Not Good Enough: How to set a realistic standard

Do you lay awake at night and think about the things you failed at each day? Do you wonder if you are Good Enough – a good enough parent, a good enough partner, a good enough employee?

I used to run this list every single night before I fell asleep. What I did wrong. What I didn’t do at all. Where I tried, but did badly. Where I didn’t have enough time or energy to even try. For me, the place I always judged my self to be not Good Enough was in my parenting. In my own judgement, I was never kind enough, patient enough, present enough. No matter what kind of day we’d had, it was never good enough for my internal judge to allow me to see myself as a good mother.

This is a crippling way to live. I’d wake every morning, not filled with excitement about what I could accomplish each day, but cringing with anxiety about all the new ways I would let down my daughter and myself. I had lost track of my ability to acknowledge the things I was doing well, and only saw the ways I was failing.

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Something Had To Give

My turning point was after reading The Good Mother Myth.

In the introduction to this book of essays, the author tackles the idea of what we, as a culture, consider a Good Mother to be. These are the standards we have built up, based on our cultural expectations and media influences, of how a mother should behave with her children and in the world. It is behind the divide over working moms and stay at home moms. How we perceive single mothers, helicopter parenting, Tiger Moms and that mom on her iPhone at the park – our level of acceptance or outrage is based in these deep-rooted Good Mother standards. We each have our own set of standards, based on our experiences, surroundings, and inputs, but largely they are externally based.

But that collective vision of a Good Mother is mythical. She simply isn’t real – she can’t be. She’s based on picking and choosing from many different sources of influence, and not an actual real person with feelings and emotions and struggles.

We each have our own set of Good Mother standards, based on our experiences, surroundings, and inputs. That standard is just as likely to be impossible and unfair, but we use that personal standard to measure ourselves against as well as other moms around us.  We judge others for failing to meet the criteria we hold up as the measure, and we judge ourselves just as harshly. Even though the measuring stick we are using is impossible, unreasonable, or unfair.

Am I Good Enough?

I woke up in the middle of the night after reading the introduction to the book thinking about what my personal Good Mother Myth was. What standards was I holding myself to? Where did I feel like I was failing? And then I got up and wrote it all down.

Just having it out of my head and on paper has been powerful.

Self judgement in my head is insidious and subtle. Written down on paper I can see how outlandish and unfair some of my own judgements are.

Here is the Good Mother standard I had been using to judge myself:

  • My child must always be well-behaved and tidy in public or it is a negative reflection on my mothering skills.
  • I should love floor play, pretend play and reading picture books. I should jump to participate whenever my child asks me to.
  • I am solely responsible for the running of the household. That includes shopping for and cooking food, cleaning, decorating, gardening, and all budgeting and saving.
  • I must always feed by family fresh, organic, wholesome and balanced meals cooked from scratch.
  • I should always have the energy and desire to maintain an emotionally intimate and sexually active relationship with my man.
  • I must know – or know where to quickly find – the answers to all my parenting questions. This includes health, behavior, and mental and emotional development questions.
  • I should have a close and active tribe of mother-friends who I see often. We should be close enough to share child care and secrets about our lives. We should never drift apart – having busy lives is not an excuse.
  • I must be slim, fit, and look put together at all times.
  • I should never make my child cry by withholding my attention from her.
  • My child should be enrolled in a variety of enriching activities – music, art, dance, yoga and playgroups.
  • It is my personal duty to build my child’s self-esteem, confidence, manners and emotional and creative resilience.
  • I should commit myself to these duties full time (24 hours/7 days). I left my career for this!
  • I should not need help with any of this, and I should feel, at all times, fulfilled and happy.

It was watching that last item on the list flow from my pen that was the sock in the gut.

Writing a New List

As much as I talk and write about how mothers deserve support and help, that motherhood may not be entirely fulfilling for all women and that mothers need to feed their souls lots of different ways, there it was. Somewhere deep in my heart I still believe that just being a mother should be enough for me. I should be happy with just that. And that when I need other activities, when I need help, when I need time off, that I am failing. I’m failing my partner, and worse, I’m failing my child. I’m not Good Enough.

deserve love and affection

Writing it down and looking at it isn’t the same as letting it go. But getting a clearer view of my own struggle between what I feel and what I believe is helping me pay attention when I hear that self-judging voice whispering in my ear. It is helping me say, “Yes, thank you for trying to help me be a Good Mother, but I’m still working out that definition. I also want to be a Good And Joyful Human.” Over and over I choose to down my judgement of myself.

The place where you worry most that you are Good Enough might be parenting, or it might be something else. It might be who you are as a wife. Or how you show up in your job, or in running your business. It might be how your body looks, or how you participate in your community. You have the power to analyze the standard you are holding yourself up to. You get to decide, consciously, if that’s a standard you agree with. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a better version of yourself, just make sure that the guidelines you are using are realistic.

When you dig deep down and look at what you think you need to do or be to be Good Enough, what is on that list? Having trouble unearthing those beliefs? Schedule a session with me and we can do the unearthing together. 

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5 Responses to Not Good Enough: How to set a realistic standard

  1. Dianna O'Brien July 17, 2014 at 9:27 am #

    Whoa! Amazing how many things you list are on my LIST and I’m not even a mom! Can’t work on letting it go until we see it and this post will help me see what I need to let go of! Thanks, Dona for another excellent, insightful piece!
    Dianna O’Brien recently posted…The history behind The Blue Note buildingMy Profile

  2. Juniper July 14, 2014 at 9:51 am #

    Very resonant thoughts here. The disparity between what your mind and heart believe can really be powerful, especially in the realm of judging yourself. If I could set aside a belief, it would be “it’s better to lose sleep than to ask for help.” I really don’t know how I’m going to get over this one! It’s tied up with “creative endeavors are self-indulgent.”
    Juniper recently posted…A writer's discipline as it relates to an almond butter sandwichMy Profile

    • Doña July 14, 2014 at 10:27 pm #

      Oh, yes, that creative endeavors one gets me, too.

  3. Sharon July 14, 2014 at 6:54 am #

    Brilliant post Dona. Brene Brown lists parenting/mothering as one of the top shame triggers for women. Why on earth do we do this to ourselves?
    Sharon recently posted…When the Good Crowds Out The BestMy Profile

    • Doña July 14, 2014 at 10:30 pm #

      Thank you, Sharon. I’d have to agree with Brene on that – the shame, confusion and guilt I feel about various parenting decisions far outweighs any feelings I’ve had about questionable relationship choices, body image, etc.

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