Inside: Do you feel like you always fall short? Stop trying to be a good mom. It only pushes what you want further away. Do something else instead.
Do you often feel as if the pre-dinner hour is a balancing act akin to walking on a tightrope in stilettos with a chicken under each arm? There is a lot of balancing, a whole lot of physical exertion, and a high risk that the whole situation will devolve into chaos.
Since 6 AM this morning, you washed clothes, cooked, and occasionally jumped up and ran into the next room when it sounded like a body had hit the floor. You still need to cook dinner and wash the kids (or was it the other way around?).
Your kids are tired, too, which means they are super loud and extra needy. The baby is practically glued to your left hip. Your seven-year-old is energetically making a case for cookies before dinner. The last thing you want to do is fake excitement at the scribbles your four-year-old is pushing in your direction.
“Is it good, mommy?” she asks with the innocence of youth, looking at you with a huge grin.
“Sure,” you say, secretly ashamed not to be more enthusiastic about the “picture.”
And then she says the six words that you don’t want to hear right now (or ever): “Can you play with me now?”
No, thanks, you would rather lick a cactus.
Of course, you want to be a good mom! But it’s the end of a VERY long day, so you cringe and say, “I need to go to the toilet,” hoping that your sweet child finds something to do before you come out of hiding. Based on the success of this tactic the day before, you have your hopes high as you hide behind the bathroom door with the baby who crawled after you.
Then you hear it.
“Aaah!!! It’s mine!”
“NO! I had it first!”
You jump out of hiding, the baby in your arms, to find two of your kids locked in a battle over some truck that no one even liked to begin with. Your seven-year-old’s face bears traces of cookies he wasn’t supposed to have before dinner. (The nerve of him!)
“Why can’t I leave you alone for two minutes,” you scream. What follows is a very loose rendition of an apocalypse on a family scale. Words are said. Unnecessary words. Hurtful words. After a day of being a responsible adult, you lack the patience and motivation “to do it right.”
By the time it’s all over, you feel like the worst mother ever.
So like any guilt-ridden mother, you decide to do better. From now on, you will play with your kids before dinner, you will keep your temper, you will serve a healthy snack in the shape of hieroglyphics no less (they are into mummies, right) while you are cooking dinner.
Here is the problem
As a mom, you rarely get a chance to do what you want when you want it. Nap? Cup of tea? A minute to yourself?
Instead, you diligently wipe the poop off babies’ butts and put yummy things in their mouths (sometimes at the same time). You patiently sew buttons on their puppets and strew baking powder on the pee spot on the carpet. You kiss and scold in the same breath, and your willpower gets tested ten times before breakfast.
It turns out that willpower – what you need to turn off Facebook and pretend you are a tickle monster to delight your kids—is not a fairy godmother that keeps on giving. At some point, she flees (in a panic), and it’s just you and the kids.
You already know how that goes.
When your willpower is off duty, you start making unproductive choices, even though you know you could do better.
It’s not your fault.
Interacting with kids and arbitrating relationships can deplete willpower faster than you can say “flibbertigibbet.”
The biggest hurdle to being a good mom
I know it sounds counterintuitive, but listen: Your goal to be a good mother is all wrong.
Research from the University of Chicago shows that focusing on goals makes you less effective in pursuing them. And this result has been replicated with a variety of goals in many different settings.
When you concentrate on the future result, you cut off the flow of energy to the present, and it’s the present moment where the action happens.
Our brains are wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. I know you’re tough. You can ignore the pain of watching My Little Pony with your kids, but it drains your reserves of self-restraint. When the kids start bickering the moment the TV is off; you are more likely to retort with an angry remark.
Researchers have studied exercisers, crafters, and even people flossing their teeth, and the result is always the same. Once people are directed to concentrate on their goals, the activities they do to achieve that goal are perceived as less enjoyable. The less enjoyable the activity is, the more willpower you need to complete it.
The biggest hurdle to being a good mom is your focus on the outcome.
