By Tara Feil, PhD, Clinical Psychologist
The work of a mom is never finished. Diapers are traded for homework help and midnight calls from budding young adults learning the ropes of life. At all ages, mom is an ever-present giver, soother, teacher, and confidant, and the latest statistics from the Pew Research Center highlight that today’s moms are working harder than ever to provide the best for their families, with moms spending more time per week on paid work outside the home and on caring for their children, than in 1965.
In addition to more time spent working inside and outside of the home, today’s moms face no shortage of social comparison with the advent of social media, leading many to self-doubt and criticism. Weekly in my clinical practice, I hear familiar echoes from moms of all ages asking, “Am I giving my children enough (attention, love, education, life experiences)? Am I doing enough (with them, for them, outside of them)? Do I have enough (energy to play, experience to teach, patience to tolerate)?” I meet many moms convinced they must do more, be more, and have more to succeed.
As a clinical psychologist and mother, I write to remind moms everywhere that you are enough. Your decision to be an unconditionally loving presence for your children is the most precious gift you can give them, and giving yourself credit for choosing to embrace this role every day is paramount to being “successful” in it. Unfortunately, psychological research on the human brain has concluded that our brains are hardwired to be most sensitive to negative information. No matter how hard we try to “think positively,” our human brains will physiologically react more powerfully to potential stressors and criticism than joy-filled moments or praise. If we allow our brains to run on auto-pilot, self-doubt and criticism will become the norm, and anxiety about parenthood — and life in general — become the rule, not the exception.
Despite this natural tendency to be more sensitive to the negative, we can strengthen our brain’s ability to notice, absorb, and enjoy the good inside us and around us with intentionality and practice. Psychological research estimates that it takes three to five positive experiences to counterbalance every negative experience we have. Luckily, every experience counts, and life is filled with little joys if we allow ourselves to notice them. I love my morning coffee. The smell of it makes me smile, the taste warms my throat, and the experience of it makes mornings better. I well up with pride when my 2-year-old says, “Thank you” unprompted, and there’s nothing better than going to sleep with the privilege of knowing my family is safe.
I challenge us all to remember that we can’t give away what we don’t have, and if we want our kids to have more love, joy, confidence, and goodness in their lives, we have to fill ourselves first and remind ourselves and each other that we are beautiful, wonderful women living out an endlessly challenging and profoundly rewarding mission. Please have your “cup of coffee.” Take an extra five minutes in the shower. Write down three things you’re proud of yourself for today. Talk about the best part of your day. Live the life of joy you work so hard to give your kids, and I guarantee your kids will be more joyful and fulfilled because of it.