As a therapist and a mom, I hear a constant stream of self-denigration from my female clients, and many friends, although the latter usually conceal the seriousness of their feelings with humor. Both clients and friends feel like they aren't doing a good enough job as women in our society, and feel like failures that they can't be all things to all people. I feel many of these same things, as our culture requires women to be a lady in the streets, a freak in the sheets, and then an awesome Pinterest-worthy mom in the... um... kitchen, which doesn't rhyme, but that's okay. Oh and many women are also trying to work outside the home, be healthy, and look hot. All of this just isn't possible, which is why women end up feeling so anxious and overwhelmed, which then leads to their husband telling them to just calm down, a statement that works approximately zero percent of the time.
- Not doing enough "enriching" stuff with your kids.
2. Not spending every available second "parenting" your kids.
The idea of being a full time parent is new for our world, and so is the verb "parent." It's a Western idea and our grandparents would have laughed at it. I don't mean a stay at home parent by a full time parent. What I mean is someone who focuses on raising kids like it's their fulltime job, to the exclusion of hobbies, health, housework, sleep, or anything else. When people focus on their kids this way, they start to think of "parenting" as a job like "welding" or "being a doctor." This is dangerous, because if you're a welder, and you weld something awesome, you can feel good about your product. If you're a doctor, and you cure someone's illness, then you're a success as well. But as a parent, what is your product? A happy kid? A successful one? What yardstick should we use to measure happy or successful? A child is not a product, and no amount of "parenting" the "right" way can create a definite outcome, which many people see in the teen years. Instead, why not try just loving your kids and maintaining a self outside of them as well, which leads to less guilt for your kids and less resentment for you when they grow up and have their own lives outside of you.
3. Not having sex with your husband enough.
I am a big proponent of having sex if that's your and/or your husband's love language. I even encourage women to try and get in the mood when they aren't feeling it, for the sake of their marriage (and because women's desire is often responsive, meaning that they get excited during foreplay, versus before). But there are stages of life, and when a woman is overwhelmed with stress from work, kids, lack of sleep, housework, and everything else, she isn't going to be feeling very sexy. Many husbands find that if they are understanding when their wife is nursing/parenting small kids/overwhelmed with life, then when their wife emerges, less stressed, from this stage, they have awesome sex again. This usually coincides with all the kids going to school and/or a place in the woman's career where she has more flexibility and/or the woman getting her figure back after the babymaking years. So, don't beat yourself up if you don't want sex with the constant stream of cortisol in your blood from stress. But, having zero sex drive can be a good indicator that your life is too hectic, and you may want to think about ways to turn down the stress a bit (a therapist can help with this).
4. Not having a perfect house.
You know what most women think upon visiting a new potential friend whose house is messy? "Thank God! She won't judge me." Although of course there are limits to this, and kids will feel anxious and ashamed if their house is hoarded or dirty, there is a vast spectrum between perfect and a pig sty. Note though that if you grew up with dysfunctional parents and you have no idea how to make your home nice, it can be very healing and empowering to figure out how to make it look "normal." In general, if you tend toward anxiety about your house, ask a trusted friend (or even a therapist, via pictures of your home) to tell you if things look normal enough in your home that you don't have to spend precious hours of your life worrying about it.
5. Your body.
At some point, it is going to be time to stop worrying about what size you are, and just try to be the healthiest and happiest version of yourself. Most of our bodies aren't perfect after childbirth, and you can either go to 20 spinning classes a week to try and beat back the effects of time, or you can cut yourself some slack (unless you really love spinning). If you're keeping your body perfect for your husband, let me just say that I have never heard of a guy being as critical about a woman's body as women are about their own bodies. Questions like this one notwithstanding, guys usually have a much higher bar for what is "fat" or "unattractive" than women do. And you know what, if your husband cares that much about an extra 5-10 pounds, unless it means that you yourself are negative and self-demeaning because of the extra weight, then he needs his own therapist.
As women, we are told that we have to be perfect, but perfection is not human. See what happens if you cut yourself a break in even one of these areas over the upcoming weeks or months. You will be modeling a better, happier, and more confident parent for your children, and showing them that self-compassion is essential and achievable. Till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Perfect Is An Illusion.
Learn about Dr. Rodman's private practice, including therapy, coaching, and consultation, here. This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.