Are You Telling Yourself Stories That Are Complicating Your Career, Your Motherhood and Your Life?
So many of us tell ourselves all kinds of harmful stories that hamper how we work, how we see ourselves as mothers and how we care for ourselves. As Sunit Suchdev, a life and business coach for moms, said, motherhood is filled with limiting beliefs and stories that we simply never question.
“We just carry them from generation to generation because things have always been that way.”
Suchdev recalled coming back to work early from her maternity leave after having twins. She was next in line for a 12-month contract position, which meant that she needed to start right away—something she never questioned. Instead, she stressed herself out with finding a nanny and making last-minute arrangements.
“In hindsight, I realized that because I was valued for that position, there may have possibly been another way. Perhaps we could have come to some sort of agreement that suited both parties better. But I never thought to ask because I didn’t think it was OK to question my boss. A long time ago, I learned that I should not question those in authority positions above me, and I should be grateful to have such a ‘good’ job.”
Does this sound familiar? Might you, too, be clinging to stories that are needlessly complicating everything? Are you sure they’re true?
Below you’ll find a list of common stories—and how you can shatter them.
Story: You’re somehow depriving your children.
The biggest story Kate Swoboda sees working moms struggling with is that they’re depriving their kids of certain opportunities—from being available to drive them to more activities to just being available. “There's this ethos in our culture that only the always-available mother who caters to every need her children might have is a ‘good’ mother,” said Swoboda, author of The Courage Habit, director of the Courageous Living Coach Certification at https://TeamCLCC.com, and mom to a four-year-old daughter.
While we know intellectually this is false, we may still feel it inside our bones—which causes a lot of guilt and suffering. According to Swoboda, when we’re feeling this way, the healthiest choice we can make is to take a break and sink into those feelings, which may include “crying them out.” Then we can face the underlying truth: “There are no guarantees whatsoever that one type of parenting—stay at home, versus working, for instance—is going to be a better style for all children, everywhere.”
“Humans are far too diverse, and there is a multitude of life experiences that await our children that will shape them, beyond how we parent—that is another scary one for us mothers to reconcile!”
So what can we do? We can put our energy into what we can control: our intentions and our attention, Swoboda said. “Working moms have great intentions—to provide for their families, to stay connected to work that helps the world or that feels personally fulfilling, to have an outlet for self-expression, to be a model for their children for what it can look like to encompass multiple dynamic roles in life.”
And we can focus on the here and now. “For every mother who either must work or who chooses to work, we create more happiness for ourselves and our families when we release the grip of thinking that we are supposed to be better. We're not supposed to be better; we're supposed to be where we are, doing the best we can in this moment right now,” Swoboda said.
Story: Working parenthood dooms you to a life of stress.
Sarah Argenal spent the first year of her oldest son’s life struggling just to stay afloat. Had she accepted the common story that working parenthood is inherently hectic, frenzied and guilt-inducing, she would’ve settled—and needlessly continued to feel lost and overwhelmed.
“I would probably look back on my son's early years with a whole list of regrets,” Argenal said. And she never would’ve examined her values and found what works best for her and her family, including a new career. Today, Argenal, MA, CPC, is a corporate and family consultant who specializes in modernizing the way our society experiences working parenthood.
One of the reasons life can seem so frantic is because we’re responding to what’s coming at us instead of being proactive, said Suzanne Brown, mom to two young sons, a work-life balance speaker, strategist, and author of two books, helping both individuals and companies with their balance needs.
“At some point…we start moving so fast, we no longer evaluate what we're doing with our time,” Argenal said. “We don't think about whether we're utilizing our resources, strengths, or energy to maximize the time we do have.”
We go into survival mode, and we sleep-walk through our days, she said. (More on that below.)
Story: You don’t have enough time.
According to Nailah Blades Wylie, one of the most damaging stories we tell ourselves is that we don’t have enough time to get everything done—and we definitely don’t have any time for ourselves. Wylie is a coach and CEO of Color Outside, a curated travel company for ambitious women of color who are ready to create unapologetic, soul stirring lives through outdoor adventure. She has a 4-year-old daughter and a 7-month-old son.
“In reality, we all have exactly the amount of time we need, and when we say we don't have enough time, it has a funny way of becoming true,” Wylie said.
One way we can revise this story is by examining how we actually spend our time. That’s what Argenal did—and she was surprised by her findings.
In short, she was spending time on activities that weren’t important to her or genuinely nourishing or relaxing—like watching TV and scrolling social media for at least an hour or two every night. “Once I realized that, I started spending more of that time after work doing things to ‘fill my cup,’ like playing with my son, chatting with my husband, and enjoying time to read or exercising.” Argenal suggested asking ourselves: "What is most important to me right now, and how can I change my life to focus on that?"
Another way is to become more efficient. For instance, Brown’s peak productivity is in the mornings after she’s dropped her boys off at school. Which is when she tackles her biggest challenges. She also plans out her day the evening before.
To ensure she’s regularly taking good care of herself, Wylie keeps a list of both big and small things that she loves doing and also fill her cup. She emphasized creating space for these activities in our calendars—and holding “on to that space fiercely so that it doesn't get moved.” This can be a small block of time—which you might grow over time, she said.
Story: Your kids (or partner) can’t do ________.
Recently, in a public forum, a parent asked for advice on having a big Christmas tree with a toddler. Other parents shared an overwhelming amount of advice—from putting baby gates around the tree to anchoring it to the wall with fishing wire to not putting ornaments on the bottom half.
However, no one mentioned creating a teaching opportunity, and teaching the child to stay away from the tree, said Suchdev, who also hosts the podcast “ the High Vibe Life,” focusing on all the amazing things women are doing instead of all they are not getting done.
She noted that we often underestimate our kids (thinking “my child would never ______”) and create extra work for ourselves.
We do the same with our spouses. Suchdev sees so many women getting stressed out before going on work trips because they believe they must leave meticulous instructions for their partners. “Why do we think that another grown adult who is just as much of a parent as us, needs instructions on how to love and care for our kids?” Sure, your spouse might not do things like you do—but, as Suchdev said, they’ll figure it out. “We disempower [our partners] by constantly telling them what to do, and then we are stressed out because we feel like we have to do everything ourselves.”
Ultimately, instead of accepting any story, ask yourself: “Why is it this way? Does it have to be? Is there another way?” Suchdev said.
Doing so “can often be the small disruption in your pattern of thinking that will suddenly open up a whole bunch of possibilities you didn’t think of before.”