Mom Guilt: It’s okay to like yourself.

I’m writing this right now in my office in Benson, two stories above Maple Street, listening to the thumping bass coming from the bar one floor beneath me. My 2.5 year old daughter, Alice, is in the other room on the couch playing Endless Alphabet on my iPad, snacking on raisins and waffle after her nap. It’s Saturday and she’s been with me all day which is unusual for a weekend day, when my husband usually commands the parenting duties, but he wanted time to focus on his side project and I was happy to help.

Before I became a mom–and my own strong, amazing mother was a big contributor to this–I saw Motherhood as a final signpost of wisdom and maturity, but for me–and I’m sure now for most moms reading this, including my own strong, amazing mother–it doesn’t always come easily. Intuition is one thing, but with my daughter, I never know what’s coming next as she develops and changes. She’s got her own needs and ideas and questions and agenda for each day. Her mind wants to be challenged all the time, she’s always hungry for more to do, and some days it’s hard to keep up with her. It’s easy to feel like I’m not doing enough, giving enough, teaching enough, listening enough, watching enough. That my example isn’t enough. That surrounding her with a loving community of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and teachers isn’t enough.

That’s Mom Guilt talking. That’s the pressure I’m putting on myself from some external perceived expectation that mothering should to be fraught with self-sacrifice and hardship, and being happy with my child and myself, liking myself, feeling satisfied, is cheating. What if I admitted that I felt pretty good about myself both as a mother, AND outside my identity as a parent? What if, deep down, I like myself?

I want to hear more openly, bravely confident mothers.

I think that one way women–women with stress in particular–tend to relate to each other is with mutual self-shaming. I see this in everything from women refusing to accept a compliment (“I only look good in this because I’m wearing Spanx”) to  resorting to using stereotypes about themselves to start a conversation (“Wow, this is such a treat for me! I normally never get out of the  house, I’m just a mom”).

No one is “just a mom,” but if you feel like just a mom, I wouldn’t blame you. In a culture where 99% of stay-at-home parents are women, where we are reminded at every turn that we will never “have it all” (though we’re still expected to strive for it), and where women are expected to be everything–and give up everything–for the sake of their children, the crisis of identity many of us go through as new mothers makes a lot of sense. The only way “being a mom first” makes sense is if you think there’s an inherent conflict between motherhood and other goals or commitments, which there isn’t, which is a topic for another post.

It’s so important to speak about ourselves, our ideas, our interests. It’s important to diversify and invest in developing and KNOWING ourselves so that we can define ourselves as more than our relationships (Dave’s wife, Alice’s mother). These identities may seem innocuous, and of course they’re true and important, but but there’s a danger in returning to an ideal where women’s most important identity is relational rather than individual. If we want to decrease the gap of equality between the sexes, women with children could better represent progress toward the goal by identifying as unique people with unique value.

It’s Important to Feel Beautiful

Motherhood is not an excuse to use when you feel bad about how you’re dressed or what your hair looks like. “I don’t wear makeup because I don’t care and I feel great without it” is awesome. “I love to wear jeans every day because they help me kick ass” is perfect. “Ponytails make me feel beautiful” is wonderful, and “I don’t care about my looks at all as the pressure to conform to beauty standards is a tool of the patriarchy” will also get you a thumbs-up from me of course. But in my line of work I’ve met so many beautiful women who refuse to spend any time on themselves, and the use the excuse that a swipe of lipstick is “too dressed up,” or a peek of decolletage is “too slutty,” or that anything other than a ponytail is impractical for raising kids represents shame put upon women for taking time for themselves–because after all, there’s always more housework and mothering to be done.

I’m taking about confidence, and I’m talking about liking how you look, which has nothing to do with the number of self-sacrificial punches on your Mom Guilt Card.

I’m wearing a solid navy shift dress with big front pockets, gray tights, and Mary Jane flats. The whole outfit took me less time to put on than jeans and a t-shirt, and as you know if you know me, I have twelve of these dresses so getting ready takes no thought. Last night, I went to a friend’s birthday party at night which I prepared for by setting my hair in hot rollers which took about 10 minutes plus cooling time, and today I’m wearing last night’s curls in a simple ponytail. I don’t usually wear makeup, but I do like lipstick. This is enough for me–I feel like I look awesome and the confidence helps me draw power to accomplish my work, learn about new things, and play an active role in my family, friendships, and community.

If the problem with treating your body the way you want to treat it, and looking the way you want to look is discomfort with change–”looking too fancy”–try one thing for a week. Promise yourself you’ll do it for a week, no matter how weird it feels at first. Like a red lipstick, a jersey dress, a quick moment with a curling iron or a tube of mascara. The secret is, the grocery store and cafe strangers you cross paths with will have no idea that you don’t do this normally–no one will know except you. When I try, I feel different, I act different, and I feel more powerful with that confidence. Lipstick and laundry comes and goes, but that confidence gained from giving yourself the time to feel your best is the entire point.

