Letters to Mothers: Less is More

Meme from @weegallery on Instagram

An amazing mom sent this to me today. I think it perfectly illustrates the anxiety and unrealistic expectations that mothers face in our current culture. Know it all, do it all, do it perfectly.

This is too much mom pressure!! I hope to give short and solid counter advice from over 15 years of working with kids and parents.

Look: if your kids know you love them, they talk to you about their lives, and you are taking good care of yourself in the process of parenting….you are an excellent Mom.

That’s it.

In fact, all the pressure to be everything for our kids is not only hurting us, it’s hurting our kids. It all creates more anxiety. With good intention, over functioning moms send the message to kids that they can’t do it themselves or will do it wrong. It tells them they can’t get back up on their own when they fall. We actually need to do less so we can trust our kids wisdom more and allow them to increasingly figure life out as they grow. So they can access their resiliency and find THEIR way, not our imposed way of living life.

Less is more in so many ways. Parenting isn’t a formula, a competition or a status: it is a relationship, it’s an art form, a co-created process. If you want to boil all the research down: most parenting is about modeling behavior and cultivating trusting relationship.

Shoot for the Winnicott 60-80% average of meeting emotional needs and let go of perfection. Working for 100% is making you and your kids exhausted and anxious and is not teaching realistic expectations.

If over half the time you care for yourself and model cultivating intentional health and sanity, your kids will learn from that. If you communicate clearly and kindly, your kids will. If you have gentle and firm boundaries, your kids will find a way to have them. If you are compassionate with your mistakes and show how you learn from them, your kids will. If you ask for help when you need it, your kids will. If you prioritize love and relationship through listening and attention, your kids will in their way. So stop focusing so much on what your kids need and ask yourself: what am I showing them? What do I need? The rest will fall into place.

A therapist friend of mine once wisely said, “I know I’m gonna be imperfect and give my kid weird issues. I just want them to be quirky neurotic from it, not wounded neurotic.” We all have our stuff, our kids will too. But do they know you love them, that you listen to them and are interested, do they see how for the most part you take care of yourself with respect and kindness? That’s the real foundation.

As for that 20-40% when you lose your cool and model fear, anger or neglect. Welcome to the club! Compassion is important here. Go back and repair if you can, learn from it, and most of all cut yourself a break….you are human. And isn’t that what you want for your kids? To be kind humans?

Important note: If you don’t hit 60-80% of meeting needs on average over time, and struggle with my short list, this doesn’t mean you are a bad mom. It means you are a mom who needs support. It means you have opportunities to grow to create more bonding. Trust in relationships happen in the little moments of care and attunement. Those can be ruptured for lots of reasons. Maybe you never learned how, maybe you are too stressed, maybe you and your child have very different styles of relating and being. Reach out for help in bridging the gaps and finding more connection and ease. It’s never too late to create health.

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