So many mothers sheepishly tell me they feel like bad mommas. The secret mantras that hum in the background of many a mother’s mind is; “I suck at this”, “Everyone is better at this than I am”, “Why can’t I ____ as well as _________(fill in the blank)?” Humming in the morning, when you realize you forgot to get lunches ready the night before, again. Humming at night, when you climb into bed exhausted and all you can remember is the meltdown you had at 4pm.
Are these women really bad mothers? No, of course not. Most are perfectly good mothers. You are a fine mother, you are doing as good a job as all the other mothers who look like they are doing a better job. And you are not alone in feeling uncertain.
So, why do you feel like a horrible mother so often? Parenting is a very difficult job with a steep learning curve and mistakes are inevitable. You wouldn’t expect to sit at a piano and play a perfect concerto the first time, would you?
Secondly, we are wired to attend to and remember our mistakes more than our successes. Try this. Think of three times this week you blew it, and then three times you were successful. Was it easier to remember the times you think you blew it? Now, think of all the times you fed, bathed, soothed, and attended to your child in the last week. I would guess the numbers are in the hundreds. So, maybe 5 times you blew it and 100 times you cared for and responded to your child in a way that helped them thrive. That’s a 100:5 ratio. Not something to sneeze at.
In psychology, remembering our mistakes and forgetting the good, is called the negativity bias. Some people say our brains are like velcro for the bad, and teflon for the good. As unfortunate as it is, we came to it honorably. We evolved to notice risks and remember mistakes as a means of survival. Throughout our evolutionary history the stakes were very high for our children’s survival. If a mother left her infant in the grass to go get water from the stream, she could come back to find her infant was carried off by a tiger. The most vigilant mothers had babies that were more likely to survive and pass on the vigilance gene. Nowadays, We mostly have paper tigers in our lives, rather than real tigers. We also have perfectionist ideals for our children’s happiness and well-being. This combinations can be challenging. But we can strengthen our confidence fairly easily.
The next time you think of a mistake you made and start to beat yourself up, intentional remember all the ways you successfully nurtured your child today or yesterday. Remember the look on her face when you satisfied her hunger or soothed her fear. Let it really sink in. Marinate in the sense of satisfaction for at least one minute, make the memory stick like velcro. Do this every evening to enlarge your perspective. Yes, you probably made a mistake or two. You also did about 100 things right. It is all true. It is all ok. It helps to soother your nervous system first and you can learn how to do this at The Yoga Of Parenting classes this October.
Motherhood is difficult, but you don’t need to feel awful. You need nurturing and support too. Come to the Mama’hood on Oct. 6, 13, 20, 27 for The Yoga of Parenting, soothe your nervous system so you can take in the good. Bring home practices to increase awareness of the good, strengthen the muscles of your body, your attention and self-compassion. Feel replenished. Hopefully, you will feel more like the perfectly good mother you are.