Understand Your Value as a Mother
MOTHERS, SELF-CRITICISM, AND OUR VALUE
If every mother in the United States could wrap her mind around her true value as a woman and mother, her life would never be the same. We would wake up every morning excited for the day rather than feeling as though we'd been hit by a truck during the night. We would talk differently to our kids, fret less about our husbands' annoying habits, and speak with greater tenderness and clarity. We would find more contentment in our relationships, let mean remarks roll off our backs, and leave work feeling confident in the job we performed. And best of all--we wouldn't obsess about our weight (can you imagine?), physical fitness, or what kind of home we live in. We would live a life free from superficial needs because we would know deep in our hearts what we need and, more importantly, what we don't need. Each of us would live a life of extraordinary freedom.
Here's the great news: Any one of us mothers is a few beliefs away from living a life like this. These beliefs are simple, life altering, and wholly un-American because they counter the enormous "bill of goods" (as one prominent writer told me recently) that we mothers are being sold. What are these beliefs that we must embrace if we want a different life? First, we must have a palpable sense of why we are valuable, and second, we must like who we are. Why? Because our real value as mothers comes from three places: We are loved, we are needed, and we are born for a higher purpose.
These sound good, but from a practical standpoint, if we don't experience them regularly, we lose sight of the fact that they form the foundation of our value. They are difficult to keep at the center of our beings. Every day we are distracted from realizing them because we are lured into believing that our value comes from other things: what we look like, whether our kids are happy with us, or how big our paycheck is. But we must be reminded where our real value lies because we need to have a conscious awareness of it if we are to be genuinely happy. In this chapter, I'll show you examples of how mothers learned to recognize their own value, as well as specific tips about how to put the habit into practice, including making a list of what's most valuable about yourself, living to impress no one at all, and figuring out what's going to be the most important in the end.
A HIGHER CALLING
Do you feel loved? Sometimes, perhaps, but many times you don't. You are a mom, and your days are filled with too much work to finish and complaining kids. Chances are, you are in the camp with the rest of us exhausted women who flop onto the couch at 10 p.m. with a pint of almond fudge ice cream and try to calm ourselves at least enough to get to sleep that night. If you have teenagers you may seriously question your kids' love for you. Conflict between you and your kids can peak during these teen years and conflict hurts. When our teens snarl, we take it personally. By the end of some days we wonder whether they even like us.
Are you needed? If you have small children, you have a palpable sense that you are needed. Kids need us when they're young to drive them, feed them, nurture them, and give them physical and emotional stability. We know that we are needed, but often we get frustrated because we feel that anyone could fill our shoes. Our work feels, well, trite at times. Doing laundry, sweeping peas off the floor, and changing diapers feels anything but glamorous. That's because it isn't. When it comes to our value, the deeper question is, does doing things for our kids when they are young give us value? Absolutely.
But there's more. Babies, toddlers, and teenagers all need Mom for so many reasons. They need us to listen, to discipline, to comfort them. And believe it or not, they need to see us do the menial, boring chores for them because, while these feel trite to us, they communicate to our kids that when it comes to caring for them, no task is unimportant. Our value to our kids is that they need us--to do the big stuff for them and the small stuff, too.
Finally, I believe that every mother is born to fill a higher calling. Every mother is gifted uniquely and she is to use those gifts to make her world better. A mother uses those gifts in parenting. Many mothers use them only there, but others use them outside their parenting. The question for every mother is: Do you feel that you were born for a great purpose? If you're honest, probably not. You may find yourself overcome by worry, wondering whether anything you did that day was valuable. The kids woke up mad and they went to bed angry at you. You carved out a tiny slice of time to go for a walk with a friend but that was cut short. Your husband told you that you never pay attention to him and the truth is, you really don't sometimes. Fatigue controls most of what you do or don't do during the day. Everywhere you turn you feel like you simply aren't giving enough. You aren't a good enough friend, wife, or mom. These feelings take a toll on you and if you are truthful, you wonder if you are worth much of anything at all.
The wonderful truth is, you are worth more than you can imagine. I don't care if you feel like a lousy mom or you are fabulous. Whether you're a workaholic who feels like she never sees her kids or a stay-at-home mom who feels unappreciated, you are woefully misguided in your thinking. Yes, your beliefs about your worth as a woman and mother may be skewed because you live in a world that doesn't like you very much. It tells you to keep up with too many things at once and since you can't, you work faster and longer and still feel like a failure in whole or in part. There's the lie in the whole mess--you are not a failure. But you feel like one. I can confidently say this because, as a pediatrician, my job is to watch you and keep your kids healthy. And when I see them, I see kids who love their mom. I see how your kids look at you, hang on to your knees, and hold your hand. I see you more akin to how they see you--as a woman who is needed, loved, and cherished.
