New mothers deal with a lot of stress, not the least of which comes from comparing themselves to other moms on social media. Dr. Ivy Ge was one of these new mothers in early 2005. At the time, Ge was also balancing pharmacy school and a full-time career. Still, she doubted everything she was doing. Her turning point: learning to free herself from guilt. Ge shares her journey in The Art of Good Enough, hitting bookshelves this week. Its message: no matter where mothers are in their lives, they can overcome social comparison.
Parentology spoke with Ge about reaching this revelation.
Describe one of your hardest moments as a new mom?
My husband and I took our then four-month-old son on a subway ride to downtown San Francisco to see the Christmas lights. I remembered feeling giddy over our first family trip and pictured how excited my son would be seeing those colorful holiday displays.
Everything went smoothly until the train passed through an underground tunnel. It made this loud screeching sound. My son cried hysterically. I tried to shield my son from the noise, but nothing helped. He just cried and cried.
“He’s scared; he’s too young! You shouldn’t have brought him on a train!” a woman on the train shouted, pointing at me. My husband was sitting right next to me, but apparently, I was the one who made the bad decision. Suddenly, everyone stared at me. I watched as my son’s little face broke out in a rash. That was the longest ride I’ve ever taken. We got off at the next stop and took a taxi home.
What do you think triggers feelings of inadequacy and social comparison among mothers?
The need to validate our efforts. Motherhood is such a tremendous undertaking: we’re responsible not only for our children’s wellbeing but their chances of success. We constantly question ourselves — if we have done everything we could to meet the demand. When we see someone handling things better than us, we feel inadequate.
Can social media can be harmful for new parents?
[Yes.] This can be especially true for new parents suffering from anxiety and depression. Seeing someone else who does something beautifully and effortlessly can make them feel like a total failure. The truth is, nothing beautiful is effortless. The pressure to be perfect is harmful, not only to the mind, but to the body.
Where do you think this “perfect mom” stigma came from?
It’s the product of both internal and external pressure to be the best for our children. Internally, we believe it’s our duty to sacrifice for the family; externally, we see constant reminders of the “perfect” moms handling everything with ease and looking good while at it. The bar of perfection keeps going higher and higher.
How can mothers combat this stigma?
Accept that mothers are human, too. We have our own needs, desires, and limitations. Before motherhood, we were girls with dreams. Those dreams, needs, and desires shouldn’t be ignored just because we had babies. No one can keep giving without recharging. We need time and space to recuperate, use our talents and feel loved and appreciated so we can continue giving our best in return.
What do you want parents to take from The Art of Good Enough?
Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses. It’s impossible to be perfect at everything, so focus your energy and time on the things you do well. Know what you are good at, and how to enhance your strengths to improve your life. Be proud of who are you, because you’re good enough in the things that matter the most to you.