Once a month Sassy Mama Asks The Experts your questions. This month the topic is all about parenting pressure (on oneself or from others), including self-imposed mum guilt and competitive parenting
Whether you’re feeling the pressure to keep up with the Joneses, to achieve that elusive work-life balance, or are just plain tired of having to be the ‘perfect’ parent who doesn’t yell, bakes everything from scratch and has kids who sleep through the night — we are here to help. We asked our readers to send us their questions and this month Victoria Yim, Founder of The Bright Life, shares her answers on how to ease the pressure and judgement that all mamas fall victim to.
MY OWN WORST CRITIC
I feel pressure on all sides: constantly judging myself on how I should do a better job in managing my time; raising my child; doing well at work…How does one deal with MAMA GUILT when you don’t spend the time you want to with each child?
A big hug to you, mama! Let’s take a big breath as we work through this together. There’s this line an ex-boss used to say to me, “If everything is a priority, then nothing is really a priority at all.” So, take a look at that long list of to-dos and start prioritising. It’s a difficult but necessary step in order to make sense of this overwhelming stress you’ve placed upon your shoulders.
Before you feel indignant about wanting to be the mum who “has it all”, hang on! It’s not about not being able to ‘have it all’, but it’s the truth that even in work, people prioritise what needs to get done first, what goals are more important than others and how funding should be allocated in order of importance. Why should this be any different? All I will say is that whatever you choose to prioritise, make sure you write it down somewhere you can refer to every time you’re pushed into a corner, feeling like you need to decide because everyone’s coming for you. Our brains have difficulty thinking logically when our emotions are on overdrive. Having this list handy gives you that space to make the right decision for YOU – don’t let anyone guilt you into feeling otherwise.
Think about it this way: work will always want 110% of you, that’s just how businesses function. Your family will always want your company and likewise, you will inevitably face the struggle when these two are at loggerheads. Accept it, and come up with a schedule that enables you to satisfy most people, and helps you stay sane at the same time.
While you’re planning that schedule, please, PLEASE factor in time for yourself, too. There’s nothing for you to give if you’re running on empty, or worse, negative. Fill up your own tank first, so you’ll be in the right frame of mind to be the mum who has it all – love.
Read more: The Importance of Self-Care for Mamas
As for spending time with your kids, studies have shown that parents who spend one-on-one time with their children can lead to them feeling closer to you, and less likely to feel the need to fight with their siblings for attention. Since you’re already short on time, make sure the time you spend counts! Put away your phone, and let your child show you the world through their eyes. If there’s a tantrum involved, quickly establish a connection through a hug to diffuse the situation before moving onto your teachable moment when your child has calmed down. There’s nothing like a tantrum to drain you; with this tip, we’ve got you covered.
HOW DO I KEEP MY KIDS GROUNDED?
Q. I feel like there is a lot of “keeping up with the Joneses”. I’m juggling keeping my kid grounded with giving him that competitive edge. Any tips to stay sane?
First up, you need to stay grounded yourself. It’s incredibly tempting to sign your kid up for a whole bunch of extracurriculars or buy the latest toy on the market because your child’s grin is all worth it, but the truth is, the stress you feel to keep up will trickle down to impact your child’s mindset.
Everyone wants to give their child that competitive edge but the family can still stay grounded in the process. We like to combine a bit of mindfulness and gratefulness practise into the home to ensure we’re always being thankful. I recommend setting aside 10 minutes every evening to have ‘reflection’ time with the family. You can choose to go around the dining table and each say one thing we are grateful for today. Another good exercise is to think about something kind to say to one another; this is especially good to build sibling love.
The key thing to keeping your kids grounded is to remain grounded yourself, because if your child feels that you value their results or achievements more, they are likely to focus on that instead of values such as kindness and empathy.
HEALTHY SIBLING COMPETITION?
Is it bad to compare your own child to their sibling to try to motivate them to do something? If not, how do you show them others can do something within their abilities without being a tiger mum or shaming them?
