When Did Trying to Be a Good Mom Turn Bad?

I remember the moment well.

About four years ago I had invited a little girl over to play with my kids. Her mom dropped her off and we chatted while the kids played and then she told me she’d be back in an hour.

About seven minutes later, apparently our basement full of toys became completely uninteresting, so I was confronted by three little people carrying a science experiment book.

“Pleassssssse can we do something in this book? We won’t make a mess,” they begged.

After falling down laughing about the mess comment, I started flipping through the pages to find something simple and not labor intensive. I decided to go with Gak because I had all the materials on hand. And because I’m an overachiever, I took some store-bought dough out of the freezer and made the girls “homemade” cookies. I could seriously have my own show I was being so domestic.

When the mom came back I invited her in for a few minutes. She smelled the aroma of fresh-baked cookies and saw the kids happily playing and said this: “Wow, you go all out for playdates. I just usually throw some goldfish at them.”

I was a little surprised at the disdain I heard in her voice, but when I snapped back into reality I instantly went into defense mode, which for me is self-deprecation in overdrive.

“Oh, Gak is just glue and detergent and I had promised my kids we would do it, and the cookie dough was leftover and my kitchen never looks like this normally but we have company coming over tonight and…..” I rambled on like an idiot. Because apparently trying to be a good mom is something I was doing to offend her.

I felt shamed for doing something fun for my kids — and hers. Shame for even trying to be a good mom.

This has happened to me a lot over the years. I have heard comments about my volunteering too much at my kids’ school, or hosting too nice of parties, or making a Pinterest-inspired handmade soccer cookie (one time.)  Most people are appreciative, but there are always others that say something along the lines of: “way to make the rest of us look bad!”

I took a lot of heat for making these cookies.

I took a lot of heat for making these cookies.

But here’s the thing: I never do anything to make anyone feel bad about themselves. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I do these things because they make me feel good.

It’s tough not to benchmark our own existence against our peers. We see a snapshot of another woman and believe we know who they are. And when we are in the thick of it — trying to balance work or young children or kids with special needs or weight gain — it’s easy to think that people are trying to shove it in your face.

As women we live a contradictory existence. We say: “Yes, you can do it, I am behind you!” But what we really mean is:”Yes, go do it, but don’t be too good at it as I don’t want to feel bad about myself.”

It’s like the mom who decides to lose a few pounds and then ends up entering bikini competitions. How dare she! She must not spend any time with her kids.

Or the mom who dresses up every single day she drops off her daughter at kindergarten while the rest of us schlep in dirty yoga pants. She must be so vain. Or have a nanny.

Or the mom whose house is so spotless when you drop by to return some Tupperware that you think her husband must be like Julia Roberts in Sleeping with the Enemy. Because who has kids and can keep their house clean.

Or God forbid you are the mom who sends in the elaborate Valentine’s Day box or a well put-together bento lunch. It’s like you’re just giving me the finger.

Because don’t we have enough problems as parents then to hate on the ones that are actually trying?  Because there isn’t enough neglect, enough abuse, enough bullying of our children that we have to be mad at women who actually want to be better parents, better people, better than who they were yesterday?

Yes, there are always moms out there who feel the need to one-up someone else; but at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to do our best — and no one should get penalized for that.

So, the next time you see that woman all decked out to the nines hop out of her Escalade (and you in your spit up covered Target fleece), maybe just tell her your love her outfit. And when you see the four tiered cake someone created for their son’s third birthday, maybe just tell her it is the most delicious thing you ever had. And when some mom makes Gak for your kid. Just say thank you.

Because I’m not trying to make you feel bad. But I’m still going to keep trying to be my best.

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Can Positive Intent End the Mommy Wars?

Do you ever wonder how much time you spend on trying to figure out if a comment someone meant was kind or passive aggressive? If you were not included in something, did you take it as a personal slap in the face? Do you read an email and stew for hours about the condescending tone?

You can’t see me, but I’m meekly raising my hand right now.

Most of us are guilty of getting distracted by how we believe others are treating us. It saps our energy, impacts our mood, and often ensures we waste our most valuable commodity: time.

