As someone who has worked with many new moms, I see how guilt and obligation creep into the minds of these women, take over, and haunt them. I have heard it all, such as, “I feel guilty leaving the house” (even if it’s just for an hour to take some much needed time for herself), “I need to have another baby so my first baby isn’t an only child”, and “I feel like a bad mom because of …”. Fill in the blank, the list of reasons is endless.
Most of us fear judgement in various situations, but that fear seems heightened in motherhood and dictates a lot of the chatter that takes place in the minds of new moms. Its influence is so strong that it controls behavior. Isn’t that so interesting, the idea that thoughts about reality (which exist only in the mind) have enormous power to determine behavior? How can that be?
This isn’t to say that judgment is not real; it definitely is and we judge each other constantly and ruthlessly. But this is where most of us stop, at the pain of the judgement instead of questioning what that means and/or why avoiding that judgment is so important to us. We are taught to hold our heads high and rise above it but in a sense, that is just encouraging further repression of something that must, sooner or later, be faced. And, let’s be real, that tactic doesn’t really work anyway. It’s just something we do because we don’t really know what else to do in the face of embarrassment and shame.
Here is an interesting concept a coach of mine taught me many moons ago and is something I continue to remind myself and my clients of regularly. From a very young age children are taught that certain ways of being are either accepted or unaccepted. The preferred traits/behaviors become part of our persona (how we act; what we show to the world) and the unacceptable ones are locked in a dark corner of the mind, a place where their existence can always be denied (they are unconscious to us because we have repressed them).
Funny enough, we see those unacceptable traits in others and are, of course, bothered by them so we judge the other person. This is called projection. If I judge someone for something they are doing or not doing, you can bet that I am judging them because I share that quality, but am disgusted by it and therefore, have put in my “dark closet” (unconsciously of course). Otherwise I wouldn’t care and wouldn’t have needed to judge. Projection is a defense mechanism in order to avoid facing the “dark” parts of ourselves.
Now knowing this, my challenge for every woman who is struggling with mom guilt is to ask yourself the next time you are judging yourself or you feel judged by others the following (Hint: write it out. Information will jump out at you on paper):
1) Describe yourself in a few words in this specific instance of judgement.
2) Answer the question: what will happen to me if I stay this way? What is the worst that can happen?
3) Dig a little deeper. Keep asking yourself, what’s so bad about that?
An example might look like this: “That woman just gave me the stink eye in the grocery store. I know I look like crap. I haven’t bathed, I’m tired, my back hurts, I don’t have time; I know she is thinking I’m a lazy mom who doesn’t have her shit together.”
My descriptive words are lazy and don’t have my shit together. If I stay lazy and lack organization I will be the poster example of the worst mom. And what is so bad about that is, I’ll be the laughing stock of the town, no other parents will want their child near me or my child, which means my child will grow up with no friends and will be an outcast. If this happens I will never be able to live with myself because my child will be unhappy and alone…
As you can see, the story doesn’t stop at the surface description of lazy and disorganized; the fear of being lazy and disorganized will always point to something deeper. Eventually, something will catch your attention; it might feel like an aha. You will discover that there is an underlying fear of being X (fill in the blank). This fear has been ruling you and has immense power over you. Once revealed in its raw and true state, that fear can no longer control you because it is now conscious and you will no longer have to use energy to deny and repress it.
While this technique may not be your idea of a great time, doing it can set you free. Of course, in life there are tons of triggers, so it’s a good idea to get comfortable doing this little exercise. You may feel that it’s necessary to have a coach help you dig a little deeper and that’s perfectly fine, as usually the coach can offer a perspective that you weren’t able to see in the midst of the chaos. Begin allowing yourself to be human; a human who is kind to herself. My wish for all moms is to have compassion for themselves, compassion that their children will witness and offer the same to themselves and others on their journey too.