The magazine L recently stated that many women suffer from low self-esteem because they are mothers.
Think about this for a moment. How would you like to be the daughter of a woman who said the reason she feels terrible about herself is because you were born? This would not only be a horrible burden for you to bear, but it would give you the clear belief you are an unwanted child.
I believe what L was attempting to say, but did so poorly, is that many mothers put undue pressure on themselves, which in turn makes them miserable. As a pediatrician, I have seen this coming for years. Mothers are a fiercely competitive lot. Many feel they need to: breastfeed their babies until the infants are two; cook only organic foods; make gluten-free meals; find the best pre-school, elementary school, high school and college possible for all the children, and make sure they get excellent grades to get into those schools; be “class mom” for each child for at least one grade; be a Brownie troop leader; never feed the kids fast food; make sure the children are enrolled in at least one sport per semester (with the best coaches, of course); ensure that each plays one instrument proficiently; make sure the child speaks at least two languages; work at a stimulating job outside the home that brings in decent money for the family; exercise at least 45 minutes three times per week; and lose those last 10 pounds after giving birth.
And this is just the beginning of the list most mothers create for themselves.
No wonder so may moms feel miserable! We have become so performance-oriented we’ve created a monster. How did we get here? We made one colossal error in judgment: that our value as mothers comes from what we do for our kids rather who we are to our kids.
The more we do, we believe, the better we should feel about ourselves — which will result in having higher self-esteem.
But this is a ruse — not just for us, but for our kids, too. And we know it. After all, if we teach them that our self-esteem comes from our performance, they rightly conclude their self-esteem comes from the same. We, as super performers, raise kids who are super performers. But neither of us ever comes to understand the deeper meaning of life: Where do I belong, why am I alive, and do I have significance as a human?
No perfectly executed list of mom to-do items could ever answer these important questions.
The truth is, our value and happiness cannot and should not come from the stuff we do for our kids — ever. Our value comes from the fact that we belong to our children. We are their moms and because we are, we are irreplaceable. We are the ones who fill their deep needs for love, trust, belonging, security and significance. Just being their mothers, with all of our innumerable flaws, fills those primal voids.
We impart significance to our children by loving them like crazy. We teach belonging by showing them their unique and irreplaceable role in the family structure. They learn that they are valuable not because they perform well in all of the “opportunities” we give them, but because we — whom they look up to — want their company and time to be with them. We are the women who love them more than we love our own lives.
My challenge to each exhausted mother is this: Rip up your list. Stop trying to do more for your kids in order to be a better mom than your best friend because you get your kids to outperform her kids.
Instead, have the courage to overhaul your current paradigm and learn to simply just be for your kids. I can promise you one thing: You will have a much happier child on your hands.
Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for more than 30 years. She is the author of the new book, “Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need” (Regnery Publishing, May 2017), as well as a number of digital parenting resources and online courses, including The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.