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Positive intent is a term often associated with evangelical Christians, but in the past decade it has been seen as an important strategy to minimize workplace discourse. I believe, however, it could be the tool to change the course of the Mommy Wars.

At a macro level, positive intent means that there is always a positive function or purpose for what is currently happening in our lives. For the purpose of this post, positive intent is the belief that negativity often begins in the fabrication of thoughts in one’s own mind, often related to our insecurities. Living with positive intent is taking other people’s actions and words and working under the assumption that the majority of people are kind and are not out to hurt you. Net-net is this: when unsure, always think the best of someone.

I first heard about positive intent when Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO of Pepsi, discussed it in an interview with Fortune magazine back in 2008. It sounded smart at the time if you were in the workplace, but I didn’t think to apply it to my daily life. She commented:

My father was an absolutely wonderful human being. From him I learned to always assume positive intent. Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent. You will be amazed at how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different. When you assume negative intent, you’re angry. If you take away that anger and assume positive intent, you will be amazed. Your emotional quotient goes up because you are no longer almost random in your response. You don’t get defensive. You don’t scream. You are trying to understand and listen because at your basic core you are saying, ‘Maybe they are saying something to me that I’m not hearing.’ So ‘assume positive intent’ has been a huge piece of advice for me.

A few years back, I became consumed with some negativity. I had some issues with other women in my life who I felt were thinking the worst of me. The negativity spilled over into other relationships, and I became even more sensitive when communicating with friends and family. I became distracted and the harder I tried to get out of my funk, the deeper I fell into it. file000660863461

And then one day the lightbulb went off. These situations, these “conflicts,” well, they weren’t about my issues. They weren’t about me at all. Sure, I played a role in it — the poor way I reacted, the lack of empathy I offered. But changing my perspective, changing the way I thought about the situation and the people in it, allowed me to find the peace I was seeking. As Elsa said, I was finally able to let it go.

I began to look at every interaction differently. If I felt threatened, I decided to believe that the person I was dealing with had my best interests at heart. If I felt someone was being passive aggressive, I continued to act with kindness knowing that I determined who I was, and how I behaved; not the person standing opposite of me. And when I felt another mom was judging me, I just let it go with the belief that there must be something she was feeling in that moment and it wasn’t about me.

While the practice of positive intent can be difficult, it is also extremely liberating. It makes you less defensive, less distracted, and less likely to engage in a conflict that may only exist in your own mind.

Now trust me, living with the mindset of positive intent does not mean I let people walk all over me, or that I am a saint. People still drive me crazy and there are times when I know someone deliberately caused harm and confronting her is the only option; however, by giving people the benefit of the doubt and believing their intent was positive, we relieve ourselves from engaging in an unproductive situation.

As moms, we often have a huge problem with embracing this philosophy. Living with positive intent would mean every time we feel judged, we would have to ignore our instincts. But think of how many scenarios  can be misconstrued.

For example, one time I was at a park playdate with a friend whose son is on the Autistic spectrum. As we chatted on a bench, we watched another mom with beady eyes track my friend’s child across the playground. He was loud and he had to be reprimanded several times. My friend mentioned to me that she could feel the judgment seething out of the other mom’s body. “She probably thinks I am a bad mom, and that I can’t control my kid.”

As we walked past this mom as we left the park she stopped us. She shyly asked my friend if they went to the same therapist office, as she thought she had seen her son there the week before. Apparently she was new to the area and was looking for some support groups to join.

Without that personal interaction that explained the situation, we probably would have talked about that awful mom judging us at the park. If we were living with positive intent, we would have suppressed our insecurities and felt more positively about her actions — no matter how awkward it seemed at the time.

A personal example is how offended I used to be when working moms would say, “I don’t know how you stay at home with your kids all day. I know I couldn’t do it.”

I always felt this was a condescending and passive aggressive statement, until I heard it out of the mouth of a dear friend. I know she would never want to hurt my feelings. And honestly, I do not think she could stay at home with her daughter. Despite being a great mom, she would go crazy. Looking at it from her perspective — looking at it from a place of positivity — made me wonder about the other times that I let it bother me. Whose insecurities were the comment really highlighting?

