We are so fortunate to have Kallie as our guest blog again this week. Her personal journey uncovering the culprits of mom guilt is so helpful. Enjoy!
Most first time mothers fail to see some of the worst challenges that come along with motherhood and parenting from the very beginning.
I know I did.
As I look back at what has challenged me the most through young adulthood and into motherhood, I have to give credit to the women who first opened my eyes to three ever present critics in every woman’s head.
Whether you are a woman, a mother, or just a human being who loves books, I could not recommend two better writers whose words grace this world with timely wisdom, courage, and kindness.
Over the past five years, I have slowly awakened to the large mental space that these critical voices have taken up in my daily life.
They begin as whispers throughout our girlhoods, and by the time we show up to adulthood we are often numb and ill-prepared for their onslaught.
Like unwanted guests, these critics always manage to show up with some of the worst advice packaged so pretty that too often we reach for it out of habit or desperation.
These sly guests showing up uninvited to the table in our lives are comparison, scarcity, and foreboding joy.
Scarcity is the most elusive of the three.
Scarcity is the mindset our society in general has swallowed hook, line, and sinker. It is the belief that there is only so much to go around. That we are never enough.
Brene Brown puts it best, “We live in a culture with a strong sense of scarcity. We wake up in the morning and we say, ‘I didn’t get enough sleep.’ And we hit the pillow saying, ‘I didn’t get enough done.’ We’re never thin enough, extraordinary enough or good enough – until we decide that we are. For me,” says Brown, “the opposite of scarcity is not abundance. It’s enough. I’m enough. My kids are enough.”
In my experience, this scarcity mindset runs rampant especially amongst women. It clouds our perspective every time we pass by the mirror. It comes out in our words that are quicker to assume the worst, first about ourselves, and next others.
This belief that I am not enough and that there will never be enough time has punished me more than most as a young mother. It is the evil voice in my head reminding me of every flaw, every mistake, and every shortcoming. It is willfully blind to context and effort, and absolutely deaf to kindness and grace.
Mindlessly succumbing to scarcity’s lies leaves me grasping for all the wrong solutions.
Some days it’s the pressure to do and be more as I try to fight off feeling like I am less. For me this looks like ignoring what’s best for me and my family so much that we all end up too busy, miserable, and over committed.
Other days it’s that clawing at the back of my throat and the hair that stands up on the back of my neck, as my defenses kick in anytime I sense someone questioning my choices as a parent.
Scarcity oftentimes presents itself as this baited hook that here is proof that I am somehow less than enough. That nasty hook it uses is its twin – comparison.
Comparison is the most often used, but worst measurement tool ever. It is always going to leave someone coming up short. We often secretly (sometimes openly) feel good about the times that it leaves someone else coming up short. It’s far too easy to forget how it’s only a matter of time before those roles will reverse.
Comparison is the critic that comes in with all the ready information of how everyone else is doing—better and worse.
For women this reigns supreme in how we look, what we wear, what we eat, what we buy, and the list just keeps growing.
For moms it comes in with every differing parenting choice, differing delivery choices and birth stories, differing child behaviors, differing baby gear, milestone accomplishments, feeding choices, parenting styles,…. A list that is both exhausting and never ending.
Reality shows me however that for every personal preference I have or choice I make I can always find someone who is doing something similar to make me feel good, or I can find just as many if not more who did something different or the exact opposite and subsequently feel worse about myself.
Comparison is the voice that screams that difference must equal loss or threat. That there are only either/or options at hand. It swims in the belief that if you are not with me you are against me.
Comparison cheekily promises us a feeling of validation, and then tricks us by leaving us entrenched in insecurity and shame.
The truth is that someone else’s choices or preferences hold no bearing on the worth of yours.
Comparison will always be there as a voice shouting its lies in the background. It is our choice to listen to it and believe it, or to see it for the false prophet that it is.
The last voice I find myself wrestling with is a doomsday prophet that steals all my joy.
Brene Brown was the first person to ever put to words my inner resistance to joy. In her New York Times bestseller Daring Greatly she termed the third critic “foreboding joy.” She describes it as the mental reaction we have to a moment of deep love or joy. Instead of reveling in the good, she pinpoints how so many of us suddenly find ourselves instead “dress rehearsing tragedy.”
I have experienced this my whole life in various amounts, but after I became a mother my weakness for practicing foreboding joy slammed into me like a freight train.
Watching my sweet sleeping baby through our video monitor and suddenly I am entertaining thoughts of someone storming the house at night and kidnapping my baby before I can even get to him.
Driving along with my husband and child, laughing and singing, only to suddenly be wrestling with a mental movie trailer of our lives being extinguished in a horrific car accident.
Receiving a report of good news from family or friends, or find myself feeling like our lives are in a good place for once, and all of the sudden I feel a reactionary wince, like I constantly need to be prepared for the other shoe to drop.
Dr. Brown goes on to share that the people she finds experiencing true joy, are the ones who when faced with the temptation to rehearse future tragedy, choose instead to practice gratitude.
Slowly I am finding that true toy is experienced in spite of and right in the midst of this messy, scary, and wonderful life.
Glennon Melton revealed the powerful trifecta these three critics hold by saying, “I think comparison and competition exist partly because we believe that there is a scarcity of good things in the universe. And that belief makes us kind of small and scared and unable to feel true joy for others or peace for ourselves.”
Left unchecked, scarcity, comparison, and foreboding joy’s predictable criticism will always play on repeat.
They are the source of most of the mom guilt I have ever waded through. Not actual failure or mistakes worth mulling over. Instead mom guilt is a bucket load of shame we bathe in after believing these voices and their lies.
And we bathe in it over and over until we finally see it for the load of crap that it is.
A dear friend and mentor shared some wisdom with me just after I had my son. She told me that the temptation would be great as a mother to constantly look ahead or look back and lament about where all the time had gone. She instead told me to do my best to focus on the present and enjoy each stage my son experienced. In short she concluded, “Be a mom that knows where the time went.”
This is one of the truest and most precious gifts of advice I have ever received from another mother. It also points to a deeper truth for anyone who finds themselves constantly fighting off the perilous advice all three of these critics have to offer.
Focus on the good you have to be grateful for today. Fight off fear of the future and what you can’t control with gratitude for the present. Resist the urge to let comparison and scarcity drive your assessments of yourself, your peers, and others you encounter.
Life is teaching me that any confidence or self-worth I now have comes from turning inward to find it.
This is where showing up counts the most.
I have to do the hard work of cultivating values I want in my life like peace, calm, kindness, wisdom, vulnerability, bravery, and faith. No one else is going to do it for me.
I have come to believe that as a parent, as a mother, as a person doing this internal work is some of the most important work there is to do. If I want to raise my child to be a kind, brave, and wise adult, I have to first be willing to become that myself.
Kallie Culver is a working mom, military spouse, volunteer addict, and a writer. She holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Colorado, and spent her graduate degree studying employment challenges for veterans and military spouses. Having started her blog Untold Stories About Us during a crisis of faith, she is now a recently converted Catholic trying to live meaningfully with both faith and doubt.