I recently came across a research study that found that the average woman speaks about 20,000 words per day, compared to 7,000 that the average man speaks. 20,000!! As Mothers, I am willing to bet at least half of those words are probably words we say to our children and our spouses. We try so hard to speak positive, validating words to our children. To communicate that we love them, that they matter to us, and to validate their words and feelings. We try to teach our children that words matter and that words can affect how others feel. And oftentimes we are hard on ourselves with the words we use to our children and our spouses. Was I kind enough, did I set a good example, did I convey that I listened? It’s pretty clear that words are important to us and how we raise our families. Communication to our spouses is sometimes more challenging; but overall, if we’re in a healthy relationship we try to validate our spouses’s words and tell them that their words matter to us.
But what about the words that we speak to ourselves…what do those sound like? Are you praising yourself? Forgiving yourself for your mistakes? Are you encouraging yourself? If not, then listen up. Think about the words you speak to your friends and compare those to the words you speak to yourself. You wouldn’t tell your best friend that they are a bad mother or make them feel guilty for letting their kids watch extra TV. You wouldn’t tell your Mom friends that their kids need to eat all homemade organic food or that they are a bad mother because they work full time. Even just typing those past few sentences felt off to me, and quite harsh even. Yet, I’ve beat myself up for letting my child watch Sesame Street so that I can eat breakfast in peace for three minutes. I’ve told myself I’m a bad Mother for “leaving” my child and going to work. Mom guilt is real and we need to actively fight it. Negative messages about ourselves and our abilities float around in our head, and often come out when we least need them. Why this happens is a strange phenomenon, but there have been studies that show that our brains are drawn to negatives. We may have been taught negative messages in our childhood and our brains look for evidence to support these messages. We actually have to actively fight our brains to re-focus them on the positives. But you can actually train your brain to notice and internalize the positives in your environment. And you need to do this. For your children, but most importantly for yourself. It’s not being selfish, it’s taking care of yourself.
Speaking to ourselves more positively is called positive self-talk. It may feel unauthentic at first, but when you engage in it, you’re actually challenging your mind to look objectively at a situation and your behavior. Think about it. We know we will not be perfect parents, and we know we will make mistakes. To expect perfection as a Mother is wildly unrealistic. Yet we expect perfection from ourselves all of the time! If you start using positive self-talk, you will start to be able to look more objectively at any given situation, and find the positives in it. A question I like to ask myself is: “Did I make the best decision with the information that I had?” More often than not, you did. You cannot predict the future. And sometimes, you don’t have all the information you need.
One way to work on increasing positive self-talk is with affirmations. I know for me personally, those positive words are sometimes missing from my vocabulary. I want to speak positively to myself, but I’m exhausted and not able to think of something profound on the spot. If you do experience negative self-talk, an easy way to make it positive is to turn it around and state the opposite. For example, if you are thinking, “I am a bad mother,” you would turn that around to say instead, “I am a good mother.” If you need further inspiration, here are some of my favorite positive affirmations for everyday Motherhood.
If right now, at this very moment, you are battling yourself – beating yourself up by using your negative inner-dialogue stemming from your Mom guilt – I am asking you to stop. I am telling you that you are wrong. I challenge you to listen closely to the words you say to yourself and how you feel about them. For the next 24 hours, try listening to the words you say to yourself and the tone of voice that you use. Would you say this to your best friend? Your Mother? Would you treat your child that way? Because if the answer is no, then you do not deserve those words either. Motherhood is hard enough; we need to support ourselves.