There are also times in our lives when we feel someone is lashing out at us. This could be a mean email from a PTA mom, an admonishing note from the teacher, or a snarky text from a friend. Our initial reactions are often defensive and negative. Instead, we have to think about what we know about the person — or if we know them at all —  and take the time to understand why this person is confronting you in this way.  Our initial defense mechanism is always to blame the person we feel is hurting us, but what if we believed that their behavior was unintentional as opposed to unkind? What if instead of thinking that mom is a bitch, we instead think about what is creating the negative situation?

Sometimes when another person points out a flaw or a mistake we made, our first reaction is: “How dare she! Like she is so perfect.”

If we force ourselves to step back, perhaps we could see the person is only doing their job or possibly, has hurt  or frustrated feelings herself.

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According to a book about positive intentions by Ken Patrick: “When negative issues arise in our relationships, if we immediately presume good intentions by one another, conflicts and problems  can be resolved easily and quickly.”

Who doesn’t want that?

In all honesty, I am not sure if living a life with positive intent could end the Mommy Wars, but I certainly think that it can’t hurt to try.

So the next time you feel wronged by someone, take a step back and look at it from a different direction — a positive one.

Living a life of positive intent has been a passion of mine the last few years. It has helped me personally in my relationships and in my marriage, but more importantly, it helps with forgiveness and empathy towards other parents. While I am still learning, a great start is the short book Presume Positive Intentions by Ken Patrick available on Amazon.

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Stopping Mom Judgment in Its Tracks

A few months back, I was hanging out with an old friend who let her eight year old son have a coke.

“Don’t judge me,” she said with squinted eyes. “I know what you are thinking. It’s only one soda.”

“Okay,” I replied.

“Seriously, he never gets it and I told him he could have one,” she said.

“Okay,” I replied.

“One coke is not going to kill him,” she went on. “I know how you feel about it, but I already told him he could have it.”

“Absolutely, let him have it then,” I said trying to hide the smile on my face.

“Crap. Now you made me feel guilty. Now I can’t give him the (expletive) soda. You suck,” she said.

“Okay,” I replied.

It’s no secret to my close friends and family how I feel about kids and soda. Even though I don’t talk about it often, my kids will tell you they are not allowed to have it, unless it is a special occasion. It’s just not something I believe in, but I haven’t started a national campaign against it. I would love to say that I don’t judge you if I see you giving your kids soda, but I’d be lying.

That being said, I have a gaggle of friends who I think are fantastic parents that let their kids drink it…some by the liter. I don’t agree, but guess what…not my kids, not my dental bills. So I keep my mouth shut and my opinions to myself.

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As moms, one of the things that rattle our cages the most is the feeling of being judged. Breast feeding, day care, c-sections, co-sleeping, organic, home school — the list of things that start the Mommy Wars goes on and on. I would go so far as to say it is the single pervasive issue that limits Girl Power.

But I do think there are two different types of judgment. First, there is the mom judgment that is self-inflicted, as illustrated above by the conversation with my friend. This is the type that is often proliferated through blog posts that say things like “Ten Reasons Why Co-Sleeping with Your Baby Makes Him Smarter.” It is that insecure feeling we get knowing that someone parents differently, and maybe that way is better.

And then there’s JUDGEment. I mean that of Judge Judy-like quality. Like when your kid pitches a fit at Target and the mom with four perfectly dressed, well-behaved children leans over and says, “Did someone miss his nap today?” Or like when another parent says, “Wow, your two-year old really knows how to use your phone. She must be on it a lot!” Or even when that stay at home mom says something in a group of women like: “I could never leave my kids with strangers all day.” And of course, the working mom in the group feels judged. Yep, I’ve seen all these things first hand.

One of the funniest truths about parenting is that we all feel we are “experts” yet at the same time we are all worried we are screwing our kids up (or if we don’t profess it, we certainly think it!) If you look at it from a macro perspective, being a “good” parent means providing for the child’s basic needs on both an emotional and physical level. For most of us, that involves developing a bond with our kids in a warm, nurturing environment.

While there are “bad” parents — those that are abusive, neglectful or choose to abandon their children altogether — most of us just want the best for our kids. So where is all the judgment coming from?

