Why “I’m not a good mom” feels real, even when it isn’t
There's a horrible feeling that arrives when we believe the thought "I'm not a good mom" might actually be true. I've felt it. And if you're a mom, you've probably felt it too.
A week after she experienced the biggest defeat of her tennis career, and less than a year into motherhood, Serena Williams shared the following with her nine million Instagram followers:
“Last week was not easy for me… Mostly, I felt like I was not a good mom.”
When one of the most successful athletes crashes out of a tournament over the common thought “I’m not a good mom,” it has a ripple effect.
Williams continued, “I’m here to say: if you are having a rough day or week--it’s ok--I am, too!!!”
In her article, Motherhood isn’t easy – even for a warrior like Serena Williams, Gabi Hinsliff wrote in The Guardian, "The athlete is brave to admit to the physical and emotional toll of being a mother … [she] has given ordinary women permission to be kinder to themselves."
The Guardian readers who took the time to comment were divided. Some praised Williams and Hinsliff’s article, others did not:
“'Permission to be kinder to themselves.' Most patronising thing I've read here today,” suggested one.
“They [women like Williams or Beyonce] don't face any of the kind of difficulties that ordinary women with children do,” wrote another.
“Why do people with kids keep trying to gain sympathy from everyone? …humanity has been doing it for thousands of years, it is not as if this is the first generation to discover parenthood,” commented yet another.
Williams has shared her postpartum struggles in the past, including in an article featured in Harper’s Bazaar, where she discussed her postpartum depression. Each time she shares her experiences of the disruptive wonder of motherhood – her depression, the emotional roller coasters, the challenges of combining a career and raising a child – she gets the world talking. That’s a good thing.
While Williams is no ordinary woman in terms of the wealth she has successfully generated and currently has available to her, she cannot escape the ordinary that we all experience as women.
She cannot escape the sensitive times of our life cycles.
She cannot escape being, at least sometimes, duped by the power of thought and the common misunderstanding of it.
Just like perimenopause and menopause, postpartum is a sensitive time. During sensitive times in our life-cycle, the body has little tolerance for anything that can negatively impact our wellbeing.
At midlife, the body is intolerant of our unhealthy habits (mental and/or physical) in order to encourage us to wake up and learn how to embrace a lighter, joy-filled and therefore healthier life. This midlife awakening plays an important role in protecting us during the decades ahead.
During postpartum, the body exhibits a similar sensitivity to protect mother and baby at a time when the baby is most vulnerable.
These times of sensitivity are part of our brilliant design. The body doesn’t know that Williams has all the financial resources she needs to ensure that her baby is well looked after; it just knows that she, as the baby’s mother, needs to be in a healthy state to mother her child.
If during perimenopause, menopause or postpartum we drift away from healthy practices, the body’s sensitivity creates swift intervention, it sends us signals.
What often happens next, is that we get lost reading them.
The power of thought … and the divine
To explain the power of thought and how a common thought can knock anyone off balance, even a warrior such as Williams, I want to share what happened to me last week.
I didn’t compete in an international tennis tournament, but I did have to run an errand at a local government office!
Driving off in the August heat, I left my kids at home. It’s the school holidays and while they’re old enough to stay alone at home while I run an errand, I still warned them/begged them to behave nicely in my absence.
Unusually, my husband and I had switched cars for the day, meaning that I was driving and would need to park a much bigger car than I’m used to.
As I arrived close to the government office, I started stressing about finding a big enough parking spot. This wasn’t going to be easy, I decided. In fact, perhaps it would take so long that I would miss the office’s opening hours for the day.
Then my phone rang. It was “Home.”
Those kids, I thought, I can’t leave them alone for five minutes! I was in no mood to hear, “Mummy, he’s annoying me!” I decided not to answer the call.
Stressed about my errand and fuming about my kids, I then found a huge parking spot, parked easily and headed off in good time to the government office!
“Home” rang again and feeling that my day was actually going my way, I answered it. It was my husband (it had been the first time, too). He had just dropped in at home and wanted to know if he should join me at the government office. The errand involved being in a few lines so perhaps his presence could shorten the time!
Do you see what happened?
There were a number of thoughts running through my head: I’m going to have trouble parking; I might miss the office’s opening hours; my kids are misbehaving.
Turns out none of the thoughts were true, but because I believed them, I felt stressed. I thought my stress pointed to something "true" about my experience – trying to find the impossible parking spot while the clock was ticking and the kids were misbehaving – but my stress only reflected my thinking about my experience. It only ever does.
