While speaking at a large conference in Michigan, my friend Jill, the session’s lecturer, was discussing how women frequently perceive themselves. While she wasn’t specifically addressing mothers, her point was applicable to us.
At one point in her lecture, she asked for two volunteers. Jill selected Ellen and Laura from the sea of hands. Ellen and Laura said they came to the conference together and were longtime friends. Jill brought them to stage and seated them in chairs facing each other. Then she began to ask simple questions. To Ellen she asked, “Would you describe your friend Laura to the audience, please?”
Ellen was happy to comply and described Laura as kind, a good listener, easy to talk to, fun to be with and a good mother. Jill continued: “Would you describe Laura as pretty?” “Absolutely,” Ellen replied. “She’s lovely, at least to me, though granted I am a bit biased.” “Do you feel you’d like her more if she lost weight, got a nicer home, or went back to school?” Jill continued. Ellen looked at Jill directly and said “Of course not. She’s fabulous just the way she is.”
Pressing her point, Jill asked, “So is it fair to say that Laura is worth loving just the way she is? Or do you think she needs a bit of improvement?” Now Ellen was annoyed. “No, I told you–She’s great–just the way she is. I mean, we all need to work on certain things, but that has nothing to do with our friendship. I just like her, or love her, just the way she is.”
Jill thanked Ellen and then turned to Laura, asking her the same kinds of questions about Ellen, and getting the same kinds of answers. Laura had the benefits of having heard her friend defend and compliment her first, but her answers were no less heartfelt. Laura was clear that there was nothing Ellen needed to change and nothing that she could change that would make Laura love her more.
Jill paused and looked at the audience. Ellen and Laura stood up to leave but Jill stopped them. “No. Don’t go just yet, we’re not quite done.” Jill turned to Ellen. “You just heard your friend here talk about you. She said that she doesn’t feel that you need to change–lose weight, get a new haircut, buy a new house, or go back to work in order for her to think better about you. She thinks you’re perfect just the way you are. Now I want you to describe yourself to me. Can you say those same things about yourself?”
Silence fell over the room. Ellen stared at Jill and stumbled for words. “No, I mean, I don’t know,” she started.
“So, is your friend wrong, do you think?” Jill continued. “If so, tell me where she’s wrong.” Again, Ellen fumbled for words and looked at her friend Laura in front of her. They both appeared uncomfortable and Ellen became flushed. Jill turned to Laura and asked her the same questions. “So, tell me, you’ve heard the same thing. You heard your friend Ellen describe you as lovely, fun to be with and likable. As a matter of fact, she even told everyone here that she cherishes you so much as a person that she loves you like family. Are you worth her feeling that way?”
Everyone in the audience stared at Laura, who clearly wanted to blurt out “No!” but didn’t. I think the only reason she held her tongue was that she knew she wasn’t supposed to say it.
Ellen could see Laura’s strengths and as her best friend, ascribed great value to Laura. She saw her worth as a friend, beyond what Laura could see about herself. As her friend, she had the freedom to like Laura and bast about Laura in ways that Laura couldn’t seem to do herself.
Some might call Laura modest, but I think that there was more than modesty going on. I believe Laura, like thousands of women, and mothers especially, honestly failed to see her goodness. Her friends could see it, maybe even her kids could see it, but she couldn’t. Or perhaps she could see it, but couldn’t accept it because so much of her emotional energy was spent on comparing herself to other mothers that whenever she began to feel good about something she was doing, she felt immediately shot down because some other mother (in her mind) was doing a better job.
We are super critical of ourselves because we heap unreasonable expectations on ourselves. We tell ourselves we should be great listeners, caregivers, psychologists, cooks, breadwinners, bedtime storytellers, sports fans, schedulers, and room moms. No matter how well we do in one area, we always feel that we’re falling short in another. Second, we continually look to the wrong places to feel valuable. We look at how well we perform at various functions rather than accepting that we are valuable simply because we are our kids’ moms and we are loved and needed because of that.
Moms, do you find this to be true? Do you acknowledge your value or constantly put yourself down?
(today’s post is an excerpt from The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers)