“Realizing I might not be cut out for motherhood, getting too easily frustrated and overwhelmed, not having a break.”
“…I want to find a way to be happier, less stressed, less anxious – and therefore a better mother.”
“(I’m tired of the expectation) That mothers have to sacrifice their entire identity for their children.”
In our pandemic study of almost 3,000 parents, mostly (97%) Moms, we’ve measured work/life, health, and relationship trends since March of 2020. And the strain continues to erode how they feel about self-efficacy in their most important roles.
Most are coupled (86%) and cite doing ‘terribly’ or ‘not as well’ as usual as partners (65%.) Nearly half feel that way about their performance as workers (49%) and parents (41%.) And almost all (93%) of the Moms, in our recent survey wave, rate themselves as doing ‘terribly’ or ‘not as well as usual’ at self-care. An all-time low since the study began.
Unfortunately, feeling critical about how we’re doing in roles we cherish, tends to stir up guilt, sadness, or stress. Which isn’t good for anybody. So, why do we believe we’re doing the most important things wrong? And how do we get unstuck?
Examine Your Mindset
Dr. Komal Gupta, Clinical Psychologist, Relationship Expert and Entrepreneur said, “When we have children there is so much pressure to view or do it a certain way. And whether it’s feeling inadequate or not good enough, sometimes it’s hard to step away from that feeling and not view it as a fact. We think, ‘if I feel that way that must mean that I am that way’ and often that’s not true. You need to be able to create space to think about where these narratives are coming from.”
This is a time of reconnection. But it doesn’t mean we have to resume every ritual or relationship in the same way. We can choose which beliefs we let back in. So, start with how you measure yourself.
You Have a Template in Your Mind
In the book Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love and Play, Bridget Schulte describes the age-old dilemma of trying to be the ‘ideal worker’ and ‘ideal Mother’ at the same time. Traditional work never ‘worked’ for Mothers because many of its systems evolved from this postindustrial idea of the always-on worker. Who was a man, with a stay-at-home partner, to run the home and care for children.
So, for some, the ‘ideal Mother’ is his counterpart. Like June Cleaver, from the television show, Leave it Beaver. But most modern families don’t have this configuration. And a lot of us, from communities of color or with immigrant backgrounds, didn’t grow up with this demure, cupcake-baking-wait-at-the-door, kind of matriarch. So, what else drives this?
Shaped by Your Family, Society and Culture
Komal explained, “We have this idealized version of who we need to be as Moms. And that can be very different for everyone, based on their backgrounds. First influenced by our family of origin. And then, the larger society and smaller communities that we live in, can dictate that too. So, there are a lot of influences to this template. And oftentimes we don’t even realize that there is a template! So, the first thing, is to look at that.” You already do a lot. So, where do you feel the greatest pressure to do more?
So, Ask Yourself Some Critical Questions
Komal suggests we examine our assumptions. For example, “Why do I feel like I need to cook dinner every night for my kids after a 10-hour day? Where does that come from? Is that important to me?” We’re all influenced by these social norms and many of them, don’t serve us.
She said, “So, there are several pieces to understanding your own template. The second part is reconnecting to your values. And if you’re parenting with a partner, determine what you value as a couple.” Start now. Because getting aligned on how you want to express your values, within a partnership, can take some time.
To Surface Your Values
Values are interesting, because how we express them can be subtle. It’s everything from what you tolerate and celebrate, to how you engage with your kids. Komal said, “Do you value getting onto the floor playing board games with your kids and connecting that way? Do you value making that home cooked meal or do you value something else? And that may not align with your community values or the societal values.”
Environment matters. But until you reflect on it, it may be difficult to untangle what influences you. She explains, “Getting grounded in what your values are can be very helpful. And that’s not a conversation most couples have consciously. How often do you sit down and discuss what you value, even individually?”
So, you Can Challenge, Adapt or Maintain Them
Many of us model what we saw our Mothers and Grandmothers do. Especially If you approve of how you were raised. And we may seek their approval or feel guilt when we can’t emulate them. Komal said, “To a parent who views self-sacrifice as part of parenting, if you’re not doing that, it’s going to automatically be viewed like you’re not meeting criteria of what it is to be a Mother. If you grew up that way, your departure from that may be met with suspicion by your own family of origin or your in-laws.”
And who wants that? Family conflicts are draining. And often come from clashes in values, preferences, or style. And with the holidays upon us, you might feel extra pressure to follow the family framework. But the conditions we’re parenting in are unique to this time. So, can we create a blueprint that works for us?
And Manage any Judgement You Might Face
Although self-sacrifice is an enduring, unspoken part of Motherhood in many cultures, it’s not working in the US. It’s breaking us. Komal sighed, “That speaks to representation and that’s one of the hard parts. Where are the Mothers, who can provide role models, that don’t fit that template of self-sacrifice?” Okay, so you might need to be the pioneer, for a new way of doing family.
Komal and I are both from immigrant backgrounds. If you are first or second generation, the norms where you live, may comingle with the cultural norms from your parents’ home country. Which can feel super confusing as you set your own traditions. So, how can you reset expectations? She said, “In every immigrant community there are different ways of interacting with elders.”
While Honoring Your Needs
Why yes. Komal explained, “In some communities it’s acceptable to say, ‘I know you did it that way but I’m going to do it my way’ and be very direct about it. Whereas in other communities, that can be viewed as disrespectful, or offensive.” Sigh. If you’re reticent to confront difference within your family, experiment with opening the conversation.
Komal said, “Sometimes it’s helpful to explain your perspective. And if it’s not, after a few times trying, then maybe that’s not the way to go about it. At that point, you can say ‘thank you for your advice, I’ll think about it and consider it. I might want to do things differently. But I appreciate your opinion.’ There are a variety of ways of approaching conversations about what’s important to you.”
And Creating a New Story
The people in our lives, especially our family members, often want us to follow predictable patterns. Theirs. But that doesn’t mean you need to. But choosing an alternate path isn’t always comfortable. Komal said, “It’s also the feelings from it we internalize. Like maybe we’re failing in one setting or not being valued in another.”
She advises to ask ourselves the hard questions. “Like, ‘if I feel selfish when I do something for myself, because I believe Motherhood equates to sacrifice. How can I think of myself in this situation?’ One way I like to reframe that, is with this reminder. You are also your child’s role model. Even though I don’t want it to make it about someone else, in order to make you take care of yourself, sometimes that’s a starting point.”
And Modeling a New Type of Motherhood
Have you given up what you need to please others? Many of us have. But Komal said we can, reassert ourselves in a positive way. “For example, ‘I like to go dancing each week for my cardiovascular health. I love doing that and want to make time for that. And sometimes that means skipping bedtime once a week.’ Or ‘It’s not only about time at work. It’s also about developing my career.’” Many of us love what we do or want to grow, and if it’s a priority, our families need to know.
As Komal shared, even when it’s hard, stay focused on the big picture to manage any guilt. After all, we are raising the next generation of parents. She said,” You want your children to know how to take care of themselves. And not give up everything about themselves or the things that they enjoy.”
Many thanks to the talented Dr. Komal Gupta!
Follow Komal’s great adventure on her website, LinkedIn and Instagram.
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Dr. Komal Gupta is a clinical psychologist in private practice in the Greater Boston Area. She has a team approach to working with her clients to address challenges as they navigate life transitions, relationship concerns, cultural issues, spiritual/existential/
In addition to therapy work, Dr. Gupta has a passion for writing and speaking to the ups and downs people experience with their family, relationships, parenthood, identity and culture(s). Her mission is to reassure people that they are not alone in the complexity of their experiences, to build curiosity and self-compassion as they go through challenges, to understand how systemic biases contribute to these challenges, and to break the stigma with therapy and seeking support.
Tags: Manage Stress For Moms, Moms Self care, Setting boundaries with family, setting boundaries with family of origin