There’s another reason why having a goal to be a good parent is making parenting less enjoyable.
There’s an implication that you’re not a good parent yet. You are giving it all, and it’s just not good enough.
Once you do XYZ, you will be a good parent. So there’s tremendous pressure to get XYZ done if you want to achieve your goal. And we all know that pressure is stressful. Pressure drains the battery. Pressure kills the fun. It makes the journey harder.
The paradoxical thing about our mind is that it can be our greatest ally or our greatest foe. Yes, it takes a lot of restraint to get through a day with kids, and, yes, willpower might be limited. But interesting new research shows that what you believe will affect just how limited your willpower is (or isn’t!).
If you believe that your goal of being a good mother is daunting and overwhelming, you will have less motivation to exercise your will. Just imagining years of self-sacrifice and tests of willpower lying ahead will make you feel exhausted.
You know what needs to be done, but being a good mom suddenly requires more energy than you have today.
Tomorrow you will have the energy and the time, but right now you just need to get through the day.
The problem is that tomorrow you don’t have more time or energy, and it’s just the same thing all over again.
What to do instead
If your well-intentioned goal to yell less and play more devolved into dust, again, don’t wish for more willpower, patience, or fairy dust. Try this powerful thing instead. Trade your goal to be a good mom for a commitment to a specific set of actions that takes place in the present. Express your commitment as an intention.
This is why intentions work better than goals:
● A goal is a desired outcome in some distant and elusive future. An intention is a commitment to a course of action that takes place right now.
● It takes less energy to go with the flow of your intention than to act for the sake of a future goal.
● It puts you in control because you are the master of what you do and don’t do right now, but you can’t command future goals.
● It uses up less willpower to choose to do an activity because you want to rather than do it for a future benefit.
● It gives you positive momentum: it’s easier to do the next right thing after you have done the first right thing.
● A goal is a highlighter that points to the discrepancy between now and what you would like to happen sometime in the future. An intention is rooted in the present: Nothing is missing. You are exactly where you were meant to be.
● An intention is not just a determination to act in a certain way but an attitude you have chosen to commit to. Goals take the pleasure out of the activity.
According to Deepak Chopra, “intentions are more powerful when they come from contentment rather than lack or need.“ So forget “I’m not going to yell” and keep it positive. For example:
● I choose to be a mom who enjoys her kids.
● I intend to remain receptive to the opportunities for meaningful connections with my kids.
● I commit to doing my best each step of the way, accepting whatever happens, and learning from the experience.
The secret component
Parenting is inspiring, uplifting, and incredibly rewarding. It’s also exhausting. A lot is required of you, and in order to enjoy the ride, parenting has to be fun for you, too.
So do fun things with your kids: Explore a new park, stand on your head against a wall (your kids will show you how), try a wacky science experiment in your kitchen, read a book about mud (why not?), or play a game of Yuzz-a-ma-tuzz (that’s when you take turns coming up with nonsense words).
Look around and try to find ways to put joy into your life as a mom.
Want to know my little secret? I completely eliminated pre-dinner craziness in my house by cooking dinner early in the morning. The pre-dinner hour at my house? I’m relaxing on a couch, reading aloud fun books with my four kids wrapped all around me. Is it as relaxing as it sounds? Yes, it is! Because it turns out that the only thing my kids need at this time of day is my undivided attention. And the only thing I want is to lie down. Win-win!
The bottom line:
The next time you are walking on a tightrope in stilettos with a chicken under each arm, remember this: parenting is a journey, not a destination. Powering through the hard stuff doesn’t get you all the way across the tightrope faster. It just causes you to fall. Slow down. Enjoy the journey. Being a good mom is a by-product of many good decisions, each happening in the present moment. So, pay attention to what you are doing while doing it: keep the chickens safe, expect to wobble, and have fun doing it.
Do you want to have more fun with your kids? I will show you how. Take a 7-day fun with kids challenge with me!