My sons and I were in a large department store together. The boys were 9, 4, and 1 at the time. While we were in the car, I restated the “how to act in public” rules:

Don’t look at anything, ask for anything, or touch anything!

I get them into the store. The little one is sitting in the front of the buggy, the 4-year-old is sitting in the buggy, and the oldest is walking beside me. An older lady approached us and said: “OH, you have such handsome and well-behaved sons.” She continued, “I only had one child and felt like I was losing it most of the time. Now, I see you with three boys. Wow, you are like a superhero MOM!” I felt like a fraud. 

Superhero Mom? What is that? 

If she only knew what I said to my kids in the car before entering the store and my tone of voice. OMG! Does she truly think that about ME? Nope, it is not true: I haven’t washed clothes in a week. My house looks a mess. There is no way that I’m a superhero mom. One part of me knows I don’t have to live up to that, but the other part of me says I do.

To me, superheroes are perfect. If you’ve been a mom longer than one day, perfection seems like an unattainable goal. Some days as a mom, all you can do is get out of bed and place one foot in front of the other. You do not feel super or like a hero. You often feel insignificant, overwhelmed, agitated, frustrated, sad, and forgetful because the expectations you have for yourself are already unrealistic.

How do you reconcile your feelings about your parenting with what others say?

Accept the compliment as a compliment (nothing more, nothing less).

Moms tend to be so hard on themselves. You want your child to be successful, happy, and well-adjusted. Instead of accepting what is meant to be a compliment, you can only think of reasons why this can’t be or isn’t true. Or in your mind, other moms seem to do it better, faster, and easier than you (at least that’s what it looks like on IG).  It’s okay even when you don’t feel worthy to just say ‘THANK YOU.” 

Understand the compliment.

Often, the people closest to you see things in you that you don’t see in yourself. Your family and friends see how you: work hard, love your family and friends well, and volunteer in the community. They see your strength, resilience, caring, and compassion in the midst of difficulties. But they also see your struggle yet want to encourage you through it. They want you to know that you are seen and valued for all you do. Their intention is not to add pressure, but to acknowledge all of your efforts. 

Note for the compliment-giver: It’s also important to recognize what moms “hear”  when they are called a superhero. When those words are spoken, many women, because they don’t feel like they are “momming” well, take the words on as added pressure that they need to live up to the title. Maybe instead of calling her a superhero mom, it would help if we actually called out the characteristics we believe make her a superhero—patience with the children, I love the way you engage with your children, your home has a warmth that is comforting, I appreciate the way you keep things in perspective—your children are small for such a short amount of time; the dirty clothes and dishes will always be there.

You do you.

It’s so easy to look to your left and right to see what and how other moms “mom” and judge yourself as lacking. It’s essential you recognize that being yourself is enough. Life isn’t about comparing yourself to others. They’re not you. They don’t have your family. You know what’s best for your family, whether it’s related to technology use or diet. It may be difficult to block out the questions or opinions of others, but it’s imperative you do. 

Be realistic in your expectations. 

It’s important to realize that “you can have it all, just not at the same time.” Take some time to think about and prioritize what’s important to you about your family. Once you have clarity on what matters the most to you and your family, let the other things go, including the guilt of not being everything to everyone. Recognizing what you can and cannot control goes a long way toward reducing stress and unrealistic expectations.

Stop minimizing your attributes.

As moms, we’re really good givers of compliments and time to others, but not good takers when others want to give us compliments and time. Not everyone has the same abilities. Just because something is easy for you, it doesn’t make it easy for everyone. When someone gives you a compliment about something you do, stop internally negating it. Just say, “Thank you.” You may feel like you’re being dishonest because if they only knew… If they only knew the number of shortcomings, flaws, mishaps I have on a regular basis… Guess what? So does everyone else! None of us are perfect, no matter how their social media pages look. 

It’s not easy being a parent. You feel bombarded with information and messages that seem to make parenting even harder. You feel the pressure, all the time. Give yourself a break; all parents have moments of joy and of struggle. Enjoy all the moments you have with your family. Graciously accept recognition, even when you feel like you don’t deserve it or didn’t do anything special. You are special and exactly who your family needs.

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