When I first became a mother, I had high expectations for myself. My experience in life up to that point had been that if you studied something enough and worked hard enough, you would do well at it. I figured I would approach motherhood the same way in order to be successful as a parent.
But I didn't know what I didn't know. Parenthood is not about studying what the experts say and working hard to get the results you want. Parenthood is about understanding the children you have and forming a relationship of love and respect with them. It's about finding the best way to teach them your values, which takes quite a big of trial and error, persistence, and patience.
The problem is that there is no manual or standard parents can measure themselves against to see if they are doing a good job or not. We mothers are each handed a different set of circumstances, and we each have our own strengths and weaknesses when we approach the job. Yet for some reason, we feel the need to compare ourselves to some imaginary standard of motherhood or another person who we put on a pedestal as the ideal mother.
Comparing with an Imagined Standard
Learning not to compare my reality as a mother with who I thought I would be as a mother was a tough lesson to learn. I wanted to raise my kids to speak Spanish, and failed miserably as soon as I added a second child and a part time job to the mix. I wanted my kids to enjoy classic literature at a young age; now I hide the books they want to read over and over because I just. can't.
What I realized is that it's important to have goals about how you want to raise your children, but to be flexible in your methods and to give yourself grace. I still want my kids to learn and speak Spanish, so we implement it in small ways, like listening to Spanish music in the car. I still want my children to be readers, so I still make sure we're reading together, that we have books available to them, and that they see me reading - I'm just more flexible about what we're reading and how often. Flexibility and grace.
Comparing with other moms
It starts from the moment you get pregnant. You compare your bump with that of other pregnant women, wondering if you're too big, too small, staying in shape enough, or having a belly-only pregnancy. When the baby arrives you start comparing yourself with other moms of newborns. Why is her child sleeping through the night? How did she lose the baby weight so quickly? She's still breastfeeding? I could only make it to 6 months! How does her baby already know 10 baby signs and speak in complete sentences? Her baby walked at 9 months? Why won't mine even pull himself up?
Even if you learn to let go of comparing milestones, you start wondering how other moms are keeping it together when you can barely make it through the day. You see her spotless house, her successful business, or her elaborate made-from-scratch wholesome meals, and you start putting yourself down for not accomplishing the same thing.
Before my second child came into the picture, I often scolded myself mentally for not being able to keep up with one child when mothers of 2, 3, 4, or even 5 or 6 kids seemed to have smoothly running chore charts, imaginative homeschool curriculums, successful businesses, beautifully decorated homes, and heart-melting family traditions. I even wondered why I was having meltdowns every week when my second child arrived, when I saw moms of multiple children getting their kids out the door on time with ease all with a Starbucks latte in their manicured hand. I was embarrassed that I couldn't "handle" being a mom as well as other women could. I was ashamed that I couldn't juggle everything with as much poise as these other moms.
How do we stop playing the comparison game?
The best advice I have heard is to stay in your own lane. Keep your eyes on your own paper. Run your own race.
Instead of focusing on what other moms are allowing you to see on social media, or how they and their children act in public and when company is over, focus on running your own race. You have no idea what's really going on in their house, head, or heart. You compare what you perceive to be their strengths with your own shortcomings. Like you, they have their own limitations, but are doing their best to hide them. This little game does no one any good. We continue to put pressure on each other to act like we have it altogether, when none of us does.
When you choose to run your own race instead of glancing at the runner in the lane next to you, you give yourself freedom to shine at what you're good at, and throw away the rest. So maybe you'll never successfully complete a craft with your kids, but you enthusiastically play make-believe with them. Maybe you pack boring school lunches, but you make the most magical holiday memories. Get to know your strengths, because heaven knows you've already picked apart your weaknesses.
What's the next step?
1. Fill your own cup. Develop your own interests. Find some time for yourself. Because you're a better parent when you're happy and fulfilled.
2. Figure out what parts of motherhood you truly enjoy, and do more of that. Find the simple things that make your kids smile (the park, making pancakes, doing a puzzle together), and say yes as often as you can.
3. If your weaknesses are truly bothering you, and they are something you want to get better at, like toy organization or making healthier dinners, make a plan, keep it simple, and give yourself grace.
4. If you just wish you were better at something because you see other people doing it, but inside you truly loathe it (crafts, I'm looking at you), then STOP DOING IT.
5. Enjoy your time with your kids without placing expectation on yourself or them. They just love being around you because you're their mom! They want your love, time, and attention and truly don't notice what you think are your shortcomings. They do notice if you're always stressed and crabby because you're feeling Mom Guilt over something insignificant.
Remember, we're all just doing the best we can with the circumstances we're given. Let's extend as much grace to ourselves as we do to those around us, and give ourselves permission to do our own thing. After all, your kids and your husband want the best version of you, not a second rate version of someone else. You have something unique and beautiful to share with the world that no one else has!