What Would Your Mother Say?

It’s a common practice to question what your own mother would do in a particular situation.

Perhaps you’re struggling with whether you should leave your children home alone for the first time. Or maybe you constantly find yourself yelling at your husband and you wish you could stop.

Regardless of how testy or amazing your relationship is or was with your own mother, it’s natural to wonder how she would handle a situation that’s currently keeping you up at night.

It’s normal. Keep it up.

And in the meantime, I’d like to give you a slightly different scenario to contemplate when asking what your own mother might do.

What would your mother do if she could hear the way you speak to yourself?

What would your mother do if she could hear the soundtrack in your mind that repeats over and over again that you’re not good enough, patient enough, nice enough, sister enough, daughter enough, wife enough or mom enough? How would she respond knowing that even though your children are doing well in school, that you feel like you’re failing on every front simply because you forgot to send your son to school yesterday with his field trip t-shirt on?

You’re the only one who can hear the cruel, condescending, cut-throat voice in your head that narrates your every move. But, what if you had the ability to share the soundtrack with your mother?

What if it was an official operation?

Picture your mother sitting in front of a wall of TV screens and watching your every move – she watches as you pick up your son’s socks for the tenth time, buy stamps at the post office, listen to a boring conference call at work, etc. You name it, she sees it. I would venture to guess that what your mother would see would be a normal, hectic “day -in the life” of a busy mother who is trying her hardest to accomplish 150 things before her head hits the pillow.

It would all feel very normal…as long as the movie your mother was watching was on mute.

The scene would dramatically change if your mother, the woman who made you and raised you to be respectful and kind to other people, had the ability to put on big, black, headphones and get an earful of the disparaging things you say to yourself all day, every day.

You know, the moment when you call yourself an idiot for not getting out the door on time, and the moment when you raise your voice at your daughter and tell yourself she has every right to hate you for the rest of her life because of it, and the sixteen times you compare yourself at your worst to other mothers at their best and lose every time.

What would your mother say? How would she feel?

I bet she’d be horrified.

I recently hosted a workshop for mothers, and during the program, I asked each woman in the room to identify the “last terrible thing you said to yourself.” It didn’t take long, maybe five seconds, for the women to figure out their answer.

The statements varied from a recent visit to the ladies room, “My God Allison, you have bags under your eyes. You look terrible.” to a presentation they gave earlier in the day, “You totally screwed that up. You’re a joke, and everyone knows it” to commentary on their marriage, “You’ve gained so much weight lately; it’s a miracle you’re still married.”

Lord have mercy.


As these women shared the latest song on their self-doubt soundtrack of life, I couldn’t help but wonder how their own mothers would react to knowing that these are the things that these beautiful and talented women say to themselves — all the time.

When it comes to your own mother, I imagine she’d be crushed if she could hear the terrible things you say to yourself. I bet it would be excruciating for her to listen to her daughter, her own flesh and blood, deal blow after blow to her self-confidence and self-worth.

Our mothers taught us to be kind and respectful toward other people and we, for the most part, follow those rules because it’s the right thing to do. It’s the respectful thing to do. People are watching, and we should be nice.

We just can’t seem to extend the same kindness to ourselves.

We’re so nice to everyone else, yet so mean to ourselves. And it’s our little secret. We don’t talk about it. We don’t admit it. We just push through it and act like we’re not the meanest mean girl we know.

If you’re like most women I know, you refuse to say your doubts out loud because you believe that you’re alone – that you’re the only one filled with daily doubts and fears.

But you’re not alone, everyone feels the same way. So there’s no need to be quiet. In fact, I believe the more we talk about our doubts, the more they diminish.

Here’s my latest proof point — last week I had a conference call with a prospective client of The Mom Complex. The call started the same way many conference calls start — with someone casually asking, “Hi there. How are you?”

Without missing a beat, I pleasantly responded with the truth instead of a lie, “To be honest, I’m writing a book right now, and some days it feels soul-crushingly time-consuming and today is one of those days.”

I didn’t hold my breath in fear of what he would say next. I was speaking my truth, and I’m learning to understand that my truth is beautiful.

What he did say next made me want to cry. “Oh man, I can only imagine. If it’s ever helpful to you, I have a good friend who just published her fourth book on motherhood, and I would be more than happy to introduce you. I’m sure she could share some words of wisdom that could help.”

Good grief.

When I admitted that I was doubting myself, he didn’t say “You’re weird.” He didn’t say, “What the hell is wrong with you?”, He said, “Let me help you.”

If you’re like the mothers in my workshops, you don’t share the soundtrack of your self-doubt because you’re worried about what other people will think of you.

You should stop worrying about that. Today.

The more you express your doubts, the more people will help you.

If your mother could hear the mean things you say to yourself, she would sit you down and set you straight. She’d remind you that you’re doing an excellent job, that you have a lot going on and that you need to give yourself a break.

Maybe that’s precisely the advice you need to start giving yourself. Today.

No more living on mute.


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Ellie Hannibalreply

Excellent essay! Thank you for understanding what’s way deep inside my and probably about 7 million other mom’s brains. What a relief. Never alone. No more living on mute!

Katherine Wintschreply
– In reply to: Ellie Hannibal

Thanks, Ellie! I’m so happy this post resonated with you. That’s right – No more living on mute!

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