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Turning Shame into a Sense of Worth

It's easy to feel like you're falling short. Your kids think that you are the solution to every problem. There's more work to do in a day than anyone could possibly finish. Few of the people in the different parts of your life are really aware of the juggling you've got to do in the other ones, so it's hard for them to be understanding when you can't keep every single ball in the air. It's natural to think that your children reflect on you. As a mother related to Rick: We were sitting in the pediatrician's waiting room when my baby started to cry, and I couldn't settle her down. I caught looks from other mothers that made me feel I was doing everything wrong. And your own mother may be a tough act to follow; in a national survey, over half of the women said they were doing a worse job as a mom than their own mothers had done, compared to just eleven percent who thought they were doing better.

These seeds of shame find fertile soil in the minds of many mothers. Because girls and women are bombarded with messages that equate appearance with worth, the weight gain and shifts in your figure that are almost universal after having babies can lower your self-esteem. The demands of raising children can make it hard to spend time with your friends, diminishing the sense of worth that many women derive through social connection. One mother told Jan: Now I spend many hours each day with no one to talk to besides my baby. Before, there were lots of people to joke or talk with at the office, and just doing that reminded me in lots of little ways that I was making a difference. Trained as a female to put the wants of others first, and now putting your child's needs far ahead of your own, it is a short step from "my wants don't matter" to "my self doesn't matter."

Plus, each of us has personality characteristics that make a person extra vulnerable to the challenges to self-worth that come with children. Do any of these apply to you?

  • You set high standards for yourself.
  • You are easily mortified or humiliated by criticism.
  • You depend on approval from others for a sense of worth.
  • As a child, you received frequent criticism or abuse from parents, coaches, teachers, siblings, or other kids.
  • You have a relentless inner critic.

Every mother feels at least occasionally embarrassed, self-critical, inadequate, guilty, or remorseful. A bit of this is inevitable in any parent with a conscience, since raising kids is such a complicated and difficult business that everyone makes some mistakes. But if you're feeling guilt or shame that's undeserved, it's no good for either you or your children. Getting unfairly critical or angry with yourself lowers your well-being, makes it harder to cope, and leaves a bruised sadness inside. Therefore, it's really important to feel as good about yourself as you truly deserve.

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From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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