Do you ever fall into the trap of comparing yourself to other mothers? “How is she so patient?” “Look at that, her three year old knows Spanish.” “Wow, she loves her child so much she will stop whatever she is doing to meet his needs so quickly.” “Look at how she responds to tantrums and whining so creatively and effectively, I bet she never yells or freaks out.” These are just a few of the thoughts I found swirling around my head during a recent spring break trip with several old friends and their families. Sharing the same roof gave us ample opportunity to observe each other parent—and ample opportunity for me to watch in awe as my friends all magically rocked at parenting. With all this busy comparison going on in my head, I let myself get trapped in feeling inadequate and undeserving—this doesn’t feel inspiring or empowering as a mother!
When I get into this comparison frenzy, I immediately start wondering what resources out there could transform me into the stellar mom I yearn to be. So I turn to best sellers, online resources, and even peruse social media for relevant tips and articles. Sometimes this temporarily soothes my anxieties. But, most often I end up feeling confused as I get ambushed by contradictory advice and points of view. I don’t know which author to trust or what “scientifically-backed” fad I’m supposed to buy into.
Sometimes I think my parents’ generation had it easier. For one thing, there was no pressure to present the outward appearance of a perfect family on social media! And they didn’t seem burdened by the onslaught of parenting advice from books or friends—let alone online resources, which didn’t even exist yet. I even try to pull from my parents’ techniques and strategies as I search far and wide for the right way to raise kids. However, what I find is that not everything my parents did for me works for me as a parent, with my unique kids and in this particular day in age. (This includes all kinds of things from the cleaning products we choose to how we spend our money.) My attempts to recreate my upbringing and replicate how my mom ran her household can feel forced, disconnected, and sometimes not even relevant.
When I feel overwhelmed by the endless list of considerations, concerns, methods, techniques, and philosophies around parenting—and all the ways I want to be better for my family—I try to center myself and tune back into my gut instincts. This list of reminders helps get me back on track when I feel a bit lost in motherhood.
- Trust yourself. While we can look to other parents for advice, we’ve got to ultimately trust our own inner wisdom. When you feel overwhelmed, try to remember to follow your intuition—that is, look inward before diving into all that outward information and guidance. For example, one of my children is struggling with anger, frustration, blame, and shame. I watch myself fiercely search my memory for how I am supposed to handle the situation based on my upbringing or what I have read in parenting books. When I look deep within myself and ask the questions that mean something to me, I feel more confident and guided in the direction I want to take with him. I may still need support, but I experience a calm knowing when I parent from my heart and inner wisdom, versus finding the answer from external resources that don’t know the intricacies of my child.
- Work to tame your inner critic. Each of us has a voice inside that I like to call the “inner critic”. This voice expresses our doubts, fears, and insecurities, and is incredibly adept at letting us know the ways we don’t measure up in our day-to-day lives. When we let our inner critic go unchecked, our stress and anxiety levels rise—not exactly a great recipe for approaching parenting with patience! Work to build your awareness of this voice, and discard the unhelpful things it expresses. “The Work” of Byron Katie has been a great tool in helping me question my inner critic and reframe the way that I talk to myself and relate with reality.
- Don’t let perfect be the enemy of doing well enough. When I feel myself going down the rabbit hole of comparison, I can let the idea of being the perfect parent get in the way of being a good parent to my own kids. When I was in spring break with my girlfriends and their kids, I had to remind myself that other moms and dads feel this way, too, from time to time, and that literally no one is the perfect parent.
- Embrace the messiness. No one wants to complain all the time, but sometimes I just have to laugh at the difficulty of parenting. And when I let myself get vulnerable with other parents and share the epic tantrums or the grocery store meltdowns, I’m usually rewarded with a feeling of camaraderie, which often leads to even more hilarious stories. The best way to break the cycle of comparison is to embrace the idea that we’re all in the trenches together dealing with the challenges and the rewards.
- Keep up the good work! I’m convinced that there is no more difficult job in the world than that of a mother or father—it’s certainly the toughest job I’ve ever done! But as long as I get up every day and do my best with the skills and knowledge that I have, guided by love for my family, I know I’m being a good parent. Mother’s Day is a wonderful time for my kids and husband to remind me of that. It’s also a nice time to give myself some affirmation for the effort, work, and time I put into my family. Do something special for yourself this Mother’s Day and celebrate your good work!
Sarah Kolman is the mom of three boys, a Registered Nurse, an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and has a master's degree in Contemplative Psychotherapy. Her private practice as a health coach blends her experience and career as a nurse with her passion for nutrition and holistic wellness. She is the author of Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family's Whole Health in a Busy World.