“I accept I am a human being before I am a parent.”
“I accept I am trying my best, and that is good enough”
“I accept I have limitations and many shortcomings, and that is okay.”
I love these examples of affirmations by one of my favorite authors and experts in parenting Dr. Shefali Tsabary. The idea of embracing our humanness as parents is one I feel passionately about and that has been on my mind a lot recently. I have witnessed myself, and the moms around me struggle so much with accepting our humanity. I have seen how this steals the joy from motherhood and the confidence we need to trust our own intuition.
The messages we have received about being mothers, as well as some of our own thinking patterns make it difficult to accept ourselves as human.
We live in a culture today where the role of mom is presented in one of two extremes. On one end motherhood is extolled as the most holy calling, beautiful, and sacred. On the other extreme it is seen as irrelevant, degraded and lacking in real significance. Motherhood is framed as either the most important, or the least important thing one can do. In certain circles moms are seen as superhuman, in others they are seen as less than human.
The result of these conflicting messages is often that moms often don’t know where we fit in, and what is true. Both of these extremes can leave moms feeling insecure, like we have to either fit an ideal, or prove our relevance. When motherhood is put on a pedestal it can create pressure for women to have a holy and beautiful experience. When it is degraded, moms can experience the oppression that starts from the very top at the legislative level and sometimes works all the way down into individual homes and families.
So what is true about motherhood? I believe the answer to this question is as diverse as each individual that embarks on the journey of motherhood. I believe that there are many common threads, but that no two stories of motherhood are exactly alike. This is because as mothers what we really are at the end of the day is human. No better and no worse than any other human.
We deny our humanness and common humanity when we compare ourselves with other moms. With these cultural extremes, moms often compare in order to try to fit the ideal or to prove they are important.
Motherhood is an endeavor that doesn’t have many avenues of feedback. Jobs have performance reviews, schools have grades, even relationships often have conversations about expectations. Motherhood has none of these. We try to artificially create these markers of success in order to gauge how we are doing and it leads to a lot of problematic comparison
“Are you breastfeeding? How long did you breastfeed? Did you sleep train? When did your child potty train? How quickly did you child learn to read? What do you feed your child? Do you feed them all organic?” These comparisons cause stress, depression, anxiety, and a lack of fulfillment in so many moms.
When we embrace our humanness as moms we can set ourselves free from comparison, self judgement and from questioning if we are making the grade. If we embrace that we are human, we are allowed to make mistakes. We can understand that our children were sent into homes where mistakes would be made so that they can learn and grow. Brene Brown wisely advises, “Stay in your own lane. Comparison kills creativity and joy.”
Start by cheering other women on. Cheering other women on is the opposite of comparison. It is the opposite of deciding if I am a better mother or a better wife than my neighbor. It is an easy way to get rid of the comparisons that sometimes run our lives. If you know a mom who seems to have it all together, congratulate her, be excited for her, know that she has different strengths than you and that is ok.
Dr. Kristin Neff is an expert on self compassion. She states that, “One of the most important elements of self-compassion is the recognition of our shared humanity…The emotion of compassion springs from the recognition that the human experience is imperfect, that we are all fallible.” If we can have more compassion for ourselves, that can extend to those around us.
Embracing ourselves as human means that we can allow our children, our spouses, and the other people in our lives to be human as well. It means we are more interested in cultivating genuine connection with the people we love than having it all together. Dr Tsabary says, “We do ourselves and our children a favor when we accept our limitations and exude an “okayness”.”
Embrace your humanity by realizing that you cannot and should not do it all. Choose two or three things that are your priorities as a parent and let everyone else’s priorities go. They do not need to run your life. Maybe your priority is nutrition, maybe its extra curricular activities, maybe it is getting down on the floor with your kids every day. Do some soul searching and find what matters most to you. Then focus on that. Focus on that while allowing permission to not be perfect at it. Allow yourself to make mistakes so you can show your children what it looks like to start over and to try again.
Embrace your humanity by recognizing that you can lean on a higher power. You can use the power of prayer to give all of your concerns and shortcomings to a higher power. You can recognize that the point never was for us to be everything to our children, and that a higher power can compensate for our shortcomings in our lives and in theirs. Some people even find it helpful to have a “surrender box” where they write on slips of paper the things they want to surrender, and once they drop the paper in the box, they effectively have given that thing to a higher power.
Focus on staying in the moment and embracing everything you are and everything you are not. Your children will feel this permission and will be able to accept themselves as human from your example. Find the beauty in the ordinary. As Dr. Tsabary says, “release your attachments to how things “ought” to be and instead surrender to how they actually are.”