by Dr. Diane Sanford
In recent years the idea of raising kids as a woman's life purpose has come back, and accordingly mothers today face an unbelievable amount of pressure and performance anxiety. Media loves the myth of a "Super Mom," and women are bombarded with impossible standards of what a modern-day woman should be – smart, successful, beautiful, thin…
Unfortunately the majority of us have bought into this fantasy and are working too hard to achieve perfection at too many roles being the best mother, wife, professional, friend, hostess, fitness guru … and the list goes on and on. Perfection is held up as the standard of being a successful mom--rather than letting women know that
such lofty goals are unrealistic and inhuman, and often lead to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and the feeling that we are forever falling short.
• To meet these ridiculous standards for success, women are running ragged, exhausted and stressed, as we try to do it all on our own.
• We are in competition with one another. We compare ourselves to other moms who we think accomplish these unattainable goals with more ease and ability than we do. We think that if we try harder we can be at the top of the "successful mom" list and sometimes this means outdoing as well as doing our best.
• Women today more than ever view their children as extensions of themselves, reflecting to the world their competence, success and goodness not only as a mother but also as a human being, and they are taking on their children's successes and failures as their own. We think that unless our children are performing well in all aspects of their lives (school, sports, etc.), we have dropped the ball and are failing as mothers and human beings.
• As they spend all of their time supporting their children's interests and desires – e.g. chauffeuring them to every activity, event, party, etc. – they are ignoring themselves and not pursuing activities they once found satisfying, rewarding, and fulfilling. They think that if they pour all their attention and energy into their children's activities and achievements, they will feel successful and whole. Instead, they end up feeling burned out, run down and emotionally depleted which is a recipe for disaster for them and their families.
• Because women have poured themselves into mastering so many roles (i.e. being the director of their child's social, emotional and intellectual development), they have neglected what makes them happy and nourishes them. They don't make time for activities which used to bring them joy (reading, crafts, going to the gym, lunch with friends) and by mid-life, even begin to forget what these things were. They feel that something is missing but can't imagine what it could be because their lives are so full and busy. Over time, they have lost themselves .
Although women may think and the media promotes that the way to feel successful is to learn to do more faster and better, this is not the solution. In truth, women need to find ways to slow themselves down enough so they can reflect on their lives and how they feel. To be able to consciously decide where they want to put their attention and energy by making sane choices about what is truly important for them and their children. Running around on fumes won't provide the emotional sustenance which they and their families need for their health and well-being.
As William Ross Wallace wrote in his poem What Rules the World The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rocks the world. And it's true. Motherhood is the pre-eminent force for all of human kind's well-being. While this reality can be awesome and crushing, it is also infused with great hope and opportunity. We have the chance to rewrite the unattainable and unrealistic expectations which characterize contemporary motherhood and create a kinder, gentler reality for ourselves and our children.