerns. Express to them that you’re doing your best. Be vocal about your struggle to try to be the perfect mom. Chances are you’ll leave that conversation with a lot of new insight.
Insight into how your kids perceive your efforts. Insight into what you’ve done well or what you could’ve done better. Insight into what kind of care your kids desire. Insight into reality.
You need insight into the reality of your own thoughts and how they exist outside of the messages you’ve been infiltrated with. You need insight into the value of who you are outside of being a mother, you need insight into the reality of how wonderful of a mother you’ve been (just based on effort and desire alone), and you need insight into the reality that the perfect mother just does not exist and constantly trying to pursue it is a lost cause.
Your energy is there. Your love is there. Your desire is there.
Use these things to mother yourself for once, because I bet the demands you’re putting on yourself are not the demands you’d want to put on your children.
You’re doing great. You are enough. Allow yourself to see that.
That was a beautiful question to answer. It makes me appreciate my mother — I’m gonna have to go give her a hug after this.
And I also appreciate you trusting me with this question, being that I — uhm, believe it or not — am not a mother. I do hope my insight helped all the other mothers out there and anyone else who have a problem with the “shoulds” in life because this answer really can be applied to many different situations.
If you have your own questions you’d like answered here on the show you can email them to firstname.lastname@example.org
We look forward to hearing from you, and thanks for stopping in. Take care.