By Denise Makowski
Self-criticizing, shaming, fault-finding, and comparing only seem to crack the surface at ways in which numerous mothers, myself included, self-condemn. But mom guilt, even with all its ugliness and heartache, can provide us the opportunity to embrace our imperfections and ignite our inner spark.
For Eva Fowley, a mother of three, the need for perfection in both her marriage and role as a mother would leave her feeling broken, tired and beaten down.
“I was constantly working to be better and achieve this perfect life,” Fowley said, who has since begun embracing each moment- good and bad. “Life is a process. Do not try to be Superwoman. She’s not real.”
Beth Sri, mother of eight and founder of Born To Do This, pointed out the importance of keeping a vulnerable heart.
“Be honest with your kids,” Sri said, encouraging mothers to apologize to their children if they missed a good night book or couldn’t pull everything together for whatever the occasion. “If your kids can see you make mistakes and it’s okay, the more pressure we take off of [them] to need perfection and fall through the same cycle as adults.”
Dr. Regina Boerio, mother, grandmother, professor of psychology and dean of humanities and social sciences at Franciscan University, noted that most mothers feel pressure to be perfect moms and that social media has increased the urge to compare.
“In our humanness, we can’t do all things perfectly,” Dr. Boerio explained, adding that the idea of perfection is not a reality. But, when it comes to making comparisons, the experience can be a positive one when done in a healthy way. “Compare that people have different gifts, and we can embrace what we personally have. God formed us in His image and likeness but uniquely. We are not all called to do the same thing. We are called to do different things.”
In our social media driven world, it can be difficult to navigate the flawless homes, impeccably dressed families, activity-filled lives of kids and dreamy relationship photos with the snow-capped mountains as a backdrop, without feeling deflated. But, along with making healthy comparisons and recognizing that most social media users only post the wonderful moments, it can be beneficial to monitor the messages and images that are plastered across our feeds.
“Fill your feed with what will fill your soul,” Sri said, encouraging women to seek what is inspirational and beautiful. “Look for what is more of a recharge instead of what will suck you dry.”
Dr. Boerio pointed out that it can also be beneficial to reflect on why one is feeling guilty. Perhaps if we feel guilty for checking our phones too often or uploading posts instead of focusing on the present, it’s time to limit our use of them.
While conquering our internal maternal guilt, it is important to include our husbands into our hearts and continue to tend to and care for the sanctity and beauty of marriage for the sake of our relationships and our families.
For Claire Couche, mother and founder of Finding Philothea and Moscati Scrubs, there was no room for fear, insecurities or judgment between her and her husband. “There is such freedom and joy in creating a trustworthy relationship with one another,” Couche said as she shared some advice that she’s implemented in her own marriage for other wives. “[My husband and I] take time to do a relationship “vitals check”. We ask each other: how we are doing, what our favorite thing was that month, what we didn’t like about the past month, what we would like to change, and any goals we would like to accomplish. It’s helped us communicate where we are and find ways in which we can love each other better.”
Along with completing a relationship vitals check, Couche encouraged wives and mothers to make time for themselves, to make time to pray and to make a list of three goals for the following day each night. “The size of the goal doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are focusing on what you have to do as well as keeping promises you set for yourself. Goals help us to stay motivated, energetic, focused, and organized.”
Communicating with your spouse and setting time to date each other also encourages cultivation of a healthy and happy marriage.
Some date night ideas for couples could include: listening to audiobooks, battling each other in a friendly board game competition, looking through old photo albums and reliving each moment, volunteering together, dancing to your wedding song after the kids are put to bed, setting aside twenty minutes to pray together and so forth.
“Some of my favorite memories with Mike are when we try something new together,” Couche shared. “We see ourselves and our spouse in an entire new light. It’s beautiful.”
But, sometimes, the best course of action to take when struggling with self-defeating criticism and guilt is to be vulnerable.
According to Sri, “If negative thoughts are allowed to fester, they will come out in other ways.” She encouraged mothers and wives to share with their husbands, therapists or trusted friends and family. “Things cannot exist in the open because, once it’s there, it evaporates.”
Couche also touched on the importance of bringing darkness to light. “Talk to someone about those feelings. Don’t hold them in. When those feelings start creeping into your heart, do something productive. Make a cup of tea, write a love letter or text to your husband and/or take ten deep breaths. Do something for yourself or someone.”
Perfection isn’t a reality. Protect your heart from social media by recognizing we each have different gifts and talents, fill your soul with inspirational posts or just take a break from it all. Nurture the relationship you have with your spouse. Be vulnerable and share your heart. Trust in God. And, lastly, as Eva Fowley said, “Be kind to yourself. You are a great mom and just love yourself enough to truly believe it.”