October 5th, 2011 by alisonkolesar

This 60-second video captures my fears about my daughters growing up in our crazy, body-image-obsessed culture.  (“The world is insane,” says meditation teacher Adyashanti.  “Stop expecting it to be otherwise!”)

Is it inevitable that A and C will go through the same body-loathing I’ve experienced over the years?  As women and mothers, how do we create a healthy climate for our growing girls?  One of self-love rather than self-criticism, acceptance rather than judgment?

This immense cultural project feels less overwhelming if we start with ourselves– if we feel like WE ARE ENOUGH (as we are). No relentless self-improvement.  No “IF ONLYs…”  It’s time to stop the comparisons, stop evaluating other women as either MORE or LESS THAN ourselves:
“Look how pretty/happy/relaxed/rich/successful/fit/selfless that mother is…”
“Look how smart/athletic/artsy/friendly/easy-going her children are…”

JUST STOP.  Pause.  Take a deep breath.

In yoga class, I tell my students, “Keep your practice on your own mat.” So it is with our mothering.  Keep it on the mat!  Stay grounded in yourself and trust your intuition.  Stop looking around and scrutinizing other moms’ behavior, schedules, choices, relationships. Maybe we do this so often because we don’t actually know how to be.  We’re all learning on the fly, multitasking our way through the day. In the crazy-busy modern world, most of us have little reference point for our parenting.  We’re isolated in our little nuclear family bubbles, uprooted from the past, connected with our digital “friends” but separated from the older generation, the wise relatives who (in other eras or cultures) might have guided us or reinforced our daily journey as parents.

Meanwhile every magazine and website and pediatrician’s office is bombarding us with dozens of parenting issues to worry about– our children’s safety, nutrition, socialization, media consumption, schooling, to name only a few.  Messages of fear are everywhere.  To combat them, we think we’re supposed to work harder on ourselves, work on our parenting, work on our children.  No wonder we’re so damn tired.

“Compare, despair,” is a truism I’ve learned to trust.  Whether you never measure up to others or you feel superior, the process of comparing traps the ego in its own deceptive patterns.  It keeps us separate and narrow. We are each precious beings, just like our children.  I am often amazed at my girls’ latest feats, entranced by the sweet beauty of their physical bodies:  A doing two crooked cartwheels in a row, dizzy with pride. C racing to the mailbox, grinning like the Cheshire Cat.  

Why do I rarely feel the same about myself?  On a bad day, after a particularly triggering encounter with yet another homeschooling Supermom, I need to ask myself– would I trade my one life for this woman’s?  Would I want to put her children to bed at night instead of my own?

Of course not.  So I vow to RELAX in my parenting and TRUST THE PROCESS (a 60’s mantra my mother taught me.) And at the same time keep finding ways to empower my girls.  And look for the other women who are creating change. Affirming blogs like this one are a good place to start.


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2 responses so far ↓

  • Thanks, Diana. We are our children’s mirror in so many ways. We must be the confidence we want them to have, especially with so many crazy media messages they are bombarded with daily.

  • I know it doesn’t achieve the ultimate goal of transcending the “compare despair”, but sometimes I take comfort in thinking about some reverse comparisons. Yes, of course, there are a thousand ways to feel guilty, angst-ridden, or inadequate about ourselves and our parenting. (Damn that noisy inner critic!) However, if I imagine what some random person’s perspective of me and my family would look like, I realize there is much to appreciate. I’m guessing that they would see healthy (well, most of time), beautiful girls, growing up in a safe, loving, and supportive environment. Not that it should make us feel superior, but I think that by taking an outside perspective, it helps to recognize what we *do* have. And maybe it is that recognition and appreciation that is the ultimate antidote to the toxicity of “compare despair”.