The details. The little things. Stuff that seems important to us in our every day life, but really are just a matter of personal preference. Bed times, breast-feeding, day care, co-sleeping, and yes, even allowing soda. It’s the choices we make for our own families because they are important to US, but may not be for others.

As moms, we are convinced that these little decisions will determine our children’s destinies, and if we don’t “help” others, they will live a lifetime of regret when their child is screwed up. Or, we feel so passionately about something that we believe we are actually “helping” someone by telling them that Twinkies will give their kid cancer.

But here’s the thing: at the end of the day, even an eight year old kid who is allowed to play his iPad until 10:30 p.m. while eating Cheetos and drinking a liter of Code Red Mountain Dew is probably going to turn out okay. That’s just the way the world works.

Unfortunately, as humans, we are programmed to judge others. Seriously, our brain is hard-wired for moral judgments. Add to this that parenting is the most personal and emotional task we can take on in our lives, and oftentimes linked to our self-esteem, and there really is no way we can completely eliminate the Mom judgment.

There are, however, a million different ways to respond to someone who is judging us. You can come back with a slew of retorts, you can ignore it, or you can confront it head on.

But the only way to stop judgment in its tracks is to simply not accept it. And we can do that by knowing our kids will be fine because we have done our job by loving them and making the best choices we can for our own families. Being confident in the decisions we make and keeping our eye on the big picture can allow that judgment to slide right off our backs.

Everything else we do for our kids — the breastfeeding (or not), the co-sleeping (or not), being a good role model by having a successful, fulfilling career or homeschooling — it’s all correct. Truth be told, we won’t know if we’ve screwed our kids up for another two decades anyway.

It’s also important to remember when you are feeling judged that it’s often not about you. When someone is projecting their issues onto someone else, it often speaks more to their own insecurities than it does to yours.

And what do we do if we’re the ones feeling all Judgey McJudgerson? Like when I saw that family at a nice restaurant all with their iPads out at the table or the kid who pitched a fit at the grocery store and his mom gave in by getting him a Snickers?

Well, when the judgment started coming out, I tried to change my thought process. Maybe that couple was just desperate to have a night out and their babysitter didn’t show up or maybe that Mom was just having a really bad day. Compassion can work wonders on judgment.

And I’m pretty sure those kids with their iPads and their snickers bar and even their soda, well, I’m pretty sure they will turn out just fine. Now if I can just stop screwing my own kids up.

 

 

 

 

 

Five Questions Moms of Girls Should Be Prepared to Answer

5 questions

 

Parenting is all about preparation. As long as you realize you’ll never be fully prepared.

When kids are younger, preparation is always to make sure you can survive a two-hour trip out of your house. For me, that consisted of 14 diapers, seven bags of goldfish, three extra outfits, every first aid component ever made, toys, books, mats, drink boxes and a protein bar. My family could survive days on a desert island if needed.

Now I’m spending my time preparing myself for questions. Questions that can be uncomfortable. Questions that are important and will shape my daughters’ lives. Questions I often don’t have the answers to.

It’s not shocking to know that most tweens and teens report that they feel they cannot talk to their parents because they either won’t listen, they over-react or the universal “they just don’t understand what it’s like to be me!”

Talking to your daughter about what I call the “shudder” issues (these are topics that when I think about them, they make me shudder), is something I think most of us dread. It’s one thing to talk about sex with our girlfriends over a glass of wine, but it’s a whole other issue when you’re trying to decide how to tackle it with your baby girl.

There is a time when all us need to have “the talk” with our daughters. The best advice I’ve received is don’t do it in one fell swoop….spread it out over time so you encourage ongoing communication. But what about other questions? Questions that relate to body image or friendships or self-confidence. Questions that come out of no where when you’re least expecting them. Questions that can break a young girl’s spirit if handled inappropriately.

And unfortunately, these questions can be asked at any age. This just isn’t for the tweens and older set.

Here are five questions every mom of daughters should be prepared for. I don’t have all the answers, and I think it depends on your own life choices on how you would want to respond, but be prepared.