“Your brother eats his vegetables, why can’t you be like your brother?” Does this sound familiar? It does for many of us because as humans we are hardwired to have to compare and categorise things, to label, because it enables us to process and relate to people. According to research though, the idea that this comparison might inspire your other child to suddenly act like their sibling is probably going to work against you. Psychologists have found that these labels we give to our children actually perpetuate their behaviour almost as if we say we are pigeonholing our kids to believe in the labels we’ve given them. Let’s take a step back and think about it; if your parents has kept on asking you to “be more like your sister”, chances are you’d have started to think, “I can’t because I’m my own person.” But equally worth loving, right?
On the other hand, you can definitely encourage your children without using their sibling as a benchmark or shaming them. If it’s about not being able to complete a task as well as their sibling despite a good effort, they’re probably already feeling pretty lousy about it. In this case, you can remind them of how they’re succeeded at other challenging tasks. We use this technique to remind them of their abilities and to help build their confidence. Phrases such as, “You’ve done something similar before. I think you can do this, too,” or “It’s okay to just keep trying,” makes them focus on their own abilities and not someone else’s.
If it’s about wanting your child to behave like their sibling, the truth is, he/she is probably not going to be 100% the same – let’s face it, no one is 100% like the other. That also means that you might need to think about what you’re expecting and whether it’s fair to do so for your child’s age, and also consider your tone and the words you are using. Children need direct instructions, and the less you require them to interpret what you say, the higher the chances of them completing the task successfully.
We had a mum once whose child hated vegetables and fruit. Instead of the begging and pleas that came with dinner time, we tried hiding the vegetables in his food so he got the nutrition without the drama. Unfortunately, adults are forgiven when they express their dislike for certain foods but children are made to eat whatever we want them to because “it’s good for you.” Not all kids grasp this concept, so if you’re struggling with this drama, have the fruits and vegetables out as an option. Don’t make too big a deal out of them, and hide the others in his food. It works the same with most things; new activities, new places etc. Keep it casual, so children don’t feel overwhelmed or pressured. They’ll take to it when it’s time.
EXTERNAL PRESSURE & FAMILY GUILT
How do you deal with others (eg. MIL) making you feel guilty for not being able to take time off from work to care for your baby?
You’re not alone! I can’t even count the number of times I’ve cried to myself or spent bus journeys furiously texting my husband because someone insinuated working mothers aren’t good mothers. This mum guilt doesn’t just relate to working mums; studies have shown that 87% of mothers feel guilt at some point in their journey and this number cuts across all segments of mums. Whether it’s because you lost your patience, decided that you needed some time to meet with your friends for a lunch that finally doesn’t involve food being flung around, or maybe you had another late night at work because there’s a deadline looming – somewhere else in the world is a mum who is feeling the exact thing you are going through. There’s always a way to feel better about the guilt.
Get your partner on board: I make it a point to make sure my husband knows what goes on and how it has affected me. I remind him, too, that supporting me isn’t going against his family, it’s about supporting my decisions and feelings. If it’s an option at all for him to speak to his family, then by all means, make that happen! If that’s not on the cards then remind him that unfortunately he has to be your sounding board because these feelings must go somewhere.
Be present: Spending time with your child isn’t just about quantity. If you’re always around but yelling or screaming at your kids, it probably won’t do much good in strengthening your bond. Instead, be fully present with your children, engage them in activities that satisfy their curiosity. Be involved in their lives, ask how they are feeling, be silly, and have fun. The more quality time you spend with your child, the more likely you’ll feel less guilty about heading off to work because you know you have these precious moments to hold on to and that it was time well spent between the both of you.
Be kind: You need to be the kindest to yourself! Beating yourself up won’t make things better, it will just make you hate work, and then dread work when you’re not at work. So now basically, you’ve just given work even more power. Remind yourself of your priorities. If you don’t like them, change them, and be confident of your choices. The more confident you are of your decisions, the less the mum guilt monster will come and eat away at your sanity.