YOU ARE MORE PRECIOUS THAN YOU KNOW
I know this because in my twenty-five years as a pediatrician, I have gotten a peek from behind your kids' eyes. I can see you as they see you. I have heard the excitement in their voices after you have praised them. I have seen your kids define you as their hero when you were in the other room. I have heard them cry over your hurt, laugh at your jokes, and pull their hair out because of your stubbornness (which, by the way, they appreciate). I have literally read the value that you hold in your kids' lives, all over their faces and through their body language. When you walk into a room, your son changes immediately. He relaxes because you are there and life feels safe again. If you recently scolded him, he scours your face to see if you are still mad, because he needs to know how you feel. You matter. Your mood changes his world a bit. If you are in a good mood, he can relax and play with his trucks. If you are upset with him, he wants to make up (he may not show it, but he does) because you are the center of his small world. He needs you to like him again. You. No one else. Because once you are happy with him, he can go about his business and life will feel good again. He can focus at school, get his homework done, and pay attention during his basketball game. That is the power that you have and that power comes from the fact that in this one child's life--your child's life--who you are matters as much as life itself. You are loved.
I want you to feel good about who you are as a mother because you should. That's another thing that I have learned about you as I have watched over the years. You need to feel good about the job that you are doing because, if you are like most American moms, you are far too critical of the job you're doing. I know this because I can see that being a great mom matters to you. You want to get it right and you assess your performance daily. What you need to know is that you assess your performance far more critically than your kids do--they just want you. Kids don't care if you're thin or plump, they don't care if you make brownies from scratch, from a box, or if you buy them. They just want to eat the brownies with you. Feeling good about your value to them is important because the better you feel, the better your relationship with them will be and the happier both of you will be. Sounds simple, but understanding our value and then feeling good about the mothers that we are (or maybe even saying it out loud!) is one of the toughest challenges we mothers face.
GET A (GOOD) GRIP ON HUMILITY
Contrary to what many mothers believe, being humble does not mean being self-effacing. In fact, it is quite the opposite! Mothers who have an elevated understanding of their own value are more humble.
Humility means appropriating an honest sense of one person's worth relative to another's worth. The truth is, we all have equal value. Once we accept that we share the same value as another, two things will happen: We will appreciate others more and we will appreciate our own worth more. We think of humility as seeing ourselves as lowly or less than others. In fact, humility is just the opposite. It is embracing a realistic look at our frailties as well as our strengths and then believing that we, just as other mothers who have their own frailties and strengths do, share inordinate value. We can love others because we can accept and love ourselves in our less-than-perfect states.
Humility brings extraordinary freedom. When we lower ourselves, refuse to admit our strengths and gifts, or live with false modesty, we lower all mothers. Many of us do this without even realizing that we are doing it. Consider the following exchange I recently heard. Many of us mothers can identify.
While speaking at a large women's conference in Michigan, my friend Jill, the session's lecturer, was discussing how women frequently perceive themselves. While she wasn't specifically addressing mothers, her point was applicable to us. At one point in her lecture, she asked for two volunteers. Jill selected Ellen and Laura from the sea of hands. Ellen and Laura said they came to the conference together and were longtime friends. Jill brought them to the stage and seated them in chairs facing each other. Then she began to ask simple questions. To Ellen she asked, "Would you describe your friend Laura to the audience, please?"
Ellen was happy to comply and described Laura as kind, a good listener, easy to talk to, fun to be with, and a good mother. Jill continued: "Would you describe Laura as pretty?"
"Absolutely," Ellen replied. "She's lovely, at least to me, though granted I am a bit biased."
"Do you feel that you would like her more if she lost weight, got a nicer home, or went back to school?" Jill continued.
Ellen looked at Jill directly and said decisively, "Of course not. She's fabulous just the way she is."
Pressing her point, Jill asked, "So, is it fair to say that Laura is worth loving just the way she is? Or do you think she needs a bit of improvement?"
Now Ellen was annoyed. "No, I told you. She's great--just the way she is. I mean, we all need to work on certain things, but that has nothing to do with our friendship. I just like her, or love her, just the way she is."
Jill thanked Ellen and then turned to Laura, asking her the same kinds of questions about Ellen, and getting the same kinds of answers. Laura had the benefit of having heard her friend defend and compliment her first, but her answers were no less heartfelt. Laura was clear that there was nothing that Ellen needed to change and nothing that she could change that would make Laura love her more.
Jill paused and looked at the audience. Ellen and Laura stood up to leave but Jill stopped them: "No. Don't go just yet; we're not quite done."
Jill turned to Ellen. "You just heard your friend here talk about you. She said that she doesn't feel that you need to change--lose weight, get a new haircut, buy a new house, or go back to work in order for her to think better about you. She thinks you're perfect just the way you are. Now I want you to describe yourself to me. Can you say those same things about yourself?"
Silence fell over the room. Ellen stared at Jill and stumbled for words. "No, I mean, I don't know," she started.
"So is your friend wrong, do you think?" Jill continued. "If so, tell me where she's wrong."
Again Ellen fumbled for words and looked at her friend Laura, in front of her. They both appeared uncomfortable and Ellen became flushed. Jill turned to Laura and asked her the same questions. "So tell me. You've heard the same thing. You heard your friend Ellen describe you as lovely, fun to be with, and likable. As a matter of fact she even told everyone here that she cherishes you so much as a person that she loves you like family. Are you worth her feeling that way?"
Everyone in the audience stared at Laura, who clearly wanted to blurt out "No!" but didn't. I think the only reason she held her tongue was that she knew she wasn't supposed to say it. Every woman in the audience leaned forward, seemingly groping for words to give to the woman onstage.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers by Meg Meeker, M.D.. Copyright © 2011 by Meg Meeker, M.D.. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.