Recently there was a post on the boards where someone asked a fairly simple question. How is your self-esteem these days? My answer to that is not very easy for me to own up to, but I did answer on the board and I have been thinking about it ever since. I hate to acknowledge some of the things I am going to admit to right now because it makes me very vulnerable, but I know there are many parents, especially moms who struggle with the same thing. So here we go…
My self-esteem is pretty bad. I have struggled with my view of myself since I was a teen. I always felt like I wasn’t pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, or talented enough. I just felt like I wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t that I had people around me telling me this. I always felt loved and encouraged throughout my childhood by both family and friends. It was just that I was never good enough for me.
I don’t know if this is something that is hard wired in my brain or if it stems from my struggles with weight, but I often have a battle going on in my head. I hear this negative little voice in the back of my mind. I look in the mirror and don’t like what I see. I try to convince myself that it is silly. I am a loyal and kind person. I am a good friend, a loving wife, a grateful daughter, and a devoted mother. There are so many positive things I can point out that it almost seems silly to say out loud that I have a bad self image. But for every good thing I have, this nagging little “but it could be better” lurks in the back of my mind.
Now I have four little people who look to me for so much. I am responsible for their day to day care and for shaping them into who they will become. That feels like the weight of the world is on my shoulders and for someone who doesn’t always like the reflection in the mirror, that can be very difficult. About a year ago I decided that I had to turn it around for my kids. I know some day they will see me for all my faults and maybe laugh with each other about how crazy mom is. I don’t mind that, but I also want them to see me as a strong woman who valued herself and her contributions to this life. I knew I had to change myself in order for them to see me that way, and I have been actively working on it since then.
My biggest struggle is with my body image. I had a hard time before kids but add countless stretch marks from neck to ankles and horribly stretched out skin and it is even harder to like my appearance. And I am getting older on top of that. I can see wrinkles and my skin is freckled more than it used to be. A hair stylist doing my hair said, “is this your natural hair color? It’s really pretty; it hardly has any grey in it.” (Hardly any?? There should be none…. cue the sobs.) Oh the list can go on and on, but I decided to stop focusing on that and do something to help myself.
Last year I signed up for my first 5K. I loved it. I have since done a 10K and I am planning on going for a half marathon in November. I know it’s not much, but it has helped my self-image immensely. I proved to myself that I could do it if I put my mind to it, and more importantly I showed my kids what some hard work and dedication can do.
Just after finishing our 10K!
Something happened a few days ago that made me both cringe and laugh at the same time. My oldest son was in the bathroom with me. He was facing away from me so I had some privacy, but I turned around as I was zipping my pants. (I’m sure most parents know that there is no privacy in parenthood.) He fired off several questions all at once, and we had a somewhat embarrassing conversation in a public restroom with everyone else listening.
James: Mommy what are those squiggly lines on your tummy? Why is it lumpy and wiggly?
Me: It is just the way my body is now. It happened when I was pregnant with your brothers and sister.
Me: When a baby grows in a mommy’s tummy the skin has to stretch. Sometimes it leaves scars like those squiggly lines and sometimes it just leaves lumpy loose skin.
James: Can I see them? Do you like them? (as he lifted my shirt and traced a particularly large stretch mark up my side.)
Me: You can see it for a second and well… no I didn’t like them at first. But now I think back to how hard my body worked to grow a baby that I really don’t mind them so much any more.
James: It is funny looking.
Me: Yep, kind of. I think some of them look like lightning bolts.
James: Oh like Harry Potter…cool! (He has never seen the movie but we are starting to read the first book.) I didn’t grow in your tummy so I didn’t make marks on your tummy?
Me: That’s right; you didn’t give me any stretch marks.
James: Haha that’s all my brothers' fault. They should go on time out.
I couldn’t help but laugh. What fun questions to have to answer (in a public restroom) when I wish my body never saw the light of day. I wanted to push his hand away and lower my shirt the few inches he had pulled it up. I wanted to crawl into a hole because my son just asked why I have a flabby tummy with at least 5 other women around. Then I thought some day he might have stretch marks from growth spurts in his teen years and I don’t want him to hide. He might get married and have a wife whose body doesn’t go back to the way it was after having kids and I want him to know that it is beautiful. What message would I send to him if I hid my own scars in shame? So I let him look. I let him press his fingers onto a particularly large stretch mark on my side. When he was done we left the stall and went on with our day. I don’t know if he will remember that day, but I know I will.
In addition to my body image I also struggle with my daily role as a mom. I have four kids and that was my choice. I can’t imagine life any other way. They fill my days with meaning and joy but I also constantly worry if I am doing it right. I often wonder if I do enough, if they watch too much TV, if they are eating healthy enough, or if they are getting enough personal attention from me. I know so many moms who voice this same concern. AM I DOING A GOOD ENOUGH JOB??? Only recently have I been able to tell myself yes. I don’t think I could have said that when my boys were one or two. At that point I was still struggling to survive and keep us all alive each day. I was also stressed about what a makes you a good or bad mom and I think the definition is different for everyone.
I still don’t have it all figured out. Sometimes I yell at my kids when they don’t listen the first 10 times that I asked them to put their shoes because we are already late for school. Sometimes I let them watch too much TV on days when I am tired or don’t feel good. Sometimes we eat fast food because I didn’t get the chicken out of the freezer in enough time to have it ready. Sometimes (OK maybe most of the time) my house is a mess and the laundry is in piles. But even with all those negatives I am trying to remind myself that those things don’t detract from the good things I do with my kids. I always tell them how proud of them I am and how much I love them. I try to break out time for each of them individually so they can enjoy some time with us. I am trying to be an advocate in their education. I try to make sure we just have to have fun together. Those things make me a good mom and I can say that with confidence now.
I have to make sure I am a good role model for these little ones.
Now that the boys are in school I get a lot more feedback about their behavior. I have gotten nothing but rave reviews on my boys. The office staff at the school tells me they are the most pleasant well-mannered boys they have ever met. Their teachers are sad because we can’t keep them at the school through grade school because they will miss them. It has been a huge boost to my mommy self-esteem. Maybe we are doing something right? It reinforces my belief in myself that I am a good mom. Sometimes it seems like we are living with four little Tasmanian devils running around destroying the house and driving me crazy. But it makes me swell with pride when I hear good things about them.
I would still classify myself as someone with bad self-esteem because I still have that little nagging voice to deal with, but I am becoming more confident as time goes by. I have come a long way since I was a teen or when I first became a mom. I still don’t particularly like looking in mirrors, but I am proud that this body has run a 10K. I am proud of the scars I will undoubtedly carry forever. Those scars show how amazing my body was. It built two people at the same time and kept them in for 37 weeks. I still worry about my kids and my effect on them. I still worry about who they will become, but I am able to say I am a good mom. I am not perfect but I am good enough. I am good enough for my family, my friends, my husband, my kids and more importantly myself.