Moms, we are our own worst enemies.
We worry about what our kids eat, how they behave, and whether they study enough, socialize normally and live healthfully. And while we're at it, we worry about ourselves and whether we're good enough at home, work, our kids' schools and everywhere. On top of it all, we worry about what others think of us. Oh and we also worry about being too worried.
When it comes to the pressure we feel to be perfect, we are doing it to ourselves, found our exclusive TODAYMoms.com survey, released this week, of more than 7,000 U.S. mothers. A full 75 percent of the moms surveyed say that the pressure they put on themselves to be perfect is worse than the pressure they feel from other moms. And nearly as many moms, about 72 percent, admitted they stress about being stressed.
So why are we doing this to ourselves and how do we stop? Many moms agree that to achieve less stress, we must take baby steps, and realize that perfection shouldn't be the goal; being as good a mom as you can be is good enough.
Maria Bailey, founder of Mom TV and host of Mom Talk Radio, and a mother of four kids ages 14 to 19, says part of the problem of trying to be a perfect mom is that there is no one definition of perfection.
“My definition of balance is not your definition of balance,” says Bailey, of Pomano Beach, Fla. “Where moms get in trouble is that they let other moms define perfect.”
Bailey says when her kids were younger, she spent lots of time traveling for her career and worrying about how to compensate for being gone so much. “I’ve never been one of those moms who did it all…so I picked two areas – Career Day at school and planning elaborate birthday parties -- and that was my thing.”
Yet, even then, stress was ever-present. Her epiphany came at 3:30 a.m. one morning, when she was angry at herself for staying up making invitations and sewing 50 burlap party favor bags for a Robin Hood-themed party.
“I was stressed out and hating it, until it dawned on me… wait, I like this. No one made me make these. I took a step back and realized I like to be alone in the quiet and craft,” she said. “Once I owned it, the stress dissolved to enjoyment.”
In our TODAY Moms survey, we asked moms to pick the top three sources of stress in their lives and 60 percent of moms answered, “the lack of time to do everything that needs to get done,” while 41 percent said, “having to juggle so much between family and work.” Another 35 percent blamed the financial strain of raising kids.
For Jacqui Boland, CEO and founder of RedTricycle.com, a digital city guide for parents, the working mom juggling act brings on the most stress.
“The things that stress me out the most as a working mom are forgetting my son's lunch or 'share' item for show and tell. I know it can just as easily happen with moms who don't work, but I always seem to blame it on my hectic work schedule,” says Boland, of Larkspur, Calif., whose son Jamie is 6. “Also, it seems like board meetings and school concerts always fall on the same day, and having to decide between the two is so stressful,” she says, adding that “my son doesn’t always win.”
For Glennon Doyle Melton, mom to kids ages 10, 7 and 5, even something as simple as playing with her kids can trigger stress. “I feel guilty not being on the floor for hours every day playing with my kids,” said the Naples, Fla., mom blogger at Momastery.com and author of "Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed."
Her own mother provides perspective, she says.
“When I tell my mom that, she just laughs. The problem is not that we have problems, because every person has specific challenges. It's this idea that we're not supposed to have problems,” says Melton. “We have this ideal family in our heads and we spend all this time trying to get to something that's not real. We have to lower our expectations.”
While the prevalence of stress in moms’ lives was a harsh reality revealed in the TODAY Moms survey, there was some good news, and that’s that the stress to be Supermom eases as our children grow. The survey found that moms of teens are half as likely to report stress about being the perfect mom as moms of toddlers and babies.
Stay-at-home mom Nancye Matheson of Bellevue, Wash., has four kids: a 19-year-old son, twin daughters who are 10 and a 7-year-old son. She says her stress started to ease when she hit a tipping point with her oldest and knew she needed to start letting go.
“I hit a point with my oldest son, where I had invested so much time and energy on being the perfect mom, that I felt confident he had the foundation,” Matheson said. “When he was about 17, I came to the conclusion, he’s got to figure it out. He needs to start making his choices on his own and learning from his mistakes.”
She says having teens and toddlers in the same house is a trip: You stress about grades and college and sex and drugs, while at the same time worrying about the little ones' socialization and emotional growth and making sure they know school is important.
But having her oldest son in college now has helped ease daily stress with her younger ones. She says she puts a lot of energy and time into making sure their meals are balanced, and used to have a rigid nighttime schedule of dinner at 5 p.m., then bath and bed. But with her kids getting more involved in activities, she’s had to become more flexible.
“I allow myself to fall down more,” she says. “I know it’s going to be OK.”
Dr. Janet Taylor, a psychiatrist and TODAY contributor, says that managing stress is all about balance, and most of the time we don’t have enough of it.
“We feel so much pressure not even to verbalize how difficult it can be to be a mother. There are endless demands,” says Taylor, who is a mom of four girls aged 19 to 25. “We can be really harsh on ourselves, and we are groomed not to toot our own horns, so sometimes it's just this negativity that we put on ourselves.”
Taylor isn’t surprised the TODAY Moms survey found that moms of younger kids were harder on themselves. “Look at sleep -- being sleep deprived and still having to maintain a level of professionalism and parenthood is extremely stressful," she said. “Nowadays, people are geographically spread out from their families. New parents are, in many ways, doing it alone, and that's stressful.”
Ultimately, Taylor says, moms can combat stress with a four-letter word: Help. But we just have to ask for it.
“As women, we put on our Superwoman cape and we don't ask for help. We need to ask for what we need,” she says. “The frustration comes when women feel like they have to do it all themselves.”