January 17, 2009

Mom Confidence

1963-mom in mirror

If you lack confidence as a Mom, Paula Spencer is your gal. Read her book and while you’re waiting for it to arrive in the mail, first read this article.

©Paula Spencer

My mom was full of wise sayings when I was a child, like “Nobody said life was supposed to be easy” and “Always wear clean underwear.”

Now that I’m the mom (four times over), my favorite saying is “Make way for momfidence.” What’s momfidence? It’s the confidence that comes from worrying less and winging it more. Trusting your instincts and common sense (no matter what the popular wisdom says) and daring to be mellow about childrearing in a tensed-up world.

These seven maxims can make life easier and happier—for you and your child.

Don’t cry over spilt guilt

All mothers hear voices. Actually it’s just one voice, as insistent as it is irksome. That would be your momologue, your internal running commentary on how it’s going as a mom. But it’s never saying, “Good job, Mom!” Brilliant navigation of that sibling rivalry incident! How fine and upstanding your child is! Pats on the back for that quick save of the ice cream cone!”

No. These monologues are not about praise and positive reinforcement. They’re about guilt. They hector and nag. They fret. The voice in your head recites an endless to-do list and whispers comparisons to everybody else’s kids. It’s never satisfied.

Guilt goes with mothers like spit-up and shoulders. It’s a myth that you can wipe it away like a window shot with Windex. It’s just there no matter what you do (or don’t do) or say (or don’t say). Instead of letting it make you miserable, tune it out. Tune in to the more realistic voices at your feet: “Moooom!”

Too much advice spoils the confidence

Because we live in an expert culture, it’s easy believe there must be a “right” way to navigate most aspects of raising a child. Never mind that professional advice-givers all have different advice (and most don’t have kids underfoot in the house).

Consider experts’ advice as mere suggestion, not gospel. It’s not like generations of the human race weren’t brought up just fine without Drs. Spock, Brazelton, Sears, Phil, Laura, et. al.

No matter how many authorities weigh in, raising a child will always be an art form, not a science. It’s like piecing together a crazy quilt, stitching together random bits of silk, velvet, and scratchy wool in ways that look right to you. I’m always on the lookout for scraps that might work. But I’ve learned to toss plenty aside, too.

An Oreo never killed anybody

Was it just half a generation ago that “cookies and milk” was a nurturing image rather than a derelict one?

I am all for good nutrition. Yes, I am a pro-nutrition kind of mom. I absolutely believe we should nourish our children. No starvation. No stuffed pigs. Equal opportunity for all food groups at every meal. But beyond that? Super-obsession about what kids eat usually only results in kids who are super-obsessed with food themselves. I’d rather put my energy into making sure everyone is sitting up at the table and not kicking anyone underneath it than having a power struggle over “one more bite” of tofu.

Better: Moderation in all things and all things in moderation.

Silence is fool’s gold in a house with kids

This adage is aimed at moms who worry that the wild banshee noises in their homes—i.e. anybody with more than one child—indicate they’re doing something wrong. Like fool’s gold—the mineral that twinkles like the real thing, but isn’t—kids at play who are quiet as churchmice should not be mistaken for a sign that all’s well. It’s noise and chaos—yes, screaming included—that are the sounds of happy children at play.

Silence usually means somebody’s up to no good.

Do be a spoilsport sometimes

The whole definition of “play” has changed since we were kids. It used to mean thinking up things to do on your own, inventing games, arguing with friends over the rules—messing around unsupervised, and not bothering your parents. Now “play” means two things: Youth sports or video games. Youth sports have been taken over by the grownups, and videogames have been completely abandoned by them.

Think twice (or three times) before starting the crazy youth sports treadmill before age 10. A kid gets more exercise digging up worms in the backyard than he does playing center field. Or by having his X-Box turned off and being turned out in the yard to think up something to do on his own.

You can’t judge a Mom by her midriff

So you still have those last post-baby pounds. So your baby is in kindergarten. It doesn’t mean you’re a lousy mom, only (I hope) that you’re still working on the self-love thing.

Stop and smell the crayons

Goodness knows a single hour with a colicky baby can drag like an entire day. A day with a toddler can feel like an eternity. Funny, then, that they whole mommying part of life goes by in a blink. Make time to enjoy it: Hang out. Color. Share French fries. Tickle. Hug.

©Paula Spencer is the author of Momfidence! An Oreo Never Killed Anybody and Other Secrets of Happier Parenting (Crown, 2006). She also writes the “Momfidence!” column in Woman’s Day and is a contributing editor of Parenting and Babytalk. She runs www.momfidence.com.

Creative Commons License photo credit: inajeep

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