We’ve all been through this at some point. We painstakingly stroll our baby to the nearest park to vent some of the day’s tension, only to bump into that dreaded mystery person: The Perfect Mom.
Oh the perils of comparative thinking! When you have no one to contrast, you are calm and satisfied. But the minute you see someone else breathing in your area, you get all pumped up and in it to win it. And, in some cases, you are in for a sour treat…
Perhaps you wept because you had no Porsche, and then you saw a man who had no BMW. So, there. All is well. But then a Porsche guy drives you by. Despair, again. It sounds odd and frustrating, but it’s not your fault, dear: it’s all in your head!
It’s hard to look the other way when your brain is wired to form relative judgement, even when those comparisons seem to work against your well-being! Regardless of your life’s circumstances, there always seems to be someone out there who appears happier, more accomplished or in a better state than you. Especially if you are out there actively looking!
Appearances may fool, but seeing is believing for your brain who doesn’t know any better: it automatically tries to adjust your inner happiness levels based on what the eyes see! No wonder inner balance is so challenging, and university courses like Laurie Santos’ “Science of Well-Being” attract more students than any other course in the history of Ivy League Universities like Yale! (PS: I’ve taken the MOOC a couple of years back, and it really rocks!)
So there you are, sat on a dusty bench in the playground, with your hair in what could have been a ponytail, looking at that other Mom sat on the opposite bench. Does she look any younger? Is she slimmer maybe? Has she figured it all out? How does she even manage to find herself a cute dress and patent leather flats, when all you seem to fit in are your pregnancy jeans and trainers? She looks more composed than you, doesn’t she? But is she really?
The thing is, nobody is privileged with the absolute truth, and nobody really knows. Chances are, that other perfect Mom you are fretting over, is probably checking you out as well when you aren’t looking, having similar thoughts. She has a requirements list of her own and, as she goes through it, she finds herself lacking. Perhaps it’s your complexion and how you don’t seem to have dark circles. You have one of those faces that never go blue however little you sleep, but she doesn’t know that. How could she? So she is quick to assume that your baby is already sleeping through the night, and envies you for it. Oh, and what you don’t know about her nice outfit, is that it’s part of her postpartum depression intervention designed with her therapist. And that today is her first walk out of the house. Bottom line? There is no bottom line!
Everyone you see around you is fighting a war you know absolutely nothing about. So instead of jumping to conclusions and indulge in Mom-shaming, be kind, and train your judgmental brain to indulge in more constructive past-times than attempting to bring you down in every opportunity it can get! There are ways around it, and the way I see it, there’s two things you can do to get out of this conundrum:
- Rewire your brain so that it doesn’t get to boycott you all the time! Practice Mindfulness: the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where you are and what you’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around you! The more you practice Mindfulness, the more you get to wake up to the inner workings of your mental, emotional, and physical processes. This way, you get to control your thoughts, and not the other way around! Mindfulness is a buzzword nowadays, but if by any chance this is the first time you come across it, don’t worry: there’s a handful of resources out there for you to check-out, like the works of the Foundation for a Mindful Society!
- Work on your ability to empathize with other Moms around you. Try to see beyond the nice dresses and patent leather shoes. Perhaps this way you would come around judgement-free, and able to notice important details that point to the other person’s actual state. Like how that other Mom is avoiding eye-contact with her cute baby-girl, and seems overall distant. As Simon Baron-Cohen puts it, “Empathy occurs when we suspend our single-minded focus of attention, and instead adopt a double-minded focus of attention.” And here’s where I felt the need to jump in and do something about it.
Dear Momma, I’m introducing a new monthly column in this space. The first workday of each month, Mothers (and every now and then Dads too!) will come forth and share how their Parenting journeys evolve. They will kindly offer us precious fragments of their stories and their struggles, and at the same time share their tips and insights.
Through this new column you will get amazing insight about:
- How Working Parents tackle their busy schedules
- What work-related skills Parents are finding useful at Home
- Tips and tricks about combining Work and Life engagements, and
- How Parents cope when they need support
This way, bright light will be shed to the unknown quest of the Parent next door. So that you don’t have to wonder or try to guess if (and how) others out there are figuring it out. You will be able to read their testimonials and realize you are not alone in this, and nobody is judging either, so stop trying to keep up with the secretive Joneses!
Join me in this quest to uncover the roots of Parenting, and help co-create the Village it takes to raise a child: let’s build a safe place where people openly share their experiences and receive the support they need! As Family Therapist Ariella Cook-Shonkoff states in an article she wrote for the Washington Post last summer, “We owe it to one another to be honest about the crazy mess that is Motherhood” (and Parenting in general, if I may add!)
So, stay tuned for the first interview which will be out May 2nd. And mind you, I am always in the lookout for new Parents who want to contribute, so feel free to Contact me if you want to be a part of this journey and submit your own testimonial for publication in this space. This way, we will all be able to know for sure How She (or He) Does It, and put an end to the needless (and counter-productive) comparative wondering!
Sharing means Caring! Oh, and you got this!