You live such a busy life. There are many demands on your time and energy, not to mention the fears and doubts you might have about being a good parent. With every meltdown and mess from our children, with every snippy interaction with our partners, and with every moment we feel slighted or judged by others, we have a choice about how we want to react. Before you do anything, take a breath. It will help you gather your thoughts, feel slightly more grounded, and slow down the pace. Then, put one foot forward and keep going. You are amazing!
-A mom from New York
We’re human; therefore we compare ourselves to others. We love to categorize, evaluate and judge how we and others are doing or not doing things. Since becoming a mother I’ve been more aware of my judgmental tendencies, and they’re often not pretty.
It usually plays out like this: I’m tired and trying to get through an activity or event with the kids. I’m not at my optimal self with respect to energy or motivation, and maybe I’m even irritable. My latest trip to the museum for a children’s activity was like this. When I arrived I felt myself become impatient as I looked around. The first thing I noticed was that some of the kids were dressed cute, too cute in my opinion. Their clothes seemed trendy, impractical and silly. Then I saw some moms who were on their cell phones while their kids were running a little wild. These moms seemed unavailable and uninterested, and their kids were disrupting the activities. Then I started thinking the planned activities were not appropriate for the age group, so they must have been designed by people who did not have kids. And so it continued…more and more judgments. I noticed the more I judged the easier I could think of even more judgments. And for a second it felt rewarding, providing a little rush of smugness and pride that I wasn’t parenting in that way and I knew more about parenting.
When I take a step back and think about my judgments, I realize how harmful they can be. Judging over such trivial things starts to feel alienating, as it slowly pushes me further and further away from others, keeping me hidden behind a fake sense of being better than them. I judge automatically about outfits mothers have chosen, without thinking about the fact that perhaps I have my own insecurities about how I sometimes dress my kids because I’m always fighting (myself) to not have them look too girly or to not spend too much money on clothes. I automatically judge the mother who is on her cellphone, not remembering how much I needed a moment alone when I was on maternity leave and sometimes a semi-structured playdate was the only time I could get it. I judge those without children for not understanding what is age appropriate, when I have quickly forgotten how little I knew about being a parent before I had my own kids. With every judgment, I actually seem to be reacting to something inside myself and defensively building myself up so I don’t have to feel discomfort…all the while putting someone else down in the process.
The truth is, I’d much rather sacrifice the two seconds of smug pride I get from feeling like I am doing better than someone else for the compassion I feel when I remember that we are all doing the best we can.
Judging does nothing for me in the long run when it comes to these little things. It creates a gulf between me and the very women with whom I should be most connected—other moms. Becoming a mother gave me the unique opportunity to join with others to laugh, cry, and commiserate about parenthood, and it is my choice if I want to use this connection to grow with others, or judge alone.
It takes effort to catch myself in these judgments, especially when I am feeling worn down. I have to purposefully slow down my thoughts and be a little more mindful of where the thoughts go and the emotions I am having. When I notice the “snicker” inside my head, I realize I am going down that road. That snicker is my signal that I need to change my tune, with some light-heartedness or with some ignoring of the negativity. Or better yet, I find that if I throw myself into what I’m supposed to be doing—like the activity at the museum—I don’t seem to have time for the petty snickers. When I get engaged with the moment, there is less time for the evaluation of how someone else is doing, and more time for just doing.
Gratitude seems to be everywhere these days—from journals to books to posters and pillows. There’s a good reason for the focus on gratitude, since research shows that it’s one of the most powerful strengths we can cultivate. Being grateful is good for our health and mental health. People who practice gratitude regularly (for example by keeping a gratitude journal) have stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure, and they report more joy and positivity in their lives. Grateful people also tend to be more generous and compassionate. Gratitude helps us affirm the goodness in our lives, which has positive effects on our ourselves and the people around us.
The speed and hustle of each day often makes it hard for me to remember to feel grateful, even though I know that in my heart I am deeply grateful for so much in my life. I also know that by the time I get myself to bed at night the last thing I feel that I have the energy to do is start journaling, or writing a letter of thanks to someone.
So how can we go about being more grateful, especially in our busy lives? How can we cultivate gratitude in a way that is meaningful, yet easily integrated into our day?
Recently I discovered a simple strategy that helps me to be more mindful about my gratitude. I discovered this technique when my husband and I took the kids to their first movie. We had been talking about this upcoming adventure with the kids for days, talking about what it would be like and what we would eat at the movie theater, and how they needed to be good to ensure that they would get to go to the movies (yes, it served as a bribe at times).
The morning of the movie outing was completely chaotic. No-one wanted to get dressed, we were running late before we had even started getting ready, and everyone refused to act happy and excited. There was sibling-to-sibling fighting, parent-to-child nagging, and parent-to-parent frustration. With each threat I delivered that we weren’t going to go to the movie I realized that my words had become completely empty. By the time we finally got in the car, I was thoroughly annoyed, and the only thought that kept running through my head was a self-pitying: “so much for trying to do something nice.”
I continued with my unpleasant, frazzled feeling as we bought our tickets, used the bathroom, and bought popcorn. We sat down, switched places a few times, and then sat down again. The kids threw their jackets at me and started asking for treats. As the lights went down I was still turning off my cell phone, gathering jackets and reaching for a tissue. The first preview came on and I was so busy with still trying to get settled that it took me a moment before I looked over and noticed that my kids were frozen, their eyes glued to the screen. I stopped moving around and watched their beautiful profiles as they stared ahead. I stared as my youngest laughed out loud at something in the preview. I watched as my oldest sucked on a fruit snack, eyes staring straight ahead at the screen. I glanced at my husband who sipped his soda and winked at me. I was flooded with a warm wave of love and gratitude. I suddenly thought, this moment is good. That’s it. The moment was good. The moment before wasn’t, and I had no idea how the next one would be. But that moment was good.
Since that morning I have been trying to remember to name my gratitude in this, easy simple way. This moment is good. Sometimes I realize the moment is good when we are playing Uno together, or when we are laughing as we come into the house after a walk around the neighborhood. I won’t lie—I rarely name the good moments in the morning. But gratitude isn’t about pretending there aren’t hassles and stressors in our lives; it’s about recognizing what is good. What I love about this strategy is that it also brings my awareness to the moment--the only moment I have—the present.
This moment is good. Name it, use it, share it!
I'm Lisa, a mother and psychologist dedicated to supporting moms. Read more here.
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