Part #3: The Feedback Void
We grow up almost constantly receiving feedback for everything we do: our education, work life and career, sports, hobbies. We do something and almost instantly receive some type of feedback on how we have performed. Grades, project success, pace and mileage, a friends remark: they all help us measure and understand if something we have done is „right“ or „wrong“, „successful“ or „to be improved“. New/social media amplify this response, add likes, comments, ratings, reactions to our everyday life. Altogether, this constant external feedback allows us to — consciously or not — compare our own perception of what we do to what our environment thinks we do and derive a (somewhat) realistic validation of our ‚performance‘.
In business life the value of (high-quality) feedback has long been elaborated and is a reoccurring theme in almost every team building, development workshop, or leadership training. Good feedback helps us grow, is helps us built up to a clear, growth-focused perception of who we are and what we can do.
Motherhood, especially in the early years, does not involve high-quality feedback. There are simply no feedback mechanisms in place — first and foremost because the subject of interest is just too busy pooping their diapers or learning how to say Mama in the most adorable way. As mothers, so often we find ourselves doing something, trying to work out the best possible way to provide something for our children, teach them, take care of them, love them — only to find that whatever we have done will bear fruits in many years from now. Helpful feedback is direct, and timely. There is no timelines in setting those clear boundaries for your terrible-twos-toddler who just might turn out to be a reasonable first grader one day. Or a responsible teenager. Or a self-conscious adult.
Most mothers, especially new Moms, naturally tend to be careful, insecure, and — often — a little too self-critical. Without that external feedback mechanism keeping our own judgment in check, we tend to evaluate our own ‚performance‘ too negatively, too critically, too harsh. What Mom has not ever wondered if she’s messing up her kids for good? In short: Motherhood often lacks a simple reality-check.
What adds to this — especially during this pandemic — is isolation. Spending alone time with our little ones can be wonderful (we do love them, after all!). Being isolated from other adults for an extended period of time also means we’re being isolated from another grown human being and deprive ourselves of the opportunity to share parenting moments with others, discuss their perception of what we’re doing, being inspired and and missing out on the oh-so-important ‚you’re doing great!‘. And no, I am not counting your Mothers ‚they watch too much TV‘ phone call as valuable feedback. And all joking aside: while talking to our families and partners is almost always a good idea, as long as they did not witness the actual situation you want to discuss, their ability to provide tangible feedback is limited.
So how can we deal with the feedback void? While we will most likely not succeed in teaching our kiddos how to evaluate our daily performance, there are some strategies to create a healthy counter-balance for that inner critic of ours.
Set small, realistic, measurable goals
Motherhood as such is very difficult to evaluate. What even is a ‚good‘ mother? Instead of trying to evaluate the abstract, it can be helpful to break the task of ‚being a good mother‘ into smaller, more tangible goals. It can be ‚I want to provide my little one with at least one home-cooked meal a day‘ or ‚I will be very clear about washing our hands when we come home‘ or ‚I will not bribe her with snacks‘ (Ok, just kidding). Have these goals visible somewhere — in a journal, a sticky note on the fridge, your phone — and grant yourself the satisfaction of being able to check them off your list. Also, I personally find it very helpful to add self-care goals to that list: I will allow myself 15 minutes of yoga today. I will wash my hair. I will drink one cup of coffee and zone out (back to snack bribery here).
It is often easier to take things day by day. So instead of expecting yourself to be that positive Mom who’s never stressed out think of ‚I will do this or that fun activity with my kids today and I will commit to fully enjoying it. I can deal with whatever stresses my out after that.’ Or, instead of I won’t use my phone around my kids try ‚I want to spend one hour today giving him my undivided attention.‘
It’s important to understand that these goals are not meant to put pressure on us but to allow for a somewhat objective perspective of what we have achieved during one day, one week, even one month. Keep it realistic, keep it simple. And enjoy that feeling of ‚being done‘.
Share, talk, ask
Whatever it is you’re having doubts about: you are not the first, you won’t be the last. And you are certainly not alone. Whenever you have the chance to talk to others — family, your partner, friends, other moms — use the opportunity to share and ask questions. Have you ever experienced this, too? I feel like I should do X,Y,Z — what do you think? We might not always agree to what others tell us but voicing our thoughts, testing them against our environment, give us this valuable opportunity to compare our inside view to the outside world. And we just might learn we’re doing at lot better than we thought.
Also, this works both ways: why not tell that other Mom in the park you are really impressed by how patient and loving she is? It might make her day!
Big parts of motherhood are abstract and invisible. Sometimes it can help to add something to your routine that allows you to physically create and therefore see a tangible result. Gardening, cooking, baking, drawing, building. Just about everything that allows you to see a before/after will do the trick. Take pictures! Be proud of what you (and your little ones) created! Again, this is not about designing the perfect masterpiece. It is about giving you something substantial, physical to look at, evaluate, even ask feedback for — and then either be happy about or re-do.
Lastly, be good to yourself. One of the most difficult and most important lessons I needed to learn as a mother is to have compassion for myself. We’re often so much more generous with others than we are towards ourselves. Not every day is perfect. Motherhood is the goddamn hardest job in the world. Be gentle to yourself and allow yourself to learn.