by Melissa Face
I was a terrible mother last week. I worked two late nights at school for parent conferences and an open house, so I barely saw my own children, heard about their school days, or even knew what they had eaten for dinner.
I didn’t feel very competent as a teacher, either. I made a grading error on a student’s quiz, forgot to photocopy the second page of an important handout, and requested a substitute for a couple of hours so I could attend a luncheon at the Petersburg Country Club. I vowed to myself that I would make it up to my students the next time I saw them. That is my current state of mind: feeling like I must always apologize and make up for not giving more to either my students or my own children, sometimes to all of them.
I was familiar with the work of Katherine Wintsch, the scheduled guest speaker and author of Slay Like a Mother. I saw her interview on Today, and I’ve read her columns in Richmond Family Magazine. I wanted to hear her empowering message to moms in person.
While eating our salads, our first task was to write on an index card the most recent mean thing we said to ourselves.
That was easy enough. I criticize myself all day. I constantly compare myself to other women who seem to have their lives more together than I do. On the first card I wrote, “You don’t belong at this event. This is a country club, for crying out loud.”
On my second card I wrote, “You can’t be a good mom and a good teacher. Someone is always suffering.”
We shared our self-criticisms with other guests at our tables:
“You always look like a fat ass,” one woman wrote.
“You’re not dressed for this luncheon. They will kick you out,” said another.
“You’re not pretty enough. Not smart enough.”
“You are acting crazy, and your husband is going to leave you.”
Katherine told us it was okay to cry. And as if I had been waiting for that permission, I did. I cried for all the women in the room who were suffering like I was. I cried for all the times in my life I felt I wasn’t pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, or good enough.
After a few more exercises and addressing the mean girls inside our own heads, we had the opportunity to ask questions.
“My daughter is five,” I began. “And she is the most confident person I know.” I explained a recent shopping trip when Delaney tried on a leotard, admired her reflection, and proclaimed her awesomeness. “So what I’m wondering is when does this negative self-talk begin?”
“It can start as early as age five or six,” Katherine answered.
So right now, Delaney is on the cusp of battling her own self-confidence and inviting in the dragon of self-doubt. And since I have the knowledge and life experience, it is my responsibility to help her keep that dragon at bay, even if I’m battling my own at the same time.
I can’t remember when my dragon was born, but I do remember its most significant growth spurts. The first was my senior year in high school when a faculty member told me I’d be lucky to be accepted at Longwood University ( Longwood College at the time). “I’m just not sure you are college material,” he said.
The second most significant incident was when I came home on a break from college. I was visiting my sister and her boyfriend when her boyfriend’s father asked me what I was studying in school.
“I’m majoring in Psychology,” I told him.
“Well, I guess I’ll be seeing you at Taco Bell one day,” he laughed.
Those negative messages became my inner monologue, and no aspect of self-criticism has been off limits ever since. I have criticized my appearance, my personality, and my intellect. I have beaten myself up so much from the inside, it’s amazing the bruises aren’t visible.
I have doubted my skills as a mother and my ability to contribute anything meaningful to the workforce. I often tell myself that I am lucky to be where I am today and that I should be grateful to have a job. That was the message my dragon was fed in my teenage years, and I have continued to feed it the same lies.
The Truth is that the workforce is lucky to have me.
But back to my second note card I filled out at the luncheon. I wrote, “You can’t be a good mom and a good teacher. Someone is always suffering.”
One line of this is accurate. Someone IS always suffering. It’s not my students or my children, though. They are okay. I am the one who is suffering.
It is time to rewrite the script that is my inner monologue and at the same time help my daughter remain a positive, self-confident child. Katherine Wintsch says, “…there is a kinder voice inside you just waiting to guide, console, and reassure your way toward your best self. We just need to get your mind to shut up so your soul can have a chance to speak.”
I have never been so excited to begin a new book and a new journey.