In honor of Marathon Monday, I bring you a tip on psychological endurance, which is exactly what we moms need most (in addition to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep). On days when we say the exact wrong thing to our children or can’t figure out how to soothe them, we panic that we’ll be judged forever on our lousy parenting. We imagine our kids crying to a therapist as they talk about the time when we snapped because we hadn’t gotten enough zzzz’s; missed the school play because we were presenting at a conference; or ruined a few hours of family vacation by taking an important work call from our boss. It’s so easy to forget that our parenting abilities are not to be judged solely on a few screw-ups but also on the billions of moments when we do so much right.
I just read an article about “positive self-talk” on a running website called Peak Performance that discussed the importance of switching negative thoughts to positive (or at least bearable) ones while endurance training. The author says “Consider the negative self-statement, ‘My legs have gone. I will have to stop’. This relationship between feeling tired and what to do about these feelings is clearly terminal for performance. […] Rather than saying ‘my legs have gone’ we need to change this to a transient statement such as ‘my legs are tired’. This is more likely to be true in any case. Tiredness tends to come in waves during endurance running and intense feelings of physical tiredness can pass.”
The same exact tool holds true for parenting. In moments when we want to burst into tears because we feel we failed our kids (i.e. let’s just say, we miss our child’s big concert performance because we are away on a business trip), it’s easy to think, “This is the worst thing a parent could do, and my kid is never going to forgive me for not being there.” This puts us into a tailspin where we then beat up on ourselves over and over. This self-punishment doesn’t help our child in any way, and yanks down our parenting confidence.
What is helpful is to let the feelings surface and then move through you. ("I feel really guilty and sad that I won't be there to see my child's big performance!") Then let them go. How? Make an intentional choice to quit punishing yourself and put your energy on the positive—remembering all the small ways you have been a terrific parent this past month, and then coming up with a fun plan for you and your child once you’re back in town. That will not only make you feel better, but it will actually help your child. We can only build our endurance and strength when we take care of ourselves.
As author William Barclay put it, "Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory." So keep going, moms, find glory when you can, and take breaks when you’re tired.
I am a journalist, filmmaker, author, wife, and mom to an 8-year-old daughter. My most recent project is I Love Mondays: And other confessions from devoted working moms. Other projects explore raising only children, happily ever after, raising strong girls, and hot topics for Jewish women.
Also find me on