Wednesday, Feb 01, 2023

Difficult Conversations: Moms, keep calm and kick the negativity

We are the harshest critics of self. As mothers, we are constantly judging ourselves. "Am I a good mum?" - this question forever echoes in our ears. In the process of continuous criticism of self, we feed the little beast that is self-doubt.

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By Tanu Shree Singh

A poor mum recently shared a short video of her kids dancing around in front of the hose pipe. Within minutes the upholders of everything good came to attack her, ridiculing the waste of water and shouting at her for being irresponsible. The video was barely few seconds long. Yet, the venom was shameful. Of course we need to be careful but the screen in front of us gives us a nice hiding place and brings out the worst in us. We bare fangs. We do not weigh our words.

Apart from being a distressed observer, I have been at the receiving end too. Two years ago, on a trip to the middle of nowhere, I got one of the first tastes of online venom. A post by a member from one of the groups was removed. She spewed venom for reasons best left in the mailbox’s trash bin. For a few seconds I was lost for words. The boys saw my face and asked me what the phone had hurled at me. So I read it out. Verbatim.

There was a second’s silence before they dissolved into laughter. “Whoa. That’s a lot of hatred to fit into one message, Ma!” And that was that. The network left us and so did the negativity. I am a bit of a fanatic when it comes to the valence attached to people. I consciously keep away from negative thoughts and if it comes to that, even people. And I am not even apologetic about it. The thing is when we let the negativity seep in, it brings in other devils with it – self-doubt, hopelessness, and loads of other shades of grey. So I am selfish. I keep the greys at an arm and a half’s distance. Sometimes even a few miles.

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Recently again, I faced some entirely uncalled for online ire thanks to the reading groups I run. It never ends. Today, as I thought of the lady who was at the receiving end thanks to the video of her child, I felt the need to remind ourselves of:

I love me!

There are gazillion books out there which tell you to love yourself. It isn’t easy. But one has to start somewhere! Especially as mums, our first love has to be us. When you get ready in front of the mirror every morning, look yourself in the eye and wrap your arms around you, and say it aloud, “I love you!” Getting ready doesn’t mean the artistic application of eyeliner here, a simple glance before you set about your day should tell you that you are loved by one person at least. Yourself. This is even more relevant for mums of disgruntled teenagers!

Make a circle of positives

Motherhood is not a solitary exercise. It shouldn’t be. It does take a village to raise a child after all. Hence it becomes imperative that we surround ourselves with positive people. The constant criticism that we face as mums by the negative people acts like termite; they gnaw us from the inside and suck our self-confidence. Consciously build a circle of positive people around you – other mums, dads, friends who are supportive.


Ditch self-doubt

We are the harshest critics of self. As mothers, we are constantly judging ourselves. “Am I a good mum?” – this question forever echoes in our ears. In the process of continuous criticism of self, we feed the little beast that is self-doubt. Before we know it, the tiny monster looms over our entire being and shrivels us up. All their childhood, the boys were encouraged to be their own competitors. They are turning out well. They do not fret over others scoring higher. They focus on themselves. Everyone has their set of skills, so rather than feeling terrible about ourselves on seeing others churn out fabulous work or achieving their weight loss target, we need to set our own goals that we pursue because we need to, and not because we are expected to.

Pat others’ backs too!

The other day I saw this lady in the most elegant skirt while I was running against time filling up the grocery basket at a store. I tested my own theory and stopped to compliment her. She beamed the warmest smile that lingered on for quite some time after we parted ways. It could have backfired and she could have walked away in a huff, denting my self-respect had I built it around other people’s reactions in the first place. But the smile was worth the risk. Take that risk. Appreciate good things, work, and achievements when you see them without letting any insecurity creep in. Believe in yourself: You are the best parent your kids could have. Period. And other parents are best for their kids. Simple!

Put the strengths to good use

The tables our turning. Increasingly, psychologists believe that we ought to focus more on our character strengths rather than the weaknesses. Hell, there are no weaknesses! It is just what we focus on. I might be an introvert but that doesn’t get listed as a weakness anymore! Find out your signature character strengths and exercise them daily. Studies so far have shown that this exercise positively increases an individual’s happiness levels. And parents need to consciously build it for themselves as well as kids.


Practice gratitude consciously

Gratitude is not merely a philosophical concept or something we crib about our children not having enough of. It is a fairly easy to make gratitude, that goes a long way in generating positivity, a part of our lives. On a friend’s suggestion, I recently did an exercise during a workshop with children that can be easily emulated by all of us. We wrote the one thing we were grateful for in our lives and pinned it to the Gratitude Tree. By the end of the two weeks, the children were filled with awe on having so many things that they never really noticed or felt thankful for. So consciously look for and note down stuff you are thankful for. Chances are, you’ll run out of paper.

Analyse criticism

On a scale of one to 10, I probably am currently at a 2.37. The man would probably rate me at 1.2 and the kids on the other side of a big fat zero, but we shall leave the domestic squabble out of this for the moment. We often stay at extremes. Some of us shut ourselves to even a hint of criticism, and at the first instance draw our weapons and charge, or send hate mails. Others take every word to heart and go to pieces, those very pieces that had taken a lifetime to put together. We need to sniff out constructive criticism and focus on it for a bit. This gets important since shutting our doors to all forms of criticism cannot be a healthy alternative if one aims to grow. So dwell on it, absorb the positives and discard the rest. As for criticism by trolls, that’s best removed even from the recycle bin. And yes, trolls on mommy groups exist.

Can we truly please everyone?

We try to please everyone and when we fail at even one count, we break down, analyse ourselves, question ourselves, and torture ourselves. This has become even more relevant with our online lives being under constant scanner. Accept the inevitable. You cannot be in all good books there are. Your dog loves you? Great! The family adores you? Perfect! If no one else, you have yourself. We already agreed on being our own first love, right? Rest of the world can take a shortcut to the bowels of hell.

It is an uphill task. These eight changes just about scratch the layers of negativity that we allow to settle on our souls, but the scratch is enough to let the sunshine in, let the warmth of positivity radiate, and definitely enough to allow us to smile for no reason at all. So next time someone looks at you sarcastically, judges your parenting skills, passes a snide comment online or whispers behind your back, feel sorry for them because unknown to them, they are letting the devil of negativity grow behind them, ready to engulf them into the folds of its dark shadows. We need to constantly fight to keep the world a positive space, for us and more importantly for our children.

(The writer has a PhD in Positive Psychology and is a lecturer in psychology. She is also the author of the book Keep Calm and Mommy On. Listen to Season 1 and 2 of Tanu Shree Singh’s podcast Difficult Conversations With Your Kids.)

First published on: 23-07-2019 at 17:00 IST
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