Compassion Can End Mommy Perfectionism & Competition

“We’re killing ourselves trying to be perfect and it’s making us insane.”

– Amy, Mom of two (Mila Kunis in “Bad Moms”)

I think mothers today are lucky to have affirming pop cultural messages from movies like “Bad Moms”, which encourages moms to:

  • accept and laugh at ourselves for being imperfect moms (human)
  • stop pretending we all have it figured out for ourselves
  • stop judging other moms (since we don’t know what’s best for others)
  • say “NO” to others, so you can say “YES” to yourself
  • be yourself! (by knowing and believing in your worth)

Mommy perfectionism and competition (or criticism) are intertwined because moms who are perfectionists have a loud inner critic, which I think causes them to be judgmental toward others in order to quiet or distract the voice that points out their own flaws. Some moms are not competitive, but still suffer silently if they hold the belief that they’re not enough.

Judgments toward moms often stem from other sources and then are internalized. Negativity can come from family members, even dads who haven’t been stay at home parents or tried the work-childcare balance, other moms, in-laws, and my favorite individuals who have are not parents.

To allow the negative energy to flow past you and not touch you, as in done in some martial arts, cultivate a well of inner strength through contentment in being “good enough and develop self-compassion. This will also allow you to be accepting and compassionate toward other moms.

Perhaps if moms all join together in the “Bad Mom” cause, we would experience less stress, greater life balance and more compassion for all!

And just to be clear, I am not advocating for some of the outrageous antics in “Bad Moms” and I am also not supporting any form of abuse or neglect of children. It’s just for moms to get clearer about their priorities and let some things go since the pendulum has swung too far in the unrealistic superwoman direction, which dilutes a mom’s efforts in all areas of her life

Before I had my son…

I anticipated motherhood to be awe-inspiring and challenging, yet I knew my husband would be a wonderful co-parent and we were both determined to follow our intuition about what we felt was right for our family. I did not at all anticipate getting caught up in mommy perfection.

So, to my surprise, after my son was born…

My expectations of myself shot through the roof, which led to anxiety, guilt, and the belief that I was a “bad mom” as early as my son turning 2 months old! After all, I didn’t do enough skin to skin contact, didn’t have breastfeeding down in spite of heroic efforts, and had a baby who cried most of the time. My experience of motherhood was not like the expecting parenting classes had described at all! And in 2012, “bad mom” only had a negative connotation.

I also felt like I was barely accomplishing anything other than feeding my son, changing his diaper, and doing everything humanly possible to increase my milk supply. If I ever tried to put my son down to do any housework, cook, etc. he would wail. I didn’t realize that the bonding I was also doing with my son– loving, holding, “wearing”, singing, talking, reading to him, etc. also deserved credit. Perhaps this was common sense, but outside of attachment parenting circles (which I hadn’t yet found), I wasn’t receiving that validation that all new moms need.

Consequently, I felt like a bit of a failure as a new mom.

Fortunately, my intuition whispered…

“You need to get out of the house and be with other new moms who possibly understand what you’re going through.”

I listened and went to a group called, “Survival for New Moms” during my son’s 3rd week and I met the kindest nurse/facilitator, named Robin who said:

“Let go of the shame and lower your expectations.”

At that pivotal “survival” meeting, I shared with the other moms my struggle of feeling like I was on an emotional roller coaster, could cry at the drop of a dime, and had the fear that my moods would never stabilize again, which would prematurely end my career as a therapist.

I asked the moms sitting in the circle if anyone else had my experience and EVERY MOM said, “ME TOO!”

Even the most “together” looking and acting mom admitted to benefiting from taking an anti-depressant! I felt incredibly supported and hopeful, as I left that first meeting, that my struggle as a new mom was normal, that I was not alone, and there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

Here are some ideas on ending mommy perfection & competition and increasing compassion for all moms:

1.) Accept that no mom can do it ALL!

This was one of my first lessons as a new mom. I had to scale back everything in order to take care of my son his first year. I knew that parenting would require sacrifices, but didn’t fully understand this until I experienced it. I didn’t know mothers’ intimate lives until I became a mom, so it was a difficult adjustment to lower expectations of myself. Other moms get fooled and feel inferior by photos or posts on social media.

If we could all look behind the curtain at a mom’s life, we would see the areas of her life that she puts less energy into and ideally have compassion for her.

Every mom has just 24 hours in a day and has to decide how she will spend this time. Even on a weekend day, moms have to make choices between~ cleaning their house, playing with their children, connecting with their spouse emotionally, engaging in a spiritual/religious practice, exercising, practicing a hobby, preparing healthy meals, physically, grooming, being there for other family/friends, etc.!

GRATITUDE for everything I DID accomplish and the blessings I had in my life (ex. a child!) helped me adjust to my new reality.

2.) Increase your self-awareness about your values & priorities.

The clearer you get about what’s most important to you, the more you can let go of and focus more on your top priorities versus trying to DO IT ALL and stressing out because you’re spread too thin.

I ask myself with everything, “Do I want to do this? Am I pressuring myself into it because I think I should do it?” In other words, “Am I being honest with myself and others about what’s most important to me?”

Bria Simpson, author of The balanced mom; Raising your kids without losing your self guides moms to do the following in clarifying their values and priorities:

  • Complete a values worksheet (in her book)
  • Write down your highest priorities and take off your list some of your lower priorities
  • Make sure your values are reflected in your highest priorities
  • Say, “No” even more to make time for what really matters
  • Post your list to constantly remind yourself of your real priorities

3.) Stop comparing yourself to others (unless it feels supportive).

Instead, respect and accept other mom’s and your own lifestyle choices, limits, and unique strengths.

Generally, only parents know what’s best for their family. Some moms are thrilled to stay at home with their children while others find working outside the home to be more fulfilling. And still others may not be living out the choice they would like to make, but temporarily have to work in or out of the home for childcare or financial reasons.

Comparison is the thief of joy. So, redirect yourself if your mind or mouth starts to criticize someone else or if you feel envious of another mom.

4.) Meditate/Do Yoga/Breathe/Relax to increase your compassion.

My favorite pranayama sequence is: “Deepen your breath, relax your body, empty your mind, and your heart will more naturally open to yourself and others.”

When I meditate or do yoga, I connect with the best parts of myself and even experience self-love. I am able to let go of negative, reactive thoughts and choose positive ones that reflect compassion for others and myself.

5.) Create a supportive community of moms.

Understand, WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER. It is a choice to build each other up or knock each other down.

So, consider taking the time to: show compassion the next time you see a mom struggling with her child having a meltdown. Tell a friend something you admire about her as a mom. Be REAL by sharing your struggles with other moms to give them the space to also share their challenges, so you can support one another. Share your exciting moments about your child (Instead of the negative connotation that you’re boasting, how about you’re spreading joy?!) and equally express interest in hearing about other mom’s favorite moments with their child too.

When we choose to extend our natural compassion as moms for our children to compassion for ourselves and other moms, we can more fully celebrate the entire experience of motherhood in community, which makes it even more joyful and meaningful.

If you would like support in developing more compassion and acceptance for yourself as a Mom, Contact Lana Isaacson, LCSW, CAC III, Certificate in Marriage & Family Therapy at 720.432.5262, [email protected], or schedule a free consultation or appointment here