Self esteem doesn’t come from “being the best,” it comes from valuing the best one can be.—Beth Wilson Saavedra
No one ever really knows what it is like to be a parent until they become one. Parenting has not come easy to me. As a person who wondered how she would handle one child, having twins has at times felt overwhelming. There are great joys but I also experience great frustration at times. There was a period of time where I grew depressed and very down on myself. I judged myself harshly. I compared myself to others and always found myself lacking and inadequate.
There are inherent problems with comparing oneself to other parents and I found that Beth Wilson Saavedra captured this well in her book Meditations for New Mothers. She writes, “As mothers, we compare ourselves to other mothers. We try to model ourselves after the mothers we respect. When our lives don’t look like theirs, however, we feel like failures. We forget that we aren’t the same people, living in the same house, with the same bank account.
Our children, too, are different, and they challenge us in different ways. The circumstances of their births, the level of their needs, and the diversity of their personalities, all create unique scenarios that must be dealt with in a way that is fitting for them. We must ‘row with the oars we have.’ They’ll probably prevent the boar from going adrift. There are two sides to every oar.”
Eventually I began to take steps to work through the depression. One powerfully proactive effort was to see a therapist regularly for a year. Being a reader I also turned to books for help and advice. A search for a practice of some kind, spiritual or not, also called to me. I began exploring Buddhism and met weekly with a small group to read books on Buddhism and discuss them. The group I met with also chants as part of their practice. I initially found this to be very uncomfortable and foreign. It took me more than eight months to finally give it a try. I learned I just needed to customize the chanting to fit my needs. My morning chanting ritual is now followed by writing morning pages, as Julia Cameron recommends in her book The Artist’s Way. Sifting through random thoughts first thing in the morning has proven to be beneficial.
While contemplating what has helped me to pull out of my depression and my struggles with judging myself as a parent, I also discovered there were six more things that are helping me a great deal.
1. Knowing that I am not alone with finding parenting to be challenging, difficult, frustrating, and even infuriating.
2. Having someone to talk with who will not judge me for my negative thoughts about parenting.
I have one friend here in town who is more than ten years older than me. She chose not to have children, as she really didn’t think she had the temperament nor the patience for it. She is a great person for me to talk to at times about things I don’t like about being a parent, things that drive me crazy, or really make me grieve “life before children” (and marriage, too.) I also find that sharing stories with her about parenting sometimes turn those events into very humorous and hysterical accounts when spoken aloud. She will crack up and also tell me at times: “Thank you for reminding me that I made the right decision not to have kids.” I in turn get insight into her single life without children. At times her life sounds so wonderful and free, and at times I am more grateful for having a partner and children.
3. Reading books or writings that express what I have felt and am feeling, because it normalizes it.
For example, Sarah Napthali writes in her book Buddhism for Mothers of Young Children, “We have all had moments as mothers when we are struck by where we have suddenly found ourselves. We might smile as we marvel at the new world we now inhabit and how far away it seems from our old world. Sometimes, we miss our old world, we struggle to surrender our former freedoms, our youth, and all those evening, weekends, and holidays to ourselves. Sometimes we look in our mirrors, look at our messy living rooms or at the clock that reads three in the morning, and ask, ‘Where am I?’”
I also really like this one that is also from the book Meditations for New Mothers by Beth Wilson Saavedra, “No matter how much time we take to prepare, childbirth dramatically changes our lives overnight. It is only natural to long for ‘life before baby.’ We think of the freedom we had. We could read a book until we finished it, hop on a plane to Paris, or throw a lavish dinner party. Whether or not we actually did these things is irrelevant. It’s the feeling that we could have done them that causes us to grieve for our lost freedom. It’s normal to feel confined after life-with-baby begins. It doesn’t mean we don’t love our child. It doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy being a mother. I have given up some things to be a mom. But they are not gone from me forever.”
4. Learning to not beat myself up for negative thoughts about parenting.
They are just thoughts. I don’t need to give power to these thoughts. I don’t need to judge myself for having these thoughts. I can just have them, observe them, and then move on.
5. Understand that I have needs that need to be honored and respected. I need quiet at times. I need alone time. I need time to read, write, and create.
Sometimes I take time to fulfill these needs while the girls are still sleeping in the early morning or at night. Other times I let my husband know I need to take a little time for me. This has been a hard one for me because there is a tendency to feel guilty for taking time away from my daughters when I work full time and I am already away from them eight hours or more every day during the week. Yet I have found it necessary for my emotional well-being. This is why I have been getting better at taking time for me and scheduling dates with myself. For example, back in January I was so looking forward to the fact that I had Martin Luther King day off and that the daycare was open that day. I took the girls to daycare so that I could have a day to paint, write, listen to music, and not give one ounce of myself to chores or answering to someone else’s needs. As it ended up I also attended a short prayer circle in town and a march to the local Martin Luther King Center. My day felt very inspirational and fulfilling indeed.
6. I try not to compare myself to others, because this usually leads to feeling inadequate and feeling dissatisfaction with myself.
The other night my husband shared a beautiful statement about being a father and what it means to him and how he feels like he was meant to be a dad. It was touching and I immediately suggested he write it down so that one day the girls could read it. My thoughts also started to go to a place of comparing myself to him, because I didn’t exactly feel the same way. I don’t feel as if I was “meant to be a mom.” More often I feel that I am limping along in this role. I know I am not a bad mom, yet there is that element in me that wishes I was a great mom. There are probably moments when I am indeed a great mom, but I certainly don’t feel that all the time. Hearing my husband speak of how he so loves his role started to make me feel “less than.” Yet then I pulled up the reins on spiraling into that thought pattern.
I am learning to accept that I am doing the best that I can. I love my daughters and I express that love and I do a lot with them and for them. I am trying to learn to be satisfied with who I am and understand that the role of mom is not going to fulfill me completely. I know that I need more. I need interactions with adults. I need to be writing and reading and sharing ideas and thoughts with other people. I need to be contributing to more than my immediate family. I am learning that this is a good thing. I am a key role model for my daughters. As they grow I would like them to also discover what brings them joy, what makes their heart sing, and what makes their spirit soar. If they see in their mom as a woman who loves what she does, feels inspired, dares to follow her dreams, and lives a life of fulfilling a vision and mission, then they can grow up with a greater sense of what is possible for themselves in their future.