Dear Mom

Happy Mother’s Day to you! Whether you are expecting your first child, having your first Mother’s Day with your child, or have older children, I hope your Mother’s Day is as special as you are. If you are experiencing postpartum depression (PPD) or anxiety (PPA), I want to offer you hope for the wonderful future that lies ahead, despite the extremely painful place you may be in now.

I know how bittersweet Mother’s Day can be if you are battling PPD or PPA. My first Mother’s Days were laced with the overwhelm, frustration and stress that accompanied my postpartum depression. I vividly remember being angry and disappointed because my husband didn’t make the day special like I wanted. Yet as I’ll talk about in a minute, one of the best Mother’s Day gifts we can get is one that we need to give ourselves.

Fortunately not only did I overcome my depression, but my life is now much happier and more fulfilling than it ever was prior to having kids and PPD. Through cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) I learned to change my thoughts, which changed my brain. I am grateful for PPD for motivating me to make such life-giving changes, despite the excruciating pain I had to go through.

Prior to having children, those same thought patterns had kept me much less happy than I could have been. However, I was never clinically depressed and unable to get up off the couch until after having my first child. My life was fine before, not great but fine. I didn’t realize until after learning CBT how much my negative, perfectionistic thinking and poor coping skills had held me back.

So my message to you, based on my personal experience, is one of hope. You have every reason to hope for an even brighter future than your pre-postpartum depression and anxiety days. Inside the painful package of my illness was a silver lining that continues to shine and make my life so much more successful and happy today. If I’d known in the midst of my pain that there was a pot of gold at the end of my suffering, it would have made the journey that much easier.

I urge you to take care of yourself on Mother’s Day. Tell your husband exactly what you want. I didn’t those first few years, and he never majored in mind reading, nor does he think like a woman. Then focus on giving yourself the best, most lasting present of all.

The Best Present You Can Give Yourself!

Although I fully believe that you don’t have to do everything yourself, and you do deserve to be pampered by others, this present you have to give yourself. Lower your expectations for yourself. Many mothers are full of perfectionistic thoughts about how you “should” be as a mother. Those thoughts cause most women to feel hopeless and overwhelmed because you can’t be everything to everyone.

Learning to let go of my excessively high standards was a huge gift. I see many of my childless girlfriends have not gone through PPD, and so didn’t have the painful motivator to change. I am eternally grateful because I see how they suffer from unrealistic expectations of themselves and others, and I’m grateful to be in a more relaxed and joyful place.

Can you relate to any of my unrealistic expectations of myself?

I expected that:

  • I’d cook great food, much of it from scratch, despite barely cooking before having kids.
  • As a stay at home mom for a number of years, it seemed perfectly reasonable that I would be able to garden and decorate my house beautifully, despite neither of those talents being in evidence prior to having kids.
  • In one generation, with no family support, and in a brand new community hundreds of miles from my friends, I’d right all the wrongs in my troubled upbringing, and raise perfect kids.
  • I would be organized and at my top fitness level, despite both of those goals eluding me as a single woman!
  • I would do all this while often single parenting for weeks on end while my husband worked crazy hours. My son would wake up at 6 in the morning and cry because daddy was already gone to work. Yet I expected I could still raise the perfect kids with no issues, despite having no real support either.

As I’ve learned to reduce my expectations of myself, my success has increased dramatically. No, I still am not an amazing cook, but I produce decent meals with some regularity. My house is decorated just fine, although I won’t win any awards, and the garden, well we have a berry patch in the backyard with a few containers that we plant carrots and herbs in. We have lots of friends here now, some of whom feel like family to us, and we have many great moments together as a family.

So while I let go of some, okay actually a lot, of my expectations, my overall success and happiness has blossomed.

  • My chosen career, parenting education, has taken off and I’m living my dream life. My kids see their mother exercise her true gifts as I interview experts, write and work with parents.
  • I am still happily married to the guy who didn’t read my mind those first few Mother’s Days. I now tell him directly what I want, and I now can see the evidence that he wants to please me, he just doesn’t always know how. (Such as the expensive gifts that he buys that may be off the mark, but were his best attempt to guess at what I would have wanted)
  • My kids are healthy and fit, emotionally and physically. They do well in school. Although they have issues, they are much happier and better-adjusted than I was when I was their age. The most resilient, happy children are those who have had to overcome issues, so the fact that they have had issues is actually a bonus, much like PPD can be for us.
  • The house is neat and clean enough for people to drop by, despite the two dogs and two cats (what was I thinking?), although occasionally I tidy up for a few minutes after people come in the door.

So give yourself the gift of expecting less of yourself this Mother’s Day. Expect you and your kids to be average! You will save yourself a lot of frustration and overwhelm when your kids or you fail to be exceptional. Ironically, if you aren’t wasting energy being frustrated and overwhelmed, you will have a lot more energy be an exceptional parent.

Learn from Martha Stewart

I want to leave you with one last Mother’s Day gift from me to you. Learn from Martha Stewart. She is the epitome of perfection. Yet if you think about it, although millions admire her, how many actually like her? If you drop your goal of perfection, you show your humanity and become more loveable. You give everyone around you a gift when you show yourself for who you are, imperfections and all.

One of the best gifts you can give your children is to allow them to be human too. As with most great parenting, you have to start with modeling it for them. Show them that it is fine to make mistakes. Laugh at your foibles, apologize for your mistakes and show them how you learn and make better choices in the future. That will lead to much happier and more successful kids than if you manage to be the perfect mom you think you should be.

Happy Mother’s Day. You are a beautiful and special mom, just how you are. I hope you see that when you look in the mirror today. Hold that mirror out to your children as well, and you’ll have done your part to creating a more peaceful, beautiful world.

Jacqueline Green blogs at Great Parenting Practicesand hosts The Great Parenting Show.Follow her on Twitter at @jacquelinegreen.

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