I’m not sure if it’s a societal thing, a human thing, or a female thing, but I’ve noticed that many moms have a habit of lessening themselves in the eyes of others.
“Oh, they didn’t really turn out well,” says the mom who spent hours baking and decorating cupcakes for a school carnival.
“Oh, I’m no good this,” says the mother who somehow managed to balance work, homework help, tween crisis management, and marital bonding this week.
“It’s not like billions of other women haven’t done the same thing,” says the woman who grew a human in her body, pushed a human out of her body, and fed a human with her body.
In the face of compliments and recognition, some of us have a tendency to downplay our achievements or even denigrate ourselves. Here are a few reasons I think women do this, and why we shouldn’t.
We think we don’t deserve praise.
Some people are uncomfortable feeling good about themselves. Sometimes this stems from an upbringing in which shame and guilt were used as weapons, but not always. Self-esteem can be a fickle business.
The thing is, if you don’t deserve praise, then nobody else does either. You are no less than any other human being and no less deserving. It might take some time and practice to fight the urge to put yourself down, but give it a try. You don’t have to toot your own horn, but you also don’t have to degrade yourself when someone else toots it for you. Just let a compliment be. It’s okay not to kill it.
We confuse self-deprecation with humility.
Humility is a virtue that is certainly lacking in our culture, but self-deprecation and humility aren’t really the same thing. It’s not virtuous to criticize ourselves, and we don’t have to denigrate ourselves to avoid being arrogant.
One of the most humble, gracious people I’ve ever met was a woman who was known for giving wonderful speeches. After one speech, I watched her respond to people’s compliments. She simply said, “Thank you. You are so kind.” She acknowledged the compliment and then returned it with a warm compliment of her own. I could see the effect of her response on people’s faces. Humility lifts others up. Self-deprecation makes people think they need to lift you up. Definitely not the same thing.
We fear rejection.
Confidence comes with risk. When we let ourselves feel confident, we open ourselves up to criticism, which can be scary. We may self-deprecate because it feels safer to criticize ourselves before others have the chance. If we beat them to it, their rejection can’t hurt us.
The problem with that is that we’re hurting ourselves. That feeling of safety comes at a cost. Most self-deprecating people I know would never dream of downplaying a friend’s accomplishments or degrading a loved one the way they do it to themselves. We need to treat ourselves as kindly and considerately as we treat others.
Mothers in particular need to stop self-deprecating. We do not do our kids any favors when we make motherhood out to be either not that hard or not that important. It is hard. And it is important. Our kids should know that. Everyone should know that.
Motherhood is already devalued enough in our society. If we devalue the details of it ourselves, how can we make the case for better maternal care? Better family leave options? More societal support for both working and at-home moms?
If we devalue what we do day in and day out, what are we saying to our children? Kids learn more from what we do than from what we tell them. Are we teaching them to respect us as women and mothers? Are we offering them an example of healthy self-worth and confidence? We can’t expect our children to know that they are strong and capable if we criticize our own strength and capacity.
So own your awesomeness and celebrate it in each other, mamas. Our contributions to the world in raising good kids are worthy of recognition.
When someone compliments your motherhood, your work, your style, your whatever, try a simple, “Thank you. You are so kind.” Humbly accept your greatness, and the rest of the world will, too.