We are a people who like cold data and hard facts. We feel safe in the quantification of our success and failures. Insecurities about our performance can become less subjective and ambiguous because you can’t argue with numbers. How much in sales? What percentage growth? How many hits/likes/stars, etc?
On an individual level many companies find a way to quantify employee performance even when tasks can’t necessarily be quantified. As a social worker it was difficult to measure my success with clients but I was evaluated in several areas on a 5 point scale yearly my a direct supervisor. I loved performance evaluation time. My type A personality traits relished in the fact that I could receive quantified validation of my work. I always got 4s and 5s ratings and althought my inner 4th grade teacher’s pet got a sense of pride from them it was more a relief that someone saw me trying my best. The other 364 days a year are spent wondering if I made the right decisions, said the right things, or did anything that affected change in a child or family. In my line of work you couldn’t correlate a child’s positive behaviors with what I said or did because it was too subjective and there were too many other factors involved. But my 4s and 5s said that at least someone saw what I did and was thinking I was on the right track.
Then my son comes along. I have no direct supervisor or evaluation on a 5 point scale. And even if I measured customer satisfaction-how do I measure it? Smiles? Giggles? Ounces of breastmilk or formula? Developmental milestones? Not only am I at a loss for how to measure my performance I have a new set of insecurities and am out of my comfort zone. So I did the only logical thing in my mind: compare myself to all other mothers. Only what that turned out to be was to find everything other mothers were and were not doing and obsess over whether or not was I was or was not doing them. It only led to more confusion and more insecurity. And even knowing this I still do it sometimes.
So how do we keep ourselves from putting unfair expectations on ourselves in order to have the validation we crave that we are mothering well? On my own journey I had several reflections on this:
1) Take stock of your strengths. What are your strengths as a mom? Are you the active mom that always gets your child out and about and exposed to new experiences? Maybe you’re the mom that keeps a orderly and structured home which gives your little one a sense of security. Perhaps your the ultra-nurturer showering your child with affection and handling tantrums with patience and empathy. As a social worker I was taught the perspective of looking at the individual in terms of their strengths and aiding them in using strengths to solve problems rather than starting with the problem itself. Take time to relish your strengths and know that you are giving your child a unique experience that will foster a part of their physical, emotional, or social wellbeing. When the day has been tough and you start to let that inner critic tear you down go back to you strengths and use them to bring you back to a feeling of accomplishment. Your strengths are the unique tools that are innate within you and make you a special mom. Sit down and write a list of at least 5 of your strengths so you can see them all before you and stay tuned for a follow up post on how exactly to use your strengths to address the issues with which you may be struggling. Maybe you have strengths you haven’t even thought about using as a mom.
2) Set a specific and measurable goal. I will probably continue to bring up this skill a lot. The reason I am so passionate about measurable goals is because I am the queen of having the perspective of the glass being half empty at the end of the day. I never accomplished enough and there is always more to do than ever possible in my head. Maybe, like me, you would love to challenge yourself to make healthier meals for your child. Set a goal for 2 new healthy recipes to try out each week. Maybe you’re the impatient mom who yells more than you want to. Set a goal to use a particular skill daily and track your yelling to see your patterns (like making a tick mark in a notebook every time you yell). When you set measurable goals you not only begin with the end in mind but also set yourself up for success and a feeling of accomplishment. This will in turn effect your attitude, your self-esteem, and your drive to keep improving yourself. You will visually see progress instead of having an unclear view of how much or little you have improved.
3) Let go of what tears you down as a mom and hold on to the things that build you back up. Let go of unfair expectations whether by you, society, or significant others. Let go of the inner voice always pointing out what you didn’t do. Let go of taking responsibility for things beyond your control (i.e. You are not responsible for your child’s actions only for the way you respond to them). Hold on to smiles, giggles, “I love yous”, mumblings of “thanks” from your irritable teen. These are the 4s and the 5s. Remember them, journal them, and discard the negatives.
4) Ask for feedback. It can feel a little odd to ask “How am I doing?” to your partner or your children but it can open up a great conversation. Let down your defenses and be willing to listen. Most likely you will be surprised by what your family has to say and even the constructive feedback can give you a chance to strive for something you know your child feels they need. Host a family meeting for everyone to have the chance to offer feedback and state what they appreciate about one another and what they would like more of from each other. Simple sentence completions can be utilized such for younger children such as, “I like when mom _______”, “I would like it if mom would _______ more or less.”
Remember that you are doing a job that is it beyond numbers. And you’re doing better than you think you are. My apologies though, a raise is just not in the budget this year.