There are four little words every mother really needs to hear.
In fact, the more regularly she hears it, and from a range of people, the better.
If mothers heard these four words more often, perhaps we'd have less incidence of women attacking and judging one another. Perhaps we'd feel more confident in our mothering abilities, and have an added spring in our step.
Yes, it can be that powerful.
Especially when we hear it from our own mothers and partners, it can have a profound effect on how mothers feel about themselves. But it's not just limited to that.
These four words we need to say more often, so we can get into the habit of saying it. If a mother is struggling, even asking her, “Are you okay?” is really important. It's showing that you care, and you're noticing her. When you're at home with a young baby day after day and you feel like the walls are closing in, it's possible to feel invisible to society. We already know that isolation is a big cause of depression. Just by asking her if she's okay and waiting to listen to her, you may even prevent a spiral into anxiety, depression or low confidence. It's a simple intervention that can put a mother on a totally different path.
Dads need to hear the four words too, but in a slightly different way.
So what are those four little words?
Quite simply: “You're a great mother.”
Especially during a technological age where you can choose how anonymous (and careless) you wish to be, others can be so quick to point out to a mother what she's doing wrong. Even if you know so little about her life, and she may be from another state, country or continent! Sometimes we forget to point out or realise all of the great things that she's accomplishing too.
There's been nothing more reaffirming or touching than the times when my family, partner or friends looked me in the eye and genuinely showed appreciation and understanding of the hard work I do as a mother. All with four little words, and even if it's just a written message! As much as I am happy and proud of myself for the way I love and parent my children (which is most important), the fact that others see it too lights me up. Even if they didn't agree with the way I do motherhood, I would stay true to my heart.
Being a mother becomes part of your identity — not your only identity — because self is important too. But when you tell her “You're a great mother,” you're telling her that you notice her dedication to her life's greatest masterpiece — her children.
Some will argue that this should definitely not to be said to all mothers, for example those who are negligent. While we can easily condone appalling behaviour, the fact is that those mothers need help. So what you would say to them would be a little different. However, the vast majority of mothers do love and care for their children as best as they can, based on what resources and information they have at the time. Many of us would make different choices after we've learnt something new. It's life, which is all about continual growth and learning. It never stops.
It's a known fact that employees who feel appreciated work harder and are more committed to their company. While a mother is certainly not an employee, parenting certainly consumes many hours of her day. No-one will give a stay-at-home parent a payrise (payment is in love, but mess too!), offer performance based bonuses for working through two sleepless nights or more, send a memo to the whole company about how expertly she or he handled her baby's poo explosion in the midst of grocery shopping, or pay for her or his sick days.
Even though a mother wouldn't have it any other way, she does put in her best efforts, and they usually go unnoticed.
No-one should need anyone's approval but their own to get through life. But, kindness and gratitude are two of the most beautiful and important traits we should exercise as human beings. All you need is love…. which means more oxytocin. And that is SO good for mothers. Oxytocin is the hormone responsible for feelings of love, bonding, birth and breastfeeding. It reduces stress levels. It's quite possible that we could all turn this negativity and judgement around, by making kindness the new thing. Being around loving people creates more love in turn.
No matter if a mother goes to work to provide for her family, stays at home, works from home, breastfeeds, formula feeds, has a vaginal birth or c-section, I would just like to say with all my heart: you're a great mother. Even if you don't feel like it today. Even if today is hard, know that there will be a better day. Just because the day isn't great, doesn't mean that you're not.
I hope you will pay this forward and let another mother know today, that she's a truly great woman and mother. It's time for the “motherhood” to be reborn.
A Life Changing Moment
This story was shared with me after posting this article, and I just had to include it so I could further demonstrate how powerful our words are to new mothers.
“I remember when I had my first baby, she was about 6 weeks old and I felt so unsure of myself in this new role of ‘mother'. One day, she wouldn't settle at all. I fed her, walked her, cuddled her, put her down, picked her up, bathed her, fed her again… nothing worked. The more she cried the more distressed and helpless I felt… I felt like I was failing at the most important job I had.
I began catastrophising, and eventually concluded that I was a terrible mother and should never have been left to care for my child. Eventually I called a friend, and cried to her on the phone. She came straight over. She gave us both a cuddle, and looked me in the eye and said the very thing I didn't know I needed to hear: “You're a great mum. You are doing a brilliant job. Don't give up and don't doubt yourself.'
She calmed us both down, and when the baby finally slept, she made us a cuppa. She sat with me and listened and reassured me. She said she felt the same way when she had her first baby, only 10 months earlier. And I believed her. And to this day, 13 years later, when I doubt my parenting or feel like a failure or second guess myself, I remember the words my best friend said to me. I still draw strength from them.” — Gypsy O'Dea, mother