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Devon Corneal

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The Confidence Game

Posted: 05/28/2012 9:48 am

"Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Ladies, what the hell has happened to us?

We endure hours of painful labor to give birth. We wade through unimaginable bureaucracies and mountains of red tape to adopt. We navigate the currents of stepfamilies and the foster care system.

We raise children with physical challenges, mental health issues, learning disabilities and terminal illnesses. We fight for their rights, their dignity, and their care. We bury some of them and wake up the next day to keep raising the ones left behind.

We endure sleep deprivation, tantrums, colic, the stomach flu and ear infections. We hold hands through stitches and surgeries. We become experts in the perfect dose of cough syrup.

We patiently wait out Goth experimentation, sagging pants and adolescent rage at being told "no." We hold our breath during the first night out with the car and missed curfews. We maturely have "The Talk."

We juggle jobs inside and outside our homes with raising children. We bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan and do the dishes afterwards.

So, in light of our extraordinary strengths, why do we lack confidence in our mothering abilities? Because, if what I read on the Internet is any reflection of what's going on in our heads, most moms don't believe that they're doing a very good job raising their kids. We are defensive about our choices and hostile to people who chose something different. We judge. We feel guilty, we second-guess ourselves, and we question our every move.

Where did this insecurity come from?

I ask, because I have it too. Whatever confidence I had diminished considerably when I gave birth. The first time I had to nurse my son? I had no idea what I was doing and no sense that I could figure it out without medical assistance. The first time I had to leave him to go back to work? I was convinced that he would love our sitter more than me. (Amused Husband reminds me of this every so often when Little Dude is being especially affectionate.) And even though I've gotten a little better over the years, a conversation with my editor about this post reminded me that my fears are still around. I told her that I was curious about why so many women seemed insecure about their parenting, because, I said, "I think I'm a good mom and I feel good about the choices I make for Little Dude."

My editor laughed and said, "You know you just whispered that last sentence, right?"

Busted.

If a feeling of maternal superiority were all that mattered, we'd idolize Betty Draper and Joan Crawford. Really, being confident, according to dear old Webster's, means that you have "trust or faith" -- trust that you make good choices and faith that those decisions will transform children from miniature egocentric dictators into healthy and productive members of society who will get you into the nice assisted living facility instead of one that smells like overcooked peas. Also, you keep that trust and faith regardless of what other people think or choose.

Confidence gives you room to try new things, admit you're wrong, fail, pick yourself up and do it all over again tomorrow. Because we're all going to screw up. We're going to make mistakes, get impatient, say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, get lost, get angry, forget and fail. I did all of that yesterday by dinnertime. The trick is to learn from those mistakes, but not be defined by them.

There's a reason this is important, and it isn't about stopping the mommy wars or even helping ourselves become better parents (although both would be fabulous outcomes). It's because it's hard to teach a lesson we haven't learned ourselves. I tell my boys not to care about what other people say or do and to trust their inner compass, but I have to walk the walk. How can I expect them to stand up for what they believe in if I can't do the same?

It reminds me of a Native American story in which a Cherokee man tells his grandson about a battle that goes on inside every person.

He says, "My son, the battle is between two 'wolves' inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."

The grandson thinks for a minute and then asks, "Which wolf wins?"

His grandfather replies, "The one you feed."

I'd like to know what would happen if we all stopped doubting ourselves, and decided to feed only our inner confident mom. The one who doesn't whisper about her own accomplishments. A woman who doesn't care what the magazines say or get unnerved by gossip at the playground, who tunes out the noise on the Internet and treats herself with kindness and respect -- and who has faith in her decisions. Want to help me find out?

If you're up for the challenge, promise yourself to listen only to your most confident, self-assured mom for a day, a week, a month, or go crazy and do it for the whole summer! Kickstart the project by thinking of ONE thing you are great at when it comes to parenting. Share your answer with us in the comments, post it on our Facebook wall, or tweet @HuffPostParents using the hashtag #theconfidencegame. We're going to compile all of your amazing qualities and create a great big confidence-boosting slideshow.

 

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