Hear Compliments for What They Are

When I tell someone they look great, it’s because I really think that, and when the other person responds with self-deprecation, it makes me uncomfortable because they aren’t comfortable with my compliment. People say kind words about us because they mean them. Get comfortable saying “Thank you” without adding any qualifiers to the end that diminish the other person’s kind words, which honors both of you. It’s not polite or nice to say things about yourself that devalue you. No one will think you are stuck-up for being grateful for a compliment, so there is no need to begin the back-and-forth social dance of “You look better,” “No, you look better,” “I look okay, I guess,” “I have to wear Spanx,” etc.

A lot of the putting down that we do to ourselves is, straight up, just telling lies to keep other women from thinking that we’ve got our lives more “together” than they do. All of our lives we’ve been taught that we have to compete against each other for the few spots at the top, but when women are against each other, the only people that helps is those who seek to benefit from our oppression. That’s why we have to start celebrating each others’ happiness and individuality, and supporting each other through confusion and struggles and frustration, rather than pressure each other to fit into a mold of motherhood or womanhood or whatever identity we feel is least offensive to female solidarity.

I like myself. And I really like you. Never forget that you have power and value as an individual and as part of a collective to pursue whatever brings you the most fulfillment and meaning, and that any moment you take to look in the mirror and smile, or contribute to a project you enjoy is something to be proud of. Never guilty.

xx

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  • karen oh

    Random comment- I bought that sweater for my 2 year old daughter too! http://karenincolor.blogspot.com/2013/03/diner.html I love mixing “boy” clothes in with girl stuff. I’ve found great simple shoes in the boy section at wal-mart for her too- everything “girl” seems to be so gaudy (although I know it’s because a lot of girls just love that!)

    ps: great post!

    • http://about.me/meganhunt Megan Hunt

      thanks a lot, karen! I love that sweater, she likes the elbow patches. :)

  • Laura

    I love this blog post, you’re so awesome. You’ve reminded me that I really need to get out of my ‘mum rut’ and get back to being me (and the me that rocks). I’ve worn lipstick on the school run all week and felt so much better for it!!

  • Diane @ DixieJulep

    First, I just have to say I love this post so
    much!

    The part about the conflict between motherhood
    and other goals especially rung true to me. In our society we tend to celebrate
    people with diverse interests and talents…until they become a mother. Then
    suddenly it shifts to a zero-sum paradigm, where every moment you spend doing
    something for yourself is viewed as a moment you’re spending not mothering. I
    think a lot of us realize this is a false mindset and that maintaining our own
    identities is important, yet we tend to unconsciously reinforce that mentality in
    our comments to other mothers. Instead of just celebrating our mom friends who
    are sassy dressers, fierce athletes or Martha-worthy housekeepers, we see their
    accomplishments through the lens of our own insecurities and struggles and we
    hold up our children as shields against the threat of comparison. If we take responsibility
    for the choices we make about how we spend our time and energy, it really frees
    us from attacking or defending the way other women spend theirs.

    • http://about.me/meganhunt Megan Hunt

      “We hold up our children as shields against the threat of comparison.” What an astute observation–thanks so much for this.

  • Emma Erickson

    I know that my Mom had guilt about leaving my sister and I at daycare. But I have great respect for her because she worked so hard (too hard) for us so that we could go to the best schools and take dance and piano (or whatever) and go to college. As a daughter, I am always trying get my mom to relax, slow down and enjoy her life. I am constantly reminding her of her value, wisdom and strength. Funny thing is that she is the person who taught me all of these things. Humans have a unique opportunity to be so closely connected with their children throughout their entire lives. Daughters can give back to their Mom’s when they grow up, in ways they weren’t capable of as children.

    • http://about.me/meganhunt Megan Hunt

      I love your mom–it’s true that we never feel like we’re doing enough, but to our children it’s always enough. xx

      • http://about.me/meganhunt Megan Hunt

        or, trying our best is enough.

  • jacquelinefrey

    i like this post, megan. i’ve been married 6 years, with two children in the last 4 years and the pressure to “forget yourself for the sake of being a good mother” is a philosophy that i grew up with, and am fighting against. i’m learning that it’s not selfish at all to take care of yourself, to stay creative, to dress up, to maintain a dating relationship with your husband and good relationships with girlfriends.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sarahlorsungtvrdik Sarah Joy Lorsung Tvrdik

    I really like this post. I’m happy that you began with stating that it’s all about finding a look that really makes you feel good -whether it’s jeans or heels and a tutu all women and all mothers deserve that.
    I’m not a mother but I cannot stress enough that I ALWAYS have a better day when I’m feeling good about my appearance, which sometimes just entails getting out of my sweats and combing my hair. Nice work, Meg.
    xx

  • Anna Newell Jones

    beautifully written megan! you articulate your thoughts and the message so well!

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