The movie "Bad Moms" just opened in US theaters, and while it's a comedy about some ridiculous standards the movie Moms are called to meet, the truth is not so far off. Mom shaming is rampant -- made worse by the constant comparisons brought to our doorsteps every moment by social media. Moms are unrealistically expected to perform to the highest standards at work and at home. The pressure to achieve the Fabulous Facebook life and Pinterest Perfection is exhausting and excessive.
We need to look at Moms and Moms need to look at themselves through a new prism. It's a good time for new strategies to tap into, not tune out, our emotional needs by decoding the inner dialogue inside our heads.
In my new book arriving in September, Organize Your Emotions, Optimize Your Life, which I co-authored with Harvard Medical School professor Edward Phillips, M.D., and veteran journalist John Hanc, we propose an approach to the human psyche that is basically an adult version of the Oscar-winning Pixar movie, Inside Out, positing that we have an inner family of nine life forces each with unique agendas, voices, and emotions. Let's use this model to go inside - to identify, decode, assess the mind's inner dialogue to better understand what Moms are dealing with, and help them find the path to a more sane, happier and healthier place.
Of the nine, let's take a look first at the dominant part Moms are dealing with, the Standard Setter, which has the job of setting the bar for achievement and self-worth. It tracks external standards too to make sure we make the grade and get respect and validation. It's the part that asks the question "am I good enough, smart enough, fast enough, productive enough, attractive enough. Am I a good enough mom??" You get the picture. There is nothing wrong with the drive to perform well, meet others' standards, and earn respect from ourselves and others. It's natural and normal and healthy. However, the Standard Setter's agenda of meeting internal and external performance standards is only one agenda of being human. Let's consider eight other agendas that all together provide more balance, wisdom, and thriving.
#2. Autonomy focuses on self-determination as psychologists call it, being the master of one's destiny, marching to one's drummer and being authentic by living life according to one's heartfelt values. Autonomy is a fierce drive in humans, perhaps the fiercest, and at its most energetic, and often angry, it drives uprisings and revolutions. In the movie "Bad Moms," the lead Amy and her two friends rebel vigorously against the perfect mom clique whose expectations are beyond realistic. "I've had enough" of these externally-imposed standards and "I'm not taking it anymore" is the voice of Autonomy.
#3. Confidence is concerned with being strong, competent, and confident. That includes competence in mothering - raising healthy, happy, and resilient kids who go on to live lives worth living. In the "Bad Moms" scenario, Confidence is feeling both defeated by standards that are out of reach, while resisting the external definition of competence of mothers which seems to be driven by social norms and not by what is truly good for raising strong and competent kids. Confidence is cheering on the rebellious Autonomy: "Let's focus on the true nature of good mothering and ignore the social pressures that are blowing us of course."
#4 is the Body Regulator, which is focused on health, balance, and physical energy, and sees that the social norms of mothering are harming the health of Moms by creating chronic stress and overwhelm, and leaving no time for Moms' self-care. How can Moms be good role models of healthy balance for their kids when being a Mom is more focused on social standards than human thriving? The Body Regulator is thrilled by the uprising to reclaim balance and reasonable standards. Go team go! Just don't overdo the junk food and partying...
#5 is the Relational. It lives to serve others--to nurture, give care, love, and to be a great Mom. The Relational wants kids to flourish and grow into healthy adults and even help other Moms be great Moms. It senses that while some of the external standards are helpful, others have more to do with social respect and social acceptance than the flourishing of children. 'Let's hear what our other voices have to say about how to help kids flourish most."
#6 is the Curious Adventurer, whose need for novelty and adventure is what drives children to explore, learn, and grow. It's a life force that gets tempered-- if not squashed--by adult rules and standards. It's time for Moms take a page from their children's curiosity and ask beginner's mind questions, e.g. "What really and truly makes a great Mom? How can I grow into a better Mom?" Moms can bring to more moments a childlike spirit of adventure - what's new, what's interesting, what's fun, what's there to learn?
Meet #7, the Creative who loves fun and pleasure, playing games and inventing new stuff. It's the generative part of your personality. It comes naturally to kids, like breathing. By the time we reach adulthood our daily quotient of creative activity can drop or nearly disappear; we forget to have fun and be inventive. The "Bad Moms" discover that having fun with their kids is fun and energizing for them too. A whole lot better than worrying about baking the perfect cookies is having fun with your kids making a mess baking cookies, even inventing a new recipe.
For #8 we bring on the Executive Manager: the inner planner and organizer, whose job it is to get places on time, and navigate the daily to-do list. It's typically overwhelmed and exhausted by the strains of reaching for perfection. Now that the energetic spirits of the Adventurer and Creative are online, it enjoys more that role of Mom to provide some order, structure and discipline just-in-time -- as needed and not all day long.
Finally we meet #9, the Meaning Maker. This part of our personality stands back, makes sense and meaning, and integrates all of the other perspectives into a coherent perspective. It's the inner coach, nudging us to find the wisdom needed for this moment.
Here's its wisdom for Moms today:
1. Appreciate the Standard Setter for its healthy drive to meet internal and external standards, and then ask it to step aside to allow the other life forces say what they need to say.
2. Give Autonomy the internal steering wheel, not handing it over to the social clique of perfect Moms.
3. Help Confidence define an internal standard for competence and strength in being a Mom.
4. Listen to the Body Regulator and find time for a little self-care and balance.
5. Honor the Relational to tune into what kids really need to flourish and be resilient when things don't go well.
6. Tap into the Curious Adventurer to see every moment with a fresh, open mind as a new exploration and an opportunity to learn.
7. Unleash the Creative to simply have fun and invent stuff with your kids a good deal of the time.
8. Bring in the Executive Manager to provide just the right dose of order and discipline while not squashing adventure and fun.
9. Slow down to tune into the Meaning Maker to experience the miracle of how kids grow and change, and feel gratitude for sharing their journey to adulthood. You could even help children tune into their own nine life forces too!
It's time to mobilize every member of your inner family on the journey to Thriving Mom!