Why do you wear make up? I work really hard to try to promote a good body image for my daughters, but I totally flubbed this simple question. What I wanted to say was: “Mommy needs to cover up all the wrinkles and dark circles so I don’t scare people.” But instead, I fumbled through talking about covering up a few blemishes and making my eyes look bigger. What I wish I would have said: “I use make up to enhance the features I already love and it gives me an opportunity to express myself sometimes, but I’m way more concerned if people like me for who I am on the inside.” Yes, if I ever have another daughter — which would have to be by immaculate conception — that is what I would say.

Am I fat? Ugh. According to a study announced in February of this year from the National Institute on Media and the Family, about 40 percent of girls ages nine and 10 have tried to lose weight. Four out of every ten girls. That is messed up. Yes, the media is largely to blame; but as mothers, we have to do a better job of setting the tone (I’ve talked about this in the past in Do I Ever Say Anything Positive About My Body?)

Even though you may want to dismiss her concerns, don’t end the conversation with a simple no or of course not. I’m not  normally a fan of answering a question with a question, but in this instance it’s good to get to the root of the issue. You may want to ask your daughter if she feels fat or if there is a reason she is asking. It’s then important to focus on healthy eating and exercise, but don’t focus on losing weight. “Maybe we can start walking after dinner and you can start helping me grocery shop. I know I feel my best after I exercise and I’d love to spend more time with you.” We need to stress that women are much more than their physical appearance, our health is more than just our weight, and our character is more important than the size of our skinny jeans.

Does this look good on me? This is a tough one. I think we need to honor the girl code with our daughters when it comes to not letting them go out of the house with something that makes them look awful, but sometimes it is just a matter of taste. Take a barometer reading of your daughter’s attitude with what she has on….does she seem happy and confident or fidgety and unsure. Make sure your response isn’t critical of her body type (i.e., you don’t have the body to wear crop tops) and instead make a few suggestions on what may better flatter her assets.

Why doesn’t anyone like me/why don’t I fit in? Many parents often brush off comments where kids sound like their world is falling apart, but two researchers at UCLA discovered that social rejection actually registers as bodily injury or pain in the brain. It is important to determine if your daughter is just having a bad day (and may be a little dramatic) or if something else is going on. You may want to talk to her teachers or other parents you trust. Try to find out why she feels that way and make suggestions on how she can improve her friendships, but most importantly don’t write it off. There could be an underlying issue you may need to address. And remember, kids of any age do not realize that there is a life beyond their school years.

Can I wear that/Can I have that/Can I do that? Girls often like to push the boundaries a little earlier than their male counterparts. But seriously. Just say no if you do not think it is appropriate. Sometimes as parents we fear our kids will be left behind if their kids do not have something or do something all the other kids are; but the truth is, when just one parent is brave enough to say no, the others often follow. Be brave.

What scary questions have you had to answer?

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Crushing the Mom Doubt

I’ve always felt pretty confident about the decisions I make as a parent — until recently as I try to navigate the hormones of two nearly ten-year old girls. In order to get through these trying days I’ve used a combination of the Serenity prayer, girl friend support, parenting books and Kendall Jackson chardonnay.

But deeper than my exhaustion from the fights, exasperated comments, and eye-rolls, is the constant shadow of self-doubt that is creeping into my world on a regular basis.

You see, when my kids were younger, the decisions my husband and I made were implemented in a dictator-type style.  My way or the highway right up to your room. But these decisions were about eating two stalks of broccoli, cleaning up the basement, or one more show on Nick Jr.  Obedience was the yardstick in which I measured my parenting prowess.

Now the decisions seem to be getting a bit harder, and my kids are turning out to be real people who have to make choices of their own based on the life skills I help them develop. In addition to the day-to-day battles about clothes and when to go to bed and chores, etc., I now worry about other things. Like when can my kids have cell phones, how do I talk to them about drugs, how to deal with mean girls, what do I tell them about guns in schools, do I need to make them aware about the dangers of taking selfies and how do I explain to them that just because their friend’s parents bought them a brand new iPhone 5S for their 10th birthday that does not mean they are getting one. Ever.

Sometimes I literally feel their tiny hands slipping out of my grasp. And when I desperately try to reach out and grab for them, I often think, wow. I am completely screwing this up.  We need to stop putting money into the college account, and increase the contribution for the therapist fund.

