“The more you approve of your own decisions in life, the less you feel the need to have them approved or accepted by others” – Unknown
I shared this quote on my Facebook page last week and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
One thing I strongly believe is that if we truly have peace with and faith in our own actions and choices, both as parents and human beings, we can take the sting out of almost any criticism and in doing so help to diffuse negative self-talk at the same time.
My breast-feeding story was an example of this. After having my daughter I spent the best part of two years berating myself for being unable to breast-feed her. As a result I was highly attuned to any conversation on the topic and would often find judgement where perhaps there was none intended. I really didn’t have peace with my inability to breast-feed and this clouded not only my interpretation of events but also my opinion of myself as a mother. I viewed every conversation and article on the subject through the prism of my own experiences so was extremely sensitive and self-critical.
Theodore Roosevelt once said “Comparison is the thief of joy”.
There will usually be someone who you perceive to have or be a better x, y or z than you. Perception is the key word here. I’ve said before that we never really know the struggles others are enduring behind the scenes and anyway, no-one else can lessen what you already are, even if they’re cleverer/richer/thinner/happier than you.
No one has the monopoly on any feeling or any characteristic and comparing our lives with others’, whether to make ourselves feel better or worse is never the healthiest of pastimes.
I belong to several Facebook mums’ groups and I never cease to be surprised (and often disappointed) at the fervency with which opinions are often communicated. I’ve witnesses many openly scathing online attacks on those with different viewpoints, and even more quietly judgemental and passive-aggressive debates turning into conflicts. Each one makes me feel both anxiety and despair at the sometimes seemingly non-existent sisterhood or solidarity amongst certain mothers online.
“What other people think of you is none of your business. If you start to make it your business, you’ll be offended for the rest of your life.”
I genuinely believe that most of what people say is not about me or you, it’s a reflection of them, viewing life through the prism of their own experiences and often their self-doubts, too.
I spend a lot of time observing people’s behaviours. Watching a storm descend online I often pontificate on why people are conducting themselves in such a way…. What drives them? I wonder if sometimes, without even realising, criticism of others is a strategy for boosting a flailing self esteem. I suspect that much of the more embittered denigration of other mother’s methods comes from a place of buried inadequacy. Proving superiority. Knocking others down in order to build yourself up, as it were.
Having faith in our own choices could go such a long way in removing the need to be validated by the approval of others and the subsequent tendency to see an “us and them” pattern with other mothers who may do things differently.
Some choices are easier than others to reconcile and there will always be mistakes. But our mistakes don’t define us, they’re just learning opportunities.
I’m working on giving myself some grace and remembering that setbacks or minor-catastrophes can also be viewed as chances to practice self-kindness and cut myself some slack. Parenting seems to be one huge learning curve and every time you think you’ve sussed it, the goal posts seem to move again.
Rather than always elaborating on the most negative interpretation of events I need to remember that I’m human. Sometimes I shout and sometimes I cry and that’s OK. Because the decisions I make, whether right or wrong, are always made in love and with the best interests of my family heart. I truly believe that the vast majority of mothers out there are the same as me. We’re trying our best. Sometimes our best will be better than other days and sometimes “good enough” will have to suffice, but there is always love.
When looking back on why I reacted in a particular way to a situation, Often, on reflection, I realise that I’ve been looking to others to help me feel good enough about my decisions or choices.
I’ve said before that we can’t control what others say to us, but we can try our hardest to control our reactions. If, for example, your mother-in-law comments that your child isn’t dressed warmly enough for the cold weather you have a choice as to how you react. You can assume she thinks you’re a dreadful parent who doesn’t have a clue what’s best for your child and spend the rest of the day admonishing yourself. Or, you can remind yourself that you know your child better than anyone. You know your little one will get cranky and cross if she gets too hot. You can move on from the conversation and get on with your day by having faith in the choices you make.
The same goes for almost any decision you make for your children; feeding, weaning, co-sleeping, schooling… you’ve made your decisions with love and care. Others are entitled to do the same and it’s no reflection on you or me if their choices are different. Your instincts are usually right for your children and the same applies to other parents, too.
Now, I don’t think I’m ever likely to become to type of person who genuinely doesn’t care what other people think. However, it is becoming more and more apparent to me that by recognising my own strengths I can work towards nurturing a mindset of not needing everyone else’s approval or acknowledgement that I am a good enough person or parent.
Because, I’ll let you in on a little secret; I am a good enough person and parent. And so are you.
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Fab post. I feel more and more the same as you do as I get older (and as my children grow from baby and toddler into schooler and preschooler and I’m maybe a little less hormonal and a little better slept!). I look back on some of the impassioned debates I had (I’m not really the arguing type but I definitely expended energy trying to sway people round to my thinking!) now and feel completely calm and no impulse to continue that way at all. I don’t feel guilty because I really believed I was doing the right thing at the time and if someone else is under attack I will definitely defend, but it no longer serves me to worry about what others think or are doing themselves…. Peace and calm, yeah! x
Wonderful quotes and thoughts. I like what you have written. I feel that sometimes people hide behind the anonymity of the keyboard to attack others. It really is only a reflection on themselves rather than the person they are attacking. Nobody is in a place to judge unless they have walked in the shoes of the other person. Keep going with what you are doing. I believe you are on the right track. And fwiw, I was never able to breast feed any of my children either. And they are healthy and happy and one even has children of her own now.
I think there is something that makes some people behave strangely in that time after childbirth. I am speaking as a convert… a convert away from that way of thinking. I used to be, not exactly one of those militant breastfeeding activists, but I did have sympathy with that way of thinking.
I think you are right about this coming about through a sense of inadequacy. For me it was because so much of my identity – study, work, independence from other beings – had been taken away from me and I needed to assert some form of identity.
Maybe when they have been through this time in their lives some of these people will reflect on their behaviour and attitudes, like I did, and realise that they were wrong.
In the meantime, it’s good to see that you are resisting all of this and rising above it.
When people first become parents they are learning new skills, often on little sleep and it can seriously cloud their usually sound thinking. Before I had children, and in the early days after having my 4yo, I was a lot more judgemental. Nowadays I’m so much more accepting of others, because I’ve experienced how tough parenting can be myself. Everyone is finding their own way of doing things – there is no right or wrong. For me, as long as I can put my hand on my heart and say I did my best that is all that matters #MBPW
“Comparison is the thief of joy” – I like it! Something I really should try and live my life by more often as I’m so rarely content that I’m doing as well as other people, but then on reflection I think, well, I’m happy – I’m probably as contented as I’ve ever been and I know that its difficult to get perspective with really little children but “this too shall pass” is also ever so true!