My first child was born the week before I graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in family science. I had taken and aced classes on marriage, parenting, family finances, family meal planning, family life, and child development. I had listened to countless lectures about family issues, read the research, written quality papers, and thought I was well prepared for raising a child.
But shortly after the nurse placed my newborn into my arms that chilly November evening, everything I thought I knew about motherhood crumbled before my eyes. I quickly discovered, when my bundle of joy screamed himself hoarse on his first night home from the hospital, that he was not the product of a textbook, and, therefore, was not going to follow any rules except his own.
He cried for nine solid months, followed by nine years of stubborn defiance that I thought would break me.
During those rough early years with him and the four more children who soon joined our family, my self-worth plummeted.
I felt like my college degree was of little worth in the realm of real family life. I had chosen to make motherhood my career, which I did not regret, but the fruits of my labors were not forthcoming.
Instead, I had disobedient children, the oldest of whom spit in my face and threw things at me in fits of anger. While I tried to hold him accountable, I could not seem to teach him, or my other kids, how to behave civilly.
For me, that translated into intense feelings of self-doubt. Because I did not think I was a competent mother, I felt like I would never amount to anything.
I’m in a much better place now that I have perspective on my side. That little boy who gave me so much trouble recently turned 18 and has made lightyears of progress. He is intelligent, disciplined, humble, and kind—everything I could have ever asked for in a son.
I realize now that I was laying the groundwork for later success during those times when I felt like a complete failure.
It took years of teaching before my lessons took root and began to grow into a mature and unwavering tree. But they did take root, which means that my efforts were never wasted.
If your self-worth hinges on the behavior of your children—like mine once did—and your confidence is suffering as a result, I hope you will consider these five things:
How to Separate Your Self-Worth from Your Kids’ Behavior
1. Your Kids’ Choices Are Not Your Fault
For better or worse, making mistakes goes hand in hand with the ability to choose. You can do everything perfectly and have a child who chooses poorly, so try not to blame yourself when it happens.
Do your best, meet your children where they are at, and keep pressing forward rather than looking back.
2. Time Changes Everything
While it may not feel like you are getting anywhere with your kids right now, the process of raising and teaching a child takes years, so be patient. Don’t beat yourself up when you don’t see immediate progress. It will come.
3. Ditch Guilt
Guilt can be helpful when it inspires change, but too much of it can be paralyzing. It can easily overshadow joy for hardworking, loving, purposeful women.
If I could give one piece of wisdom to women everywhere, it would be to choose joy.
Accept your imperfections. Breathe. Keep trying. And kick guilt to the curb.
4. Focus on Your Strengths
In the middle of tough stages of motherhood, it is easy to get caught up in your weaknesses. During those times, it is helpful to reflect on your strengths.
I recommend making a list of everything that you do well. If you are feeling stuck (or even if you are not), ask a friend or family member to tell you what they see in you. Although that conversation might feel awkward, it will give you insight that you may not have had before.
It will be worth the discomfort for the added perspective; I promise.
5. Take Time For Yourself
Remember that you have an identity outside of motherhood and that side of you needs to be nurtured. To live joyfully, it is essential to routinely do things that make you feel alive: enroll in a class, go on a hike, plan a girls’ night out, go to a movie, or simply give yourself permission to spend some quality time alone.
I promise your kids will be okay without you for a couple of hours and you will come back feeling refreshed and better able to deal with life’s challenges.
If you are struggling with feelings of failure and self-doubt because your kids are in difficult stages, please learn from my mistakes by ditching guilt, focusing on your strengths, and taking time for yourself, while remembering that your kids’ choices are not your fault and time changes everything. I am convinced that, in doing so, you will find more confidence and peace, despite the inevitable hardships of raising children.
Erica note: Isn’t Lynnette the best? If you sometimes feel like you don’t measure up as a mom, Lynnette has created a workbook to help you to find joy in motherhood by teaching you how to discover & embrace the mother you were born to be. Download your free copy here!