My memories of motherhood are filled with moments of self-doubt. No mother alive doesn’t go through some self-doubt. Given all of the ideas of what is best for children, it is easy to doubt your decisions. From the mundane to the seemingly “big decisions”, it is easy to spiral into negative emotion doubting ourselves.
A client of mine spent some time talking with me about the fact that she and her son and husband didn’t have a ritual for dinner together. It made sense for her family and their schedule that her son ate before her husband got home, yet nearly every day she would have thoughts of doubt about whether that was really okay. Turns out it was just fine, as now he is a wonderful young adult and they are very close. It seems silly looking back that we can get so hung up on things like this but it’s easy to do. How do we know it’s going to be okay?
Magazines, newspapers, and websites often produce stories out of research findings that show how some action or behavior is linked to some outcome, even when there is no definitive evidence that it was the cause for the outcome. The best test of how something works for your family is how it works for your family, over time!
How nice it would be to have a crystal ball to be able to know for sure that any given choice would be the “right choice”, and that everything would turn out okay. The mind can blow things way out of proportion and make the risk to their development and well-being seem enormous. In our grasping for certainty and our fear of our doubt, we may create a lot of optional suffering. It is helpful to kindly remind yourself that kids are resilient and that you can be too. You can always make new choices after seeing the outcome.
When Fear Is Present
Like self-doubt, fear is another major topic in parenting. From the barrage of news reports about terrible things happening to children, mass shootings, catastrophic weather events, wars, etc., there is plenty to fearfully focus on. Add to that “time travel” in the mind, thoughts of what might or could happen, and that’s a whole lot of optional suffering in motherhood. Using mindfulness, especially a regular practice of mindfulness of thoughts and feelings, can help you step out of autopilot to see if you are actually suffering unnecessarily.
You can shift the focus of your mind at any time. Fear is not a sign that the feared outcome is going to happen. Trying to imagine how you would face something you are afraid of that isn’t happening right now is often a waste of energy and can lead to self-condemnation. My favorite mantras, “Just this moment,” and “Just here, just now,” really help me to get out of my mind and get back into the flow of life. When you find yourself trying to “think it away”, you have to choose to redirect the mind to just be with now, to be with what is right in front of you and let fear fade into the background. It may arise again, and you can refocus again.
I have come to understand that when fear is present, I must dig deep to move toward the thing I value. I don’t need to be rid of the fear to get through it.
I have come to understand that when fear is present, I must dig deep to move toward the thing I value. I don’t need to be rid of the fear to get through it. I can decide to dig deep anyway, giving myself positive self-talk along the way.
Uncovering Your Courage
Being brave or having courage is often described in a way that looks like having no fear. Motherhood calls for courage from the very beginning. We may go into it with sweet ideas, but we soon come to see how much we are needing to face that’s frightening or intimidating. Just like with appreciation, it is useful to stop and recognize where you were courageous. Acknowledging when you were afraid and did stuff anyway helps grow a sense of confidence.
A client of mine was worried about whether she could be brave in the face of helping her four-year old daughter through a surgery and an overnight stay at the hospital. She noticed that she often took her fearful thoughts to mean that she wouldn’t be brave. They were some kind of bad sign. If she thought these things now, how could she do it?
Anxious anticipation can undermine any of us.
She also felt terrible about herself for dreading it. I encouraged her to validate herself, when she noticed the dread, by saying, “This is really hard. It’s okay.” She found it really helpful to acknowledge that simple fact, rather than to indict herself as a bad mother for all of the fear and negative thoughts. No one wants to go through hard things, and there is so much that is hard. It’s really okay to acknowledge it.
Choosing to Be Brave
I will always remember one of the more profound moments when I decided to be brave; where I showed myself that I could be courageous. I was finishing up the bath with my toddler son when I heard my toddler daughter fall in the other room. I ran to see her and found she had fallen and split her chin open. Blood was everywhere and I was freaked out. Here was one of the moments as a mother I had feared I wouldn’t be up to when it finally arrived. I was terrified.
Despite the urge to cry and run the other way, I soothed her and cleaned her up anyway. After calling the pediatrician’s office who recommended I take her to the emergency room to see if she needed stitches, I called my husband to tell him to drop everything and come home. I told my husband he would be going to the ER with her!
We can choose again and again to turn toward what we want for ourselves or our child, regardless of the mind’s first reaction.
It dawned on me a few minutes after I hung up with him that I wanted my kids to see me be strong. I wondered what kind of message I would be sending my daughter, who was leaning on me and my soothing, if I sent her off with her dad who had just come home from being gone all day. Certainly, it wouldn’t have hurt her, but I realized here was an opportunity.
So, as much as I dreaded it, I asked my husband to stay with our son and I took her to the ER. A few stitches and several hours later we were back home and doing fine. Courage and confidence are not something you have or not. Remember the growth mindset. We can choose again and again to turn toward what we want for ourselves or our child, regardless of the mind’s first reaction.
When we string together moments like that, those choices lead to courage and confidence. Another gift of motherhood! Where I once went running away, I tamed my fears of spiders, bees, and snakes as well! Motherhood can show us how brave we can be.
Excerpt reproduced with author’s permission from Just This Moment: A Guide for Moms Who Want to Enjoy Parenting, Raise Great Kids and THRIVE! by Elizabeth Torres, Psy.D. ABPP. (2019).