If I were to confess you to my deepest, darkest secret about motherhood, it would actually be incredibly simple:
I am a bad Mom.
Notice how I gave that little word a capital letter? That’s because it’s not just a description — “Mom,” in my mind, is so much more than just a woman who bears or has children. A “Mom” is all things. She is her child’s first introduction to the world, the person who sets the tone for how the entire family lives and works and functions. Heck, she is the person who determines if the house is going to be in a good mood that day based on whether or not she is in a good mood. (You know it’s true.)
A Mom has power. And honestly, 99.99% of the time, I worry that I am not good enough to yield that power. My go-to almost every night before I go to bed is to list all the ways I was a bad mom in my head.
You yelled again. You didn’t iron (you never iron, let’s be real), you didn’t have any real heart-to-hearts with them, you turned on the TV instead of playing a game, you fed them junk, you spent way too much time on your phone, you are letting their childhood go by without embracing it …
They say that your thoughts become your reality and while that type of “advice” is most typically geared towards people like entrepreneurs or athletes, the sentiment is also 100% true of motherhood. The more I dwell on everything I am “bad” at as a mom, the worse my mothering seems to be.
If I say I am “bad” at getting up in the morning before my kids, I am sleeping in until they are bounding down the stairs. If I say I am “bad” at getting dinner on the table, I am procrastinating and hem-hawing about what to make until everyone is getting cereal. If I say I am “bad” at playing with my kids, I am avoiding it at all costs and then feeling wracked with guilt.
It sounds a little “woo-woo” but our thoughts really do have so much power. And that’s especially important for us to recognize as moms, because we are judged by society by our children and by our mothering in a way that is really unique. Being a “good” mom goes hand-in-hand with our value and worth as a person in a way that is often different than dads — thus, the pressure we put on ourselves is enormous.
And frankly, we don’t go into motherhood naturally knowing how to handle that pressure and control our own thoughts. We are given so many practical tools about motherhood, like those cool Bumbo seats that you can stick your baby in or special pajamas that can help your kid sleep, but when it comes to the mental tools we need to make it through, we’re on our own. Our default of “I am a bad mom for doing X, Y, and Z” swiftly equals “I am a bad person” and that’s an incredibly hard cycle to break.
Changing our thoughts, seeking professional help, and working on the story we tell ourselves can have a big impact on how we feel, and thus, how we act as moms. Leah Outten, a mother of five as well as a proud birthmother, tells Babble that after having her third baby she was “at her lowest.” Her postpartum depression and anxiety fed into her fears and guilt about being a bad mom and it wasn’t until she sought help through counseling that she was able to find tools that helped her replace those damaging lies with truths.
“For example, if I find myself saying, ‘Ugh, I’m such a bad mom. I yelled at them so much over nothing!’ I turn it around and think back, ‘No, this was a frustrating moment and I lost my temper, but I am a good mom,’” Outten explains regarding her techniques. “People tell me I am all the time, so others see it in me.”
Outten notes that she also fallen victim to the dreaded mom guilt about “doing” enough or “being” enough for her children. (Been there! Um, this morning?) She adds that what has helped her combat the “not enough” syndrome is reminding herself that she was given her children for a reason and that she is enough. She has also found that using free Pinterest printables and displaying them around her home has helped her stay encouraged.
“Of course, we always have room for improvement, but we are enough simply by loving them as our kids need in this moment,” Outten says.
And loving our kids starts with loving ourselves enough to stop those “bad mom” thoughts right in their tracks. We aren’t “bad” moms if we rush bedtime or get impatient — or even, as my middle child will likely never forget, skip their birthdays to take an adults-only trip to Mexico. We are moms doing our best. And that really is enough.