I recently came across an article in a local magazine about the “superwoman syndrome”, which the author described as our tendency as women to strive for impossible standards and perfectionism, and a belief that we can “do it all!” This article led me to thinking about how once we women become moms, the phrase turns into “supermom”. I have a love/hate relationship with this word. The couple times someone called me a supermom as a genuine compliment, a warm and fuzzy feeling washed over me and made me feel confident. Other times, I cringed, knowing all too well how “super” I was not!
Although the term “supermom” can influence us to feel many positive emotions and engage in healthy and self-motivating behaviors, it can also carry a heavy burden. The burden and pressure to be a “supermom” all the time, even when we just simply can’t be or don’t want to be one. It can cause us to “should” all over ourselves. It can make us feel guilty for not being a good enough mom. This is when using such labels such as “super” anything can become unhealthy or problematic. The article about the “superwoman syndrome” highlighted how buying into the “superwoman” mentality can lead to exhaustion and high stress, which is a slippery slope to mood and anxiety disorders.
But why do we do it? We make social comparisons, we are judged by our peers and society, we are influenced by social media (i.e. – Facebook and Instagram pictures of toddlers acting like “perfect angels!”), we have unrealistic personal expectations, we try to “fake good” around others…. or perhaps we are trying to make up for our past “mistakes”? Whatever the reason, given such labels as “supermom”, I have not yet met another mom who has not dealt with a healthy dose of mom guilt. For example:
“I stopped breastfeeding too early.”
“I should only feed them the organic veggies.”
“Why am I sitting here watching Ellen…I should get dinner started before he wakes from his nap!”
“I work too much and don’t spend enough time with my kids.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t go on that date night tonight?”
“By being a stay-at-home mom, I’m not being a good role model to my daughter.”
The list goes on, and on, and on….
How do you tackle it? As a psychologist, I often times work with my clients by using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT allows you to identify any problematic thoughts or behaviors that lead to negative feelings before, during or after stressful and difficult situations. If, for example, you tend to have worrying thoughts when driving, (“I will probably get in a car accident”) then you may likely feel tense, jittery and nervous when driving a car and subsequently end up with a bad outcome (i.e. - drive erratically). Similarly, negative beliefs or self-talk (“I’m not good enough for that job”) can result in pessimistic or hopeless feelings and unhelpful behaviors (i.e. – not applying for the job or skip the interview altogether). Similarly, as mom’s we find ourselves in these types of situations: thought – “What kind of mom am I for putting her in daycare at 3 months?!”, feelings – sadness, guilt, and anxiety, behavior – distracted at work, crying, and putting own needs last.
CBT is an effective and helpful tool to use to overcome the unnecessary burden of mom guilt. It is one of our best bets to help shield ourselves from labels and reduce irrational and negative self-talk. It also works great as a way to boost self-esteem and confidence.
The major components of CBT include:
· Identify automatic thoughts: these are habitual thoughts that pop up spontaneously in response to a trigger which have been developed in us over the course of our lives and are influenced by our upbringing and early life experiences.
· Recognize cognitive distortions: some examples of these include all-or-nothing thinking (“I must breastfeed for at least a year or my milk supply will dry out early.”); overgeneralizing (“He is acting out lately, I must be a bad parent.”); catastrophizing (“If we don’t get her in bed on time, all that sleep training will be for nothing!”); and labeling (“I’m so selfish for wanting to do this.”).
· Look for evidence and challenge your thoughts: (“How do I know this thought is true?”, “Did I mistake my feelings as facts?”, “What happened the last time I thought/felt this way?”, “What’s the worst that can happen?”, “What would I tell my best friend if she were experiencing this?”)
· Restructure negative thoughts: think about or write down alternative thoughts or self-talk that are realistic, helpful and positive (“Formula will help supplement my milk supply.”; “He might be acting out because of the new schedule, but I will just support him by being the loving mom I’ve always been.”; “She has been a pretty solid sleeper for a while now, I’m sure we can stay at the birthday party until they cut the cake.”; “This date night will refresh us and make us even better parents tomorrow morning.”)
To summarize, I often tell clients that CBT is not rocket science and you only need to be an expert on yourself in order to use it. However, it can be hard to do alone or when you are not sure where to start. Moms have plenty on their over-full plates and adding mom guilt to the mix certainly doesn’t help! Working with a knowledgeable, non-judgmental and caring therapist can help you identify and implement the appropriate and individualized CBT techniques that are best for you. That way you can get back to being that “good enough” and “awesome” mom you have always been!
Phone: (858) 215-4578