The following interview with This
Emotional Life contributor Dr. Jessica Zucker was conducted in support of the new book Good Enough Is The New Perfect by Becky Beaupre
Gillespie and Hollee Schwartz Temple. For more information on the book, visit http://thenewperfect.com/.

Why are moms so competitive with each other?

The following interview with This
Emotional Life contributor Dr. Jessica Zucker was conducted in support of the new book Good Enough Is The New Perfect by Becky Beaupre
Gillespie and Hollee Schwartz Temple. For more information on the book, visit http://thenewperfect.com/.

Why are moms so competitive with each other?

Culture sets up a troubling dynamic
between women – mothers or not.  Comparing
ourselves to one another is a mainstay embedded in the fabric of cultural
confusion and promotes separation rather than connection.  Motherhood seems to stir profound
insecurities for women as they traverse the simultaneously joyous, daunting, rewarding,
and vulnerable journey that is parenthood. 
Women are often stymied by the overwhelming amount of time and energy
parenting requires, leaving little room for pre-motherhood activities.  Most people aren’t forthcoming about how
anxious they feel, how isolating mothering can be, or how fulfilling it is to
love a little person in such an inexplicable way. Competitiveness bubbles below
the surface from pre-conception onward. 
Painfully insecure moments pool in the psyches of mothers as they
contemplate a million tiny and meaningful decisions and feelings throughout the
day.  The majority of mothers I work with
in my clinical practice describe feeling that other mothers are doing IT
“better”, have IT “more together”, and feel like everyone, except for
themselves, is gracefully sliding through their days unaffected by the
challenges and pitfalls of mothering. 
Looking in on other people’s lives from a distance and through a lens of
fear inevitably heightens self-doubt.  Insecurities
proliferate when we insist that everyone else is doing IT perfectly.  Why do we get muddled in unending
comparisons?  Do our children benefit
from these mindless moments of self-loathing that take us further away from our
relationship with them?  What does this
insidious cycle model for our burgeoning children as they come to learn about
connection, self-esteem, and community?

How can moms stop comparing themselves to others?

Comparing ourselves to other mother’s
only serves to create distance, despair, disenchantment, and deleterious disillusionment.  It pokes and prods at widespread sequestered insecurities.  The fissures in friendships among mothers
often catch women by surprise, even when they have been active participants in
the decay of the relationship.  Comparing
and contrasting magnifies our unnamed inner struggles, fears, and scratches at
antiquated shame.  We rarely feel more
empowered as we strip someone else to the core, even if it somehow feels
justified and fortifying in the moment.  So
why is this insidious way of (non)relating so commonplace?  Why does it practically feel like a cultural
requirement to look outside of one self to verify if one is “good enough”?  My hunch is that women are scared.  Deeply terrified.  They are expected to be perfect and can’t
be.  Women are human, after all – not
Barbie, not Superwoman, and most definitely not Charlie’s Angels.  They are scared to “fail”.  They fear being deemed a “bad” mother based
on each and every decision, their lifestyle choices.  Mothers are desperately bogged down by worry that
they aren’t juggling “well enough” today even if they felt they were juggling “perfectly”
yesterday.  “Am I as thin as her?  Didn’t she only have her baby 2 months ago?”,
“Do I spend enough/too much time with my child/husband/family/friends/self?”,
“I don’t seem to be doing anything as gracefully as she is.  Am I? 
Have I ever?  Will I ever?”  The whirlwind of doubt can drain the beauty
out of mundane as well as miraculous experiences throughout the ever-changing
relationships with our children. 

To stop comparing is a revolutionary act.  Taking the time to look inward to address
ancient and newfound feelings of dis-ease can shift the family paradigm.  Persisting in patterns of relating that
clearly don’t serve you is a recipe for continued inner distrust.  Changing this cultural vestige is always possible.

When moms strive for perfection, what is the impact on
their children?

Children need their parents to be
present not perfect.  Research shows that
emotional consistency, attunement, and quality interactions lay the groundwork
for relational trust and a sense of feeling safe in the world more generally.  Perfection is not possible.  The more children see their mother’s chasing
after perfection, the more pressure they inevitably feel to strive for some
version of perfection as well.  Newborns
can sense how their mother feels. 
Infants pick up on the emotional state of their caregivers.  Toddlers decipher each and every
expression.  We need to take seriously
the fact that little people are shaped by how we feel and the ways we behave.  Being less than perfect is the human
condition.  The sooner mom truly digests
this, the more apt she is to embrace a less binary model of being a woman =
perfection vs. failure.  It’s harder to
acknowledge and truly embrace that we live on an emotional continuum made up of
wonderful days, challenging weeks, beautiful months, and that we often can’t
predict how we will feel from one day to the next.  Steadfastly seeking perfection is an attempt
at being fully in control.  Trying to
control is an attempt at being shielded from unpredictability.  For the most part, these dedicated attempts
at being “perfect” are thwarted by real life happenings.  Running after perfection simply means we miss
out on Right Now.  What’s so painful
about being present in this moment? 
Maybe a little.  Maybe a lot.  The courage to remain present and to model
presence for your child is bound to cultivate an environment of emotional
intimacy that is complex, real, and hopefully chock-full of rewarding
play.  Perfection chasers too often miss
out on the playfulness of life altogether. 
Children naturally want to thrive and will do so with exquisite beauty when
accompanied by mother’s who are more dedicated to being
present and less interested in attaining perfection.

What are the most important pieces of advice that you
can offer to new moms?

Here are some healthful tid bits for
women to savor as they embark on motherhood… 
Trust yourself.  Rely on
others.  Ask for help.  Seek support. 
Connect with loved ones.  Take
time for yourself.  Expect to feel
amazing, awful, and everything in between. 
Throw perfection out the window. 
Be present.  Get professional
guidance if you feel you want/need it. 
Read books about parenting if you find them helpful but ultimately be
sure to integrate their wisdom with your own mothering methods.  Respect your body and the postpartum
journey.  Curb unrealistic expectations.  Be the role model you always dreamed of
having.  Be wholeheartedly honest with
yourself.  Experience whatever it is you
are experiencing.  Denying feelings does
not make them go away.  Feelings are
feelings not facts.  Change is
possible.  Communication is key.  Depression and anxiety do not go away on their
own.  Rest when you can.  Honor your emotional temperature.  Surround yourself with people who make you
feel good about being you.  It’s never
too late to revisit your childhood experiences – doing so will benefit and enliven
the family you’ve created.  Consider Time
In rather than Time Out.  Breathe before
reacting.  Don’t take little people’s
behaviors personally.  Newborns/infants
do not manipulate.  Treat yourself like a
queen when you can (whatever that means to you).  As soon as you feel you finally “figured it
out”, “it” will change.  Be
flexible.  LAUGH.  Address burning feelings.  Whatever you are feeling, other mothers have
felt.  You are not alone.  No feeling is off limits.  (New) motherhood is ubiquitously overwhelming.  Sleep deprivation can make you meet a version
of yourself you never wanted to know. 
There is not one way to give birth, feed, sleep, or raise your
child.  Do what feels resonant for you
and your baby, not what is trendy.  Plan
and then roll with what arises.  Play and
enjoy the ever-changing ride…

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