While running my errand, I forgot what I understand about thoughts and feelings.
Our feelings only ever reflect our thinking in the moment, 100% of the time. None of my thoughts were true and in real-time, the clue was in my feelings.
When we have thoughts that reflect something that is true, the feeling that is created is one of clarity.
I’m going to have trouble parking here – drive to the parking lot over there.
I might miss the opening hours – I can go tomorrow and do two errands at once.
My kids are misbehaving – if I speak to them, I can calm them down.
When the feeling that is generated from any thought is a negative one, such as stress, fear and anxiety, our thinking is off the mark 100% of the time. It’s just how our bodies work, but we think it works the other way around.
We think when we feel stressed, fearful or anxious then our feelings are telling us something true about our reality; although they are only ever guiding us to our state of mind and our thoughts in that moment.
And at this point, you might think: “Hold it, Tania! That’s not true! I remember a time when I was really anxious that I was going to get fired at work and I went into the office and guess what? I got fired! So in that case, my feelings were pointing to something real and true!”
And I would ask: What did you actually fear? Only that you would be fired? Or that you would be fired AND as a consequence, life from then on would be hard and miserable? Which part of your thoughts were true and which created the fear?
We misread our thoughts and feelings all the time. Williams did too. And that’s totally okay. It’s part of our human experience.
Interestingly, Williams, with so many titles under her belt, must also be a champion at not giving too much attention to her thoughts and feelings on the tennis court. She must have heard the thought “your tennis is not good enough to win this match” many, many times, only to go on and win not only the match, but a tournament, too.
In the heat of a game, Williams must intuitively recognize that she doesn’t need to take negative thoughts that create negative feelings seriously; she has surely seen that thought is never anything more than a blip of energy that will soon be replaced with a fresh blip of energy; and she must be an expert at recognizing thoughts that arrive with clarity, the sort of clarity that can help her win a match.
So what happened with the “I’m not a good mom” thought?
For whatever reason, when this thought came into her head, it appeared like it might be real. No doubt she dwelled on it and began to fear that she might well be making a mistake in motherhood and that this would have some serious consequences. She is still in her postpartum sensitive period. Her body wanted her to drop the “I’m not a good mom” thought like a hot potato. Her body started sending her signals that her thinking was off and an even worse and more confusing feeling was created.
Williams, like we all can do, believed that the bad feeling must reflect something true about her reality. When she felt anxious about her mothering, she believed there must be something she needed to do. But the feeling was only a reflection of her thinking in the moment – it was actually encouraging her to let the thought go, when it appeared to be doing the opposite.
Luckily for Williams and for all moms, none of us are bad moms or good moms. All we can ever be are moms experiencing our reality through the thoughts we have in each moment. We believe the thoughts that appear most real about our lives and our children, and act accordingly.
Williams has chosen to return to peak fitness and the elite tennis circuit. If it was clearer to her that she needed to be a stay-at-home mom, she would have taken that route.
And yet even though she has taken the tennis route, thoughts that may challenge her decision can appear: perhaps she’s got it wrong; perhaps she’s not spending enough time with her baby; perhaps she’s not a good mom. If those thoughts were pointing to something true, they would come with clarity – with an obvious next step to take. When thoughts create stress, fear and anxiety, we can rest assured that those thoughts don’t need to be taken seriously. Your feelings – clarity or stress, fear and anxiety, are ALWAYS your divine guide.
So what will Williams do as she weighs up her albeit generous options to find a balance right for her? She’ll only do what she believes to be most right for her in the moment. And since she can’t do something that she believes is less right for her in the moment, she can relax into her choice.
Our choices in motherhood and in all areas of our lives are always up for change but we’ll only make a change when doing so becomes the next clear step for us to take.
What a relief! This means that we can only ever act in motherhood and in life, how we most believe we should in that moment.
In motherhood, clarity isn’t always apparent and yet it is never more than a thought away. In every moment, we mother in a way that appears most obvious to us. If there is a better way to mother, perhaps we’ll see it tomorrow but we don’t have to worry if we’ll see it. We’ll see it when we do and when we do it will be clear. Understanding our sensitive times, the power of thought and how our feelings always divinely guide us, will help us recognize clarity when it arrives. It’s about understanding how our experiences in life are created, rather than trying to work out if we’re doing life right.