Crushing self-criticism in Motherhood
Self-criticism can be very (negatively) powerful
The words you say to yourself are often meaner than anything you will ever hear from someone else. So, you can imagine the effect your self-criticism can have on your self worth, desire to feel needed and on your ability to trust how good you are as a mother, friend, partner and so on. It is crucial that you silence (where possible) your internal negative critic.
Below is an example of self-criticism and how to combat the self-talk to cope better with the situation being illustrated:Situation: My mother just put me down by saying “in my day I always fed you guys perfectly by never leaving out key vegetables”.
Automatic self criticism: “I’m obviously not doing the right thing. My child is going to end up getting sick because I’m not organised enough”
How to cope
Start noting down what your child eats on a daily basis, so you can be confident your child is eating all the key ingredients for health. Armed with this knowledge, the next time your mother makes a comment about this aspect of your parenting, simply respond by saying “Thanks for your input. I’m happy with what I’m doing at the moment, but if I need help, I’ll ask”.
Curbing self-criticism by reducing labelling your child
When you’re upset with your child’s behaviour, the natural instinct is to label your child as “naughty’, “cheeky”, “rude”, “selfish”, “silly”, “grumpy” and so on. Your child invariably will become very upset by these labels and YOU will in turn most likely feel very guilty as a result of upsetting your child through name calling. However, if, instead of labelling, you spoke about your feelings and focused on the negative behaviour in isolation, you would have a greater impact on your child, your child would not be as upset and you would reduce guilt and hence reduce potential future self-criticism.
It’s not always easy to remind yourself to separate behaviour from the individual, however, it’s a good thing to practice. It allows you to deal with the issues at hand and avoid assuming things are worse than they appear in the moment. For instance, when you hear yourself saying your child is always grumpy, it disqualifies all his happy moods and does not provide a clear directive for change.
Below are some example alternative statements you could use to address negative/disruptive behaviour:
Situation: Your son is crying because he doesn’t want to eat the breakfast you served today
Instead of saying: “You’re always so grumpy in the mornings”
You could say: “The way you are speaking to me is not acceptable”
Situation: Your daughter is ignoring you when you tell her to stop running towards the cars
Instead of saying: “You are being so silly and rude today”
You could say: “It’s important to listen to parents for safety reasons”
Situation: Your daughter is speaking back to you when others are around (for example, telling you to get out of her room when she is having a play date)
Instead of saying: “That is very naughty”
You could say: “I’m happy for you to play, but that’s not the way to ask me to leave”
Of course this type of language takes practice. However, if you practice when you are in a calm mindset, you will find it easier to address behaviour in this manner, rather than waiting until you are at your whits end. Remember, this dialogue is not about trying to be a better parent. It’s more about how you feel when you label your child and increasing the chances of obtaining a more desired reaction from your child. If you can reduce this guilt and feel good about the way you are addressing behaviour, you will find your level of self-criticism will dramatically be reduced too.
Lizzie O'Halloran, BBSc, MASR, NLP Prac
Personal Development Coach & Author
Help For Mums
Giving Busy Mums Peace of Mind & Permission to Be Imperfect