I anxiously awaited the premier of the movie “Bad Moms” all summer long. I heard fellow moms talking about it for months, rallying packs of moms to see it together, and I was excited to find out why this movie was resonating with so many women in a way that no movie had done in years.
When I finally got to see it, the film really hit home for me, as a therapist who has helped thousands of moms struggle with feelings of guilt and inadequacy, and as a mom of three kids. It also hits home with millions of moms out there who struggle with the feeling that they have no idea what they're doing, and that they're not doing a good enough job.
Motherhood has become an all encompassing identity. Moms feel that it's their fundamental role in life to be the “ideal mom”: To do it all, know it all, BE it all, and make sure your kids turn out the way you want them to. This pressure has only been exacerbated by social media, which leads moms to feel even more inadequate about the mother they are, as it certainly appears that all of their friends have the “perfect” family on Facebook.
It’s no wonder that today’s moms feel overstressed and overworked, and trapped in a culture of motherhood in which no matter what they're doing as moms, they're not measuring up. All of this is enough to make moms feel like they're going crazy, and then they beat themselves up for feeling crazy, which makes them feel even crazier!
So, why are we all so friggin’ crazy? Why is it that we can all relate to Kristin Bell’s character, Kiki, who fantasizes about being in a car accident that’s just bad enough to put her in the hospital so she can sleep and binge watch TV? It's because we are ALL overly identified with the voice of our inner critic – the voice in our mind who is constantly evaluating, judging, comparing, and telling us where we don’t measure up, what we have to fix, change, or perfect, and how we could do things better. The more we listen to her, the crazier we feel.
Our inner critic has us convinced that no matter what we've achieved as mothers, no matter how much we've done for our kids, we are still not good enough. As Kiki says in the movie, “In today’s day and age, it’s impossible to be a good mom!” REALLY??!!
The PTA president, Gwendolyn, is the personification of our Inner Critic. Her character represents everything that we think we should be. She’s doing it “right.” She is the ideal woman. The epitome of perfection. And, if we keep listening to her, our inner critic’s advice about how we need to change, fix, or perfect ourselves, we can finally get to the point where we feel like we’re doing it right.
Except, no matter what we do and how hard we try as moms, we never, ever reach that arrival point. It’s like we’re all hamsters on the hamster wheel. Running and running and running, and still, we feel the same.
It’s time to STOP THE INSANITY! Does that mean you just let everything go, drink yourself into oblivion, slack off, and throw wild PTA parties like the “Bad Moms” did? NO! It’s about recognizing that you are listening to a crazy person in your mind, thinking that it’s YOU. It’s about learning the difference between YOU and your crazy, delusional, perfectionistic, inner critic. She's the one who's responsible for so much of the suffering in your life, especially when it comes to motherhood.
The truth is that the feelings of inner peace, joy, and contentment that all moms crave come from learning how to separate yourself from your inner critic. It’s about acquiring the tools to stop giving energy and attention to her attempts to improve, perfect, fix, or change either you or your children.
Here are 5 tools to separate you from your “Bad Mom” inner critic:
Pay attention to the areas where you're struggling or suffering the most in being a mom. What are the beliefs that your inner critic is convincing you are “Truths?” Even though this may feel like the truth, you're identifying with the expectations of your inner critic, who expects you and your life to fit a perfectionistic picture. When life doesn’t fit this picture (which is often the case), your inner critic will convince you that there's something wrong, and it is up to you to make it right.
Try catching your inner critic in the act of hustling you into believing her story. See her story as just that: A STORY! You'll know when she’s trying to hustle you by watching your suffering, and all the feelings that come along with it.
For example, if you are angry about forgetting about a birthday party your child was invited to, how is your inner critic making you feel about yourself? Can you identify this feeling at different times throughout your life, even before you became a mother?
The story of the inner critic is repetitive and unchanging. The inner critic will just keep looking for more evidence to support the story. That is how a simple mistake (that most parents make) can make you feel like the worst mother in the world. The feelings your inner critic creates today are the same feelings she created when you were eight, 17, and 30!
Your inner critic needs your children to fit her perfectionistic idea of who they should be. If they fall short of her expectations, she will convince you it’s YOUR fault. She will make you feel small, inadequate, and incompetent. To make sure that you don’t feel that emotional pain, she will try to control and fix your kids.
When your inner critic tries to fix and control your kids, that control and criticism often causes your kids to behave in ways that are the polar opposite of her expectations. When you can get your inner critic out of your parenting, and let your kids be themselves, they end up being more of the kids that you desire them to be in the first place: loving, connected, happy kids.
(Gwendolyn, perhaps?!) Notice how and when she speaks to you. Notice the body sensations she evokes in you (shoulders tense, knots in your stomach). Notice what mood she puts you in. Notice if you want to eat when you’re not hungry, sleep when you’re not tired, binge watch TV, or worse. Is she in the driver’s seat of your life again? Get her out! Stop giving her the power to tell you where you’re not enough or how you should live your life!
When my 15-year-old son leaves a trail of dirty laundry and wet towels from the bathroom to his room yet again, my inner critic will chime in that he is being lazy, selfish, and disrespectful. If I listened to her, I would blast my son from here to the moon with criticism and anger. If I can let go of my inner critic, I can remember that my son is acting like a typical teenage boy.
Of course, I will make him accountable for cleaning up his mess. But instead of asking him through my inner critic’s criticism and anger, I can ask him from my calm and centered self. And I assure you, when I am parenting him instead of my inner critic, my son is a completely different human being.
The bottom line is this: The only thing that makes you feel like a bad mom, and then try to do more and be more to feel like a good mom, is your automatic habit of listening to your inner critic and thinking that it's YOU. The more you practice separating yourself from the grip of your inner critic, the less crazy you will feel, and maybe you can recognize the mother that you REALLY are .