There are very few roles in the world with the expectation to be and do it all, quite like the role of a mother. There are also many contradicting messages about what exactly all of the IT we are meant to be doing is. So often, instead of challenging this ridiculous expectation, mothers succumb to the overwhelm of it all and just end up feeling like failures. The reality is, when you are expected to be and do it all, and you push yourself to achieve it, you are never really going to be doing any of it particularly well. How could you? This sets moms up for burnout in the one job you can not give up.
I recognize this phenomenon in every mom that sits across from me in therapy and I look upon their faces with so much empathy because years ago, that was me! What changed the game for my motherhood a few years ago, is that I came across the podcast, The Lazy Genius, and felt like this woman was throwing me a lifeline! She encouraged her listeners to, “Be a genius about the things that matter, and lazy about the things that don’t.” I found out she had a book and I voraciously read it in 3 days. Her first principle for how to be a lazy genius was to name what matters. This made me realize that I could not let all things matter, but how could I figure out what would?
I found myself remembering Carl Rogers, the father of person-centered therapy, and his concepts of congruence, incongruence, and the ideal self. An article from simplepysychology.org states this about those concepts, “If the ideal self is unrealistic or there’s a significant disparity between the real and ideal self, it can lead to incongruence, resulting in dissatisfaction, unhappiness, and even mental health issues.” This is what I am seeing show up in my office. Inversely, when a person’s self image feels congruent to their ideal self, the person they hope to be, they experience feelings of psychological well-being. This requires knowledge of self and not just the stated values a person has, but also the lived out ones.
When clients who are mothers come into my office frustrated with their experience with motherhood, one of the first exercises I do with them is values clarification. I have them identify what their top 5 values are from a list of over 30, and then I have them explain what that looks like to them, if they are showing they value it, and if not, we brainstorm what steps need to be taken in order for them to live out a version of motherhood that aligns with those values. When they leave my care, they have a knowledge of what they want to matter in how they mother, and what they can let go of. This can be re-examined in the different seasons they face, but it helps guide them in the here and now, which is all we really have. It gives them a values filter for their
decisions so they feel more congruent. It makes them feel free to be the mother they want to be, instead of who they feel pressured or expected to be. Every mother deserves a values-based motherhood. Mama, will you claim it?
Melissa Richmond, LLC
Adachi, K. (2020). The Lazy Genius Way: Embrace What Matters, Ditch What Doesn’t, and Get
Stuff Done. Penguin Random House.