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As children, we often have a clear notion of what is right and wrong. Things are conveyed to us in black and white, yes or no and life is very much about 'doing the right thing.' What happens when you grow up and life is filled with lots of grey, fuzzy areas and everyone's emotions, values and beliefs are like a rainbow kaleidoscope and difficult to pigeon-hole into 'right, wrong or appropriate' behaviour?
Take for example, what it means to be a mum. These days if you try to define motherhood, your list would look like one of those medieval parchment scrolls, that just unwind and roll away at your feet. It's just become ridiculous. Who on Earth could meet these expectations and all the demands put on mothers today?
No-one, because we may be able to do anything we want but we can't do 'everything' we want, at the same time, without losing something in the process. Unfortunately, the first thing that gets dropped off that list is a woman's time for herself (and then often her patience, identity and sanity).
Why? Well because when you do decide to make some choices for your own benefit, or your family's, you feel the judgement of others' on you.
Do you choose to work and use child care? Judged by someone.
Do you stay at home with your kids? Judged by someone.
Are you still carrying baby weight, even though your kids are in school? Judged by someone.
Do you go out three times a week for your own hobbies, and leave your kids at home with Dad? Judged by someone.
Do you get a cleaner to come in and help once a month? Judged by someone.
Do you go out for a regular girls night and go crazy, have fun or get tipsy? Judged by someone.
The judgement of others won't go away any time soon. It's only our attitude towards this judgement that can change. If you're a people pleaser or one who seeks validation of self, through others' approval, then you will be more susceptible to the impact of others' words towards you. You'll also be less forgiving of yourself and what's worse than the constant judging eye of others? The internal judgement you place on yourself.
I noticed that the more I tried to meet societal expectations of how to act and behave as a mum, the more my anxiety grew. I judged myself more and when I felt I hadn't met the mark, I was harsh in the way I criticised myself. The inner dialogue was negative, I believed I was constantly disappointing my children and in turn, I then put even more time and effort and pressure on myself into trying to meet others' expectations of motherhood.
It was exhausting, time-consuming and mentally unforgiving, as I struggled with being who I was as a person and not being the mum I really wanted to be. I was sick and tired of hearing everyone else saying, 'You should do this...' 'Have you thought about....' 'If they were my kids, I'd...'
Yes, of course I've freakin' tried other things, asked for help, read the books and been to that seminar. I didn't need the judgement of others in these times of doubt (I was already judging myself enough). What I needed was my family, my friends and other mums to just say, 'You're doing the best you can right now' or 'Remember all these amazing things you are doing....' or just to keep quiet, listen and just give me a hug, while I vented. I just needed compassion.
I realised that in order to stop being Ms Judgy Judge and to let the Mama Guilt go, compassion had to start with me. First I had to start with self-compassion because I realised that the more I felt judged and was criticising myself, the more I was quick to judge others too.
So, if you're in a position of self-judgement, if you're constantly feeling Mama Guilt because you're not meeting others' expectations, your own or you feel like you're disappointing those around you, here are three ways I got rid of Mama Guilt and stopped being so harsh on myself. Think about each of these 3 things and how they apply to you.
1. Know what it means to be self-compassionate. Having compassion means having an understanding of and empathising with another's pain or misfortune. In action it can mean that you want to alleviate someone's pain or suffering. Notice that nowhere does it say that compassion is about 'helping' someone, 'giving advice', 'solving their problem', 'taking away their pain' or 'telling them what to do'. Nor is there any critiquing, judgement or putting down of self. It's about being kind, listening, accepting and being sensitive to one's experience. So, the next time, you judge yourself and think 'I let my kids down because I didn't make them a Martha Stewart Easter Hat for the school parade and I got a $2 one from the shop-I'm pathetic!', maybe instead say 'I understand that I've been really busy lately and I accept that I couldn't devote hours to an original hat design, but my kids were still able to participate in the parade experience and still feel a sense of belonging with their peers and have fun with their class, which is the most important thing for them.' Let go of expectations and stay clear on what your intention is and what you want the outcome to be.
2. Be Mindful and in the Present Moment: The key to being compassionate and not judgemental, is to stay in the present moment. Don't talk about the past and 'how great you solved this before' or compare yourself or others to past achievements. This can make you feel more inadequate, if you're already feeling down. The circumstances and people were different then. Stay connected to the current situation and moment. Don't get into the 'when this happened to me' zone either, as this moment isn't about you but about the other person. There's no need to go into your own stories, as it often doesn't help and can hurt them. They can only speak to their experience and just want someone to hear them out. When listening to someone else talk, be compassionate in action. Give them all of your attention, listen quietly, comfort them, make eye contact and nod in acknowledgement of their feelings. If you want to support them use words like, 'I understand....', 'I'm aware how you feel....' and if you want to offer to help ask 'How can I ...', and don't start with 'Do this now!'
3. Be Curious: In order to learn more about yourself, ask yourself why you feel like you're disappointing others; why you need others' approval and where this need came from; why you judge yourself harshly; why you feel guilty or selfish as a mum; why you always jump in to solve people's problems; who told you that you should follow the status quo and do what others' expect or who belittled you and made you feel bad for standing outside the box and how is that impacting your life today or the ability to be yourself? It's important that you get curious about yourself in these moments. Self-reflection is key, as is stopping to think about the motives behind your actions or thoughts. The more you understand how these beliefs came to be, the less power they have over you and the more power you have to change and become the compassionate person you need to be.
Remember that the reason you seek the approval of others is because you don't approve of yourself. As you become more conscious of the times, situations and ways that you condemn or judge yourself, and you learn to be more compassionate, understanding and forgiving of your own mistakes, you will rely far less on the opinions of others for self-validation.
You need to acknowledge your own feelings and thoughts and comfort yourself, in order to stop turning to others for an approving 'I'm ok or I matter'. You're in control of how you speak to and treat yourself and how you do this, will say a lot to others about how they can treat you too. When you are compassionate and embrace all the foibles of being a mum, forgive yourself for stuff ups, when you value yourself and others, there is no room for judgement and no place for guilt. There is a lot more room for grace, love and kindness.
That is definitely a big enough reason to kick judgement and guilty feelings, to the curb.