I know moms are always plagued with doubt. As new moms it’s “Do I really need to buy organic” or “Will the fact that I let them cry it out give them abandonment issues?” And I still hear doubt from my friends with older kids around dating, driving, school issues and career choices (but mainly about dating.) It never ends and can rock our psyche. Self-doubt can make good moms question their judgement or worse yet, forget who they are as parents.

I’ve been feeling this doubt. A lot. And it’s been getting the best of me. I can’t help but feel that I am making wrong decisions, saying the wrong thing, picking the wrong battles — all the time. This black cloud has been looming over me, making me feel exhausted, unmotivated and beaten down.  It has crept beyond the parenting realm and into my marriage, my writing, my life. Doubt has made me more sensitive, less confident and a bit of a mess.

So, it was a surprise when cleaning out my e-mails I found an article I saved from a writing coach I admire, Lauren Sapala. The topic: “Self-Doubt: The Writer’s Constant Companion.” No joke. In her post, she discusses the doubt every writer feels when going through the process, and how doubt can make you do dumb things. While writing is cathartic, it also makes you incredibly vulnerable. There is just no way every person will receive your message the way you intended it. And not everyone is polite on the Internet. Kind of like parenting a tween.

That’s why I feel like this article could also be entitled: Self-Doubt: Every Mom’s Constant Companion. Who among us does not wonder how much we’re messing our kids up? My self-doubt has been growing daily like the weeds in my flower beds.

In her article, Lauren discusses that if we do not face our doubt head on, we give our power to it. To quote: “We automatically assume that it knows what’s best for us.” Kinda like when we let our doubt change the decisions we would make as parents.

But it gets better. This is where Lauren went from smart to brilliant in my eyes:

“There is a Buddhist exercise that helps people handle their fears by asking them to invite the fear in for tea. We can do the same thing with self-doubt (which is a form of fear). Whenever your self-doubt about writing shows up, use your imagination and invite it in for tea. Give your self-doubt a comfy chair and the option of cream and sugar. Ask your self-doubt what’s been going on, what’s happening, what’s new?

Most importantly, ask your self-doubt why it’s choosing to show up now, and what can you learn about yourself from observing it?

The key is to treat your self-doubt like it’s about four years old. Yes, of course it has value and things to teach you, and a certain innocent way of looking at the world that is interesting, but the fact remains that a four-year-old does not get to run your life. For obvious reasons. Most four-year-olds may think they have really good ideas, but eating cake every day for breakfast just isn’t going to work in the long run.”

Didn’t I tell you it was brilliant?

As moms, we can learn so much from this. Self-doubt is just another child we have to lead, another kid we have to put in her place. We can listen to it, but we cannot think that it knows better than us — what is in our hearts, what’s in our souls, what we want for our children, what we believe is best for them.

Washing away the self doubt. Photo from _scartissue.

Washing away the self doubt. Photo from _scartissue.

I had a long cup of tea with my self-doubt this morning, and I listened to what it had to say. I listened to how it was scared I was starting to lose my kids, how it felt I was losing control, how it was unsure about the influence other people had on them. I considered what it had to say about my parenting style, my communications skills, and my approach. I heard (again) how it feared for the safety of my girls, their ability to “fit in”, and letting them make mistakes.

And then I politely asked it to leave.  I wrote down on a piece of paper five things that I was scared of for my girls, five things I wanted to teach them about my morals and values, and five things I did right as a parent. I thought long and hard about the way I wanted to communicate with them, and about the things I was doing wrong.

And for the first time in a while, I feel refreshed and ready to face my kids instead of dreading it. Because my kids are good, just like I know I’m a good mom. While I know I’ll keep making mistakes along the way, it won’t be because I made decisions based on doubt; it will be because I made a decision out of my beliefs of how to parent my girls and a whole lot of love.

So when that doubt creeps in this evening as I’m sure it will, I’ll kindly tell it to take a hike. I’m out of tea, and I’m sure as hell not sharing my wine.

Do you doubt yourself as a parent? How do you keep doubt from creeping in?

 

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