In the field of social work we choose to adopt what is called a strengths based perspective when working with clients. This means our treatment focus is on the individuals strengths in helping them solve problems. This is a radical change from other psychological discipline approaches in focusing on symptoms and dysfunction. If we choose to focus on weaknesses and problems that becomes our sense of reality and our worldview. This may lead to thoughts such as “Things will never get easier,” or “I’m a failure,” or “What is wrong with me that I can’t be better at this?” Then those thoughts lead to a sense of being defeated, lower motivation, and lower personal satisfaction.
Being aware of our strengths can help us in many ways. Strengths can be something we reflect on after we’ve made mistakes or start to feel insecure about our weaknesses in order to boost our self-confidence and self-esteem. Awareness of strengths can help us reframe our perspective of a problem or of a negative judgement to help us see the positive. We can also utilize our strengths as tools to creatively resolve challenges. When we start viewing ourselves with a strengths based perspective we can start viewing our children in that way raising them with a healthy self-esteem and helping them maximize their own personal strengths.
Here’s an example. I once worked with a young girl who had a lower than average IQ and had autism spectrum traits. She had no friends at school and had difficulites initiating conversations with others. When working with her in therapy I struggled to help her practice social skills we were reviewing because she often changed the subject or went on off-topic tangents in conversation that all led back to the television show, My Little Pony. She could literally recite an entire episode to me and enjoyed acting them out for me, even switching voices for the different characters. Initially it was a power struggle for me to limit her time “acting” for me in session because I considered it off task but I began to realize what a strength this was for her. I started to utilize this as a springboard for our sessions. I let her act at length in sessions and asked her how the characters felt and related and helped her reflect on the social skills that ponies demonstrated in the episode. Slowly I helped her switch from acting as a My Little Pony character to her own self and she began to master conversational skills and conflict management skills. I watched her develop more and more insight into the feelings and experiences of others. She made a lot of progress in the year and a half we worked together because she had an amazing imagination and acting ability that she was able to finally utilize to overcome some of her shyness and social skill deficits.
So how do you start being aware of your strengths to overcome your challenges as a mother? You need to become more aware of how truly awesome you are.
1) Start with what you enjoy and what gives you energy.
We usually are good at the things we enjoy doing. What are the things you like doing as a mom? Do you relish in the daily routines you engage in with your child? Do you love engaging them in new activities and exposing them to new concepts? Maybe you take joy in providing a cozy and organized home. Perhaps you really enjoy play with your child and love engaging in imaginative play or creating things with your child. There are no wrong answers here. What you see as a strength lies in your own perspective. Write down 2-3 of your favorite tasks or activities that you enjoy as a mom.
2) Think of the times you feel at your best that reflect your strengths.
Reflect on when you feel at your best as a mom–what are you doing at that time? Watching them master a new skill? Nurturing them when they need you? Making their favorite meal? Consoling them after a meltdown? Write down 2-3 of the moments or times when you feel at your best as a mom and see how that reflects your own personal strengths.
Try to remember that even tasks that seem small and mindless in our mind have a big impact on our kids. Let’s take an example. I have a difficult time keeping up a lot of energy when I play with my toddler and staying engaged. But I am very animated when I read to him and do lots of funny voices. This may seem to me sometimes as not a big deal but not only am I instilling a love of reading in my child I am bringing that book to life to him, helping him increase his imagination, and his delight and giggles in my performances are something he looks forward to before bedtime. That is a big deal and I don’t need to minimize it.
3) Look for past examples of success or overcoming challenges.
Another way of seeing strengths is looking at past successes. What have been some great “mom wins” for you? Surviving a 16 hour flight with a 22-month old was something I never thought I could do and I’m happy to say I did it without losing my temper or my son having a serious tantrum. How about ways you have overcome difficult challenges during motherhood? Maybe you experienced postpartum depression and sought out help-that is being resourceful. Maybe you found a way to laugh about it-that’s utilizing a sense of humor. Maybe you researched different methods of handling the problem and tried different approaches-that’s using knowledge as a strength. These past successes and challenges are building blocks of your identity as a mom and can continue to be referenced for future problems. Write down 2-3 past of your biggest motherhood successes and think about your impact on that success.
4) Think about the strengths of your resources and environment.
Part of what we also assess as social workers is the person’s environmental strengths. These include the support systems and quality of our relationships, environmental situation (living environment, financial situation) and resources that are available or the person utilizes. This can give a person new ideas when thinking of how to utilize their environmental strengths to address needs or problems. How is your support system? Who can you turn to for help? Who or what are you biggest assets that support you in being the best mom you can? Do you utilize community or internet resources for information or support? Write down 2-3 environmental strengths.
Did you find at any time that you were leaning into thinking about the potential negatives of your strengths? I did. I thought, “I know I keep him social but maybe I never give him enough security at home? Maybe I don’t keep his schedule predictable enough?” That’s when its time to STOP that thought in its track and discard. Go back to strengths based focus.
So now that you have a list of 8 strengths keep it around as reference. When you’re having a difficult day look at them and challenge yourself to think creatively of ways to address these problems. Or when you’ve had a day where you felt like a “bad mom” go back to this list before bed and remember all of your redeeming qualities that help you realize that you aren’t one. Your strengths are your own unique set of tools that can help you fix problems, enhance your confidence, and be the best mom you can be. Be proud Mamas.