In January 2019, we were blessed with the presence of Jo Saxton at the City Mom Collective Sister Site Conference in Colorado Springs. Today, Jo is sharing her heart on motherhood with us, and her words could not ring more true:
You're Doing Better Than You Think
The Christmas decorations are finally boxed away for another year. And a new year and decade are finally underway. Saying happy new year feels a little dated, so three weeks ago.
All that’s left behind are the goals and plans I have for the year ahead.
Maybe it’s my love for self-improvement and growth, but I’ve loved the promise of a New Year for as long as I can remember. There was always something special about the chance to start again. In my teens it was about new grades, new friend, new crush. In my twenties it was about new career moves, new places to live – and maybe a fabulous new guy. One that would stick around and not need replacing.
Then my 30’s happened. In the space of 3.5 years, I was married, emigrated from the UK to the US and had two beautiful tinies in my life. Never mind about a new year; I had an entirely new life. Everything was new, from the big Arizona sky and its intense heat, down to the side of the road I had to drive on. Everything was an adjustment, but the biggest new adjustment was as new mom. My world was refined, then refined again by two little girls, spaced a mere 17 months apart. I was, I am, endlessly in love with them.
After my girls were born, my new year’s resolutions took on a new level of intensity, as the previous goals paled into insignificance. I wanted to grow and improve for my girls, be the best possible mom I could be. Every new year was a chance for personal improvement, and every goal was designed to give my kids their best life. Because underneath all my goals and plans intentions and resolution, I was actually asking one single, earth shaking, heart aching question
Am I doing a good enough job as a mom?
I had my reasons for this underlying question. That 3.5 year period where everything changed so rapidly had left me spinning. I wondered if my parenting suffered. I looked around at other new moms in our neighborhood. They seemed to know so much about every single thing our children needed to thrive. The best food, the best developmental toys, the perfect mommy and me groups. In moments of crisis, they looked after each other’s children in their homes while I was working out what side of the road to drive on. I felt clumsy and naïve in comparison.
Then there were the more personal, more vulnerable reasons for my goals and my question.
I’d spent the first 6 years of my life in foster care. So when I held my newborns in my arms, my past, present and future collided. This little family was all I’d ever wanted. Yet I wondered if I could do this, or whether I would find myself unable to care for my own child.
Later, there was the year when childbirth was clouded by a bout of postpartum depression. It overwhelmed me, turning my entire existence to grey. Was I doing a good enough job? I didn’t want to know because I couldn’t handle the answer. Finally, there were the years when life happened. Not every new thing that entered my life was welcome. At the age of 34 I lost two close family members within the space of five weeks. Grief forced its way into my life, an unwanted constant companion. Still, I nurtured, fed and potty trained my babies. I wrote Valentine’s Day cards from a preschooler that couldn’t write to a class of preschoolers who couldn’t read. We played games, we sang songs and I tried not to think. Was I doing a good job as a mom? Life had pushed me to my knees and left me gasping for air. Everything else was on autopilot until I could breathe. Breathe, Joannah. Breathe.
The question lingered through those early years. Sometimes it was motivating. But more often, my well intentioned goals became exacting and my quest for improvement became exhausting.
In those moments it was easy to believe that I was some kind of fake mom, an impostor.
Impostor Syndrome is that feeling when no matter how qualified or experienced you are, you believe that one day you’ll be exposed as a fake or fraud. It’s known to particularly impact women in the workforce, causing them to second guess their skills and their wisdom, undermining how they show up for their careers. But impostor syndrome doesn’t just impact us at work, it also impacts our relationships…including our mothering. It feeds questions into our hearts and minds like
Am I doing a good job as a mom?
Am I doing a good enough job as a mom
Am I good enough…
Ever been there?
Maybe you’re still there sometimes when you’re going through the stresses of parenting and everyone else seems to be doing a much better job. Maybe it emerges when you’re living in a whirlwind of changing circumstances. Perhaps it gets to you when your past, present and future collide, or when you’re experiencing the pain of depression or grief.
Breathe mama. Breathe. You’re doing better than you think. And the English Nigerian sister in the trenches that you didn’t know you had (aka me) is here to process it with you a little bit.
In her book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women Valerie Young Ed. D lists 5 ways that impostor syndrome manifests itself in our lives, calling them competence types:
The Perfectionist – I should deliver an unblemished performance 100% of the time.
The Expert – If I were really competent, I would know everything there is to know.
The Soloist – If I were really competent, I could do everything myself.
The Natural Genius – If I were really smart, I would be able to understand everything the first time I hear it.
The Superhero – If I were really competent, I would be able to do it all.
Which of these types lurk in your mind when you ask if you’re doing a good job as a mom? And yes, it is totally understandable if like me your first response is ALL OF THEM.
It’s been over a decade passed since the impostor syndrome first overshadowed my parenting. I know which side of the road to drive on approximately 94.7% of the time. My little girls are now tall, vibrant teenagers. We laugh, we play games, they spend my money. The “Am I doing a good job?” question still lurks around occasionally, but it’s lost its power. My girls tell me their childhood memories and it turns out that when I was panicking, worrying – even in my darkest hour – they were having a fun and fabulous childhood!
Is there room for growth? Always.
But instead of the demands of a “competence type”, I’m learning my ABC’s:
Assess how you’re doing; don’t accuse:
Since life is always changing, I’ve learned not to expect to always know how to navigate it. I am a lifelong learner, and that’s OK. So instead of accusing myself of failure, I assess what I need and I make a plan. If I want to develop skills in a particular area, I do some research. When I was overwhelmed by postpartum depression and grief, I saw a therapist. But no character assassination for being human. Get that same OFF you sisters!
Build new habits, break new habits.
Guess what? I still love a New Year’s resolution. I still have goals as a mom. But now they revolve around habits that I build, not resolutions I achieve. You see I know that building is work, it takes time – and that’s OK. So some of my resolutions I don’t even intend to start until March. Why? Because January is busy sisters, and also because I’m a full grown, tax paying, life living, carb eating woman in her forties and an arbitrary date is not going to run my life. LET ME LIVE. And yep I break habits too. Because not all of them work and that’s OK too.
Community and Conversations
Remember all those mommas who seemed to have it all together? Turns out they were as nervous and terrified as I was, just in different areas. But when we talked honestly, and when we were secure enough to listen to and learn from each other, we grew together. And had a lot more fun along the way.
When you’re ready, give it a try.
And one day into the future, the time will come when your kids put the Christmas decorations away themselves. Then they will voluntarily tidy their rooms. Your love will make you a cup of tea, and your dog is quiet. For about 13 minutes all is right with your world.
Until then my dear sisters, breathe.
And know this:
You’re doing better than you feel.
You’re doing better than you think.
Yes you’re a good mom.
More About Jo
Jo Saxton is an author, speaker, podcast host, and leadership coach. She has dedicated her career to growing leadership teams around the world and empowering women to find their purpose in their personal lives and in leadership.
Born in London to parents who immigrated from Nigeria, Jo credits her parents’ unrelenting work ethic to the bold, tenacious approach she takes to sharing her wisdom on identity, influence, and living an authentic life. She is characterized by her effervescent honesty and warm approachability, leaving audiences with practical next steps in areas that are usually a bit ambiguous.
Her book, More than Enchanting: Breaking Through Barriers to Influence Your World discusses the role of women in church and society. Her latest book, The Dream of You: Let Go of Broken Identities and Live the Life You Were Made For, helps readers tackle their past, their identity, and learn how to create a legacy they want. She has also spearheaded an initiative aimed to help women grow their leadership skills.
Jo lives in Minneapolis with her husband, Chris, and their two daughters.