Mothers Day is around the corner and all the praise hands for the predictable day we hear “you’re the best mom in the whole world!” I could rave over all the ways mothers are super human, rather, I’ll share a story and some of my journey to freedom from feeling like I’m always missing the mark…
It’s a hot, summer day around noon, and I’ve clicked on The Food Network in hopes of inspiring my i-only-eat-cheese-for-protein 7 year old to broaden his lunch horizons. “Pioneer Woman” is on. If you’ve seen the show, you know it’s a cooking show hosted by Ree Drummond, a former city girl with a hunky rancher husband, a band of adorable kids, a huge ranch, and a special brand of home cooking and elegant celebrations. She’s an award-winning blogger and best-selling cookbook author. The show begins with Ree saying,
Hi, I’m Ree Drummond. I’m a writer, blogger, photographer, mother and I’m an accidental country girl…”
I’m always in a trance during that part but then — like a bucket of ice thrown over my head— I hear,
Why can’t you be more like HER?”
What?! I don’t expect to hear this question fire out of my 7 year old son’s mouth. He was just as mesmerized by Ree as me, apparently. And it’s hardly bearable for me to hear all of her accolades while watching the beautiful images dangle before my eyes, but then to hear my 7 year old reiterate what’s in my head leaves me a bit dumbfounded. Do I laugh or do I cry?
I push my defenses down and ask, “what is it you like about her, baby?”
He looks at me and says, “why can’t you cook like her?”
Phew! He’s just thinking with his tummy. I realize he’s just seen a preview of the cookies and bread Ree is about to teach us to bake. He wants to eat sugar and carbs ALL THE DAY LONG. And he knows I won’t agree.
But wait, why did I have such a strong initial reaction to his question? What did I really hear? Was it his voice asking why can’t you be more like her? — Or was it mine?
If I’m being honest, what I hear during the show intro is, “Hi! I’m Ree Drummond… I’m awesome, smart, creative, successful, beautiful, and I can whip up something deliciously amazing while homeschooling my 4 children before you mothers can even brush your teeth for the day. All while not breaking a sweat or raising my voice.”
So why does the show’s soundbite bother me? What is it about her talents and successes that leave me feeling like a loser? These questions sit with me, and I refuse to let them go. Or do they refuse to let me go? Not sure, but I’m committed to get answers. If this is messing with me, then I bet there are other mothers with the same struggles.
And I’m not looking to share some inspiring quote to make us all feel better for five minutes. No, I’m looking for breakthrough. I’m looking for healing from his shameful question that plagues so many of us… why can’t you be more like her?
As I start digging, I first discover the important question:
What is an image and what is reality?
I begin with some research on Ree Drummond, to get more information on her as a real-life human being. How do others see her? Is she really perfect? Are these images that I’m captivated by — the beautiful pictures, the perfect recipes, the images on TV displaying a spotless, bright kitchen, with happy and thankful children and a woman who takes care of her manly cowboy of a husband — are they really real?
I find an article in The New Yorker with an interesting take. It portrays Ree as a busy, distracted mom who’s more interested in taking pictures than homeschooling. Her cowboy husband defies the traditional role, and actually takes the brunt of caring for the children during the day so they can learn the ways of ranching and so Ree can have time to focus on her blog. The real Ree wears yoga pants around the house and admits she’s ok with stepping over messes in her home (which is ok, because the guest house on their property is the setting for the show and where the camera crew stays.) There’s talk of Ree being a savvy businesswoman, insanely ambitious, and like a duck, “ underneath the water, it’s paddling like mad, but above the surface, it’s placid.” This is not the Ree I envision. And honestly, I’m relieved by the reality check.
Before I go any further, let me lay this foundation. I’m not in the business of demonizing celebrities, women, or anyone with ambitions for the sake of making myself look or feel better. That’s not the true healing work that leads to a better life. That’s envy, insecurity, and beyond. And it’s only a temporary fix. My goal here is to identify what’s an image that results in unattainable expectations we set for ourselves. Which brings me to an even deeper lesson…
Images of Perfection are Leading Women to Deep Places of Shame
I’m a Brene Brown fan and if you read or listen to her work, you get it. Brown is a psychologist, made famous by her TED talk, and a world-renown researcher on the subject of shame. In her teaching “Men, Women, & Worthiness” Brown shares an example from one of her favorite movies that is filled with beautiful dancing. A few years ago, Brown learns that these scenes are not accomplished merely by the lone lead actress, but by FIVE different body doubles. An expert for each part, all coming together to give a mind-blowing performance. What Brown concludes is,
we try to be that woman that we can come in and we can do it all and do it all perfectly, and the truth is that we’re just one person. And without the help of filmmakers and editors, we fall and we stumble and we have to work really hard to keep it all together and it doesn’t always work. For us, shame is being held up against the ideal that somehow we can live lives and edit them as we’re living them so that what the world only sees is what’s perfect about us.”
She further explains that the definition of shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.
Whoa. So my self talk? My knee-jerk reaction to my son’s question of why I can’t be like her is really rooted in shame? I would never use such a word to describe myself. But how freeing it is to recognize that my own pattern of defensiveness and perfectionism is that I’m embarrassed about my own flaws and shortcomings. And I’m striving not to be seen as a fraud to other mothers. I want to appear like I’ve got it all under control to stay-at-home moms so they think I have a spotless and clutter-free home full of activity centers and chore charts. And yet I want to appear like I’m rockin’ the work-home juggle to working mothers so they think I cook healthy dinners and then read for 1 hour with my kids before I get back on my emails. When in reality, I need 5 experts like the lead actress (chef, cleaner, nanny, home-organizer, and assistant).
So, this struggle… it’s not really mom guilt. Mom guilt is “oh crap, I screamed too much, I feel terrible.” Then, it’s apologies and hugs and resolve to do it differently next time. Because, as Brown teaches us, guilt is a productive emotion… meaning, it causes you to change something. Shame, however, is not. It looks like this, “I screamed at the kids. I always scream. I completely suck as a mom. Will I every get my act together?”
See the difference?
We readily talk about “mom guilt” but don’t admit “mom shame” and I would venture to say that freedom comes from understanding the latter. Freedom comes from calling shame what it is and then accepting ourselves as we are. We can leverage the guilt as it helps us strive to be the best version of ourselves BUT ONLY when the guilt is not coupled with shame.
I also notice that when I’m not operating in mom shame, I struggle less with mom guilt.
When I’m confident in who I am, including inadequacies, I let go of keeping up the act that I can do it all. And that I can be all things to all people. I am SO DONE with the unrealistic standards and perfection and all the people-pleasing. I’ve gone from feeling more shame with every image I see to being a pretty good false-image-sniffer and a lie-spotter, recognizing all the lies I’m told and the lies I tell myself. I’ve gone from making false images my standards to bravely owning my reality.
In a culture pervasive with perfect images, we have to be brave self-acceptors and fierce celebrators of others.
I’ve got a few more examples and topics around this mom shame topic that I hope to share in the future. But I would love to hear more about YOUR journey in this area. How have you fought against feeling like you’re missing the mark?
Happy Mothers Day to all. You, or the mom in your world, deserves all the Ree Drummond cakes this Mothers Day:)