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The Inner “You Stink”

February 27, 2010

From Mommy Wars, edited by Leslie Morgan Steiner. (Previously posted about this book here: Worth Repeating: Mommy Wars)

Lois Shea in her essay Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn, hits the nail on the head.

“We have an awful tendency to see our own failings as mothers – real or imagined – in one another’s strengths. [My friend] calls this phenomenon, only half-jokingly, the inner “you stink” voice.”

Doesn’t that ring true?! At a mother’s group recently, my friend Susan admired my homemade banana-bread, scoffing at the store-bought muffins she had brought. I’m sure that in HER head, what she was telling herself was: “She’s a working mother and SHE managed to make something from scratch. But you, what have you done? You ran to Safeway! You stink! You stink!”

The irony is that Susan is an amazing cook. She plans well-thought-out and healthy meals for her family 7 days a week and when she mentions offhand the snow peas and tofu dish she’s in the middle of preparing, I look at the chicken nuggets in my oven and think: “What kind of mother are you? You are feeding your children prepared foods! You stink! You stink!”

It could go on and on. Shea cites here own examples – here are mine:

Charlotte is raising her children to be bi-lingual. She has put a huge emphasis on giving them educational opportunities to learn both Chines and English at the same time. Her best friend, Liz, sews beautifully. But when Liz looks at her charmingly-dressed, but soley English-speaking daughters, she internally chides herself for depriving them of bi-lingual opportunities. You stink. You stink.

Charlotte looks at Liz’s remarkable handiwork, which she photographs and blogs about regularly, and tells herself that she should be doing so much more. Her children’s baby-books lay unfinished in a drawer, crafting just isn’t her forte. You stink. You stink.

Keri invents wonderful and amazing stories for her children and helps them build forts under the dining room table. Her neighbor, Beth, has obseerved their play and wistfully thinks of her middle-school aged children and the inevitable missed opportunities she had when they were small for such types of indoor play. You stink. You stink. But Beth keeps a kitchen garden in the summer that produces an abundance of unique heirloom tomatoes and other organic delights that she cans in the fall and shares with all her friends. Last time Keri was given a jar of her amazing summer tomatoes, all she could think was: “You are useless. You don’t have a garden. You buy all your produce at the grocery store.”

You stink.

You stink.

Shea also observes that we rarely acknowledge or commend one-another’s skills because, why, we are supposed to be born knowing how to parent, and we also should be parenting the same way.

Do you tell yourself you stink because you don’t have a degree in medicine, or do you easily accept that your doctor knows more about the human body than you do? Do you tell yourself you stink because you have not yet cured cancer, or do you acknowledge without self-condemnation that you don’t have those skills, or that knowledge, or that training?

Why is it then, that as mothers, we are so critical of our weaknesses, while completely ignoring our own unique strengths?

I even ran across an entire blog devoted to this topic today! Welcome to The Failure Chronicles by Laura Zigman, hosted by Work It, Mom!

Shea goes on to write that the only solution is “…to compliment each other’s work as parents, as specifically and as often as we could.”

So here goes (while the examples above were based on actual people and situations, they were jumbled up to protect raw spots. The examples below are pure fact):

  • Traci never leaves the house without looking like she just hopped off a podium at Banana Republic. She is immaculate and impeccable, effortlessly, while also real and approachable, always. She also is the kind of mom to get down on the floor and really PLAY with her kids, again, effortlessly.
  • Katy, mom of two darling girls, keeps a gorgeous home AND owns her own thriving boutique. Once upon a time she dreamed a dream and went after it, now living it. I love what she is teaching her daughters, that what you dream of really is possible. She has more creativity and style in her pinky finger than most of us combined.
  • Amy never does anything half-way. When she bakes, she never takes shortcuts, it’s always from scratch. And when she plans parties, they are always the bomb. Her daughter, in seven short years, has enjoyed some of the most inventive and creative birthday celebrations ever.
  • Renee is truly the most placid, contented mother I’ve ever met. She works, but doesn’t feel guilty about it. She does not beat herself up about what everyone else is doing – frankly, she’s the one person this post doesn’t really apply to. Renee, I don’t think, has an inner You Stink at all.
  • Lynne, miraculously, has FOUR polite, sweet, well-mannered (yet spirited) kids. She also is working up to three paying jobs at a time (not including the whole “teaching my kids to be responsible and respectful people” job she’s clearly so good at.) She volunteers on behalf of all of them, and is the first to offer up a hot meal when someone else is having a hard time.

That’s just five examples. I could list a hundred more, easily, but now it’s your turn. Give a shout out to a mom or two of your acquaintance, tell us what you admire and what she’s doinng right.

Here’s to drowning out that inner You Stink.

More on this topic: What does “having it all” really mean?

Follow this discussion further on Facebook! 

11 Comments leave one →
  1. March 1, 2010 12:41 am

    >I liked this one so much I kirtsy-ed it! Keep up the awesome writing!

  2. March 1, 2010 7:35 pm

    >Wow. What an awesome post!Tired of the "expert" pundits telling us how we're parenting wrong / badly – like all parents need self-help – and me gobbling it up like any expectant parent… this post is just the right antidote.My husband and I started a Q&A archive for dads & moms' to ask each other questions and it's taking off brilliantly BUT we've heard from several (quite brilliant) parents that they don't feel qualified to answer questions. I couldn't put my finger on why exactly, but I think this post gets at the problem – no matter how brilliant we are at one aspect of our lives, we only see the other…Anyway, we'd be quite honored if you (and your readers) would join us at Parents Guild – – to share whatever you or they happen to be brilliant at.Best regards,Andrea

  3. March 2, 2010 5:51 am

    >So true. And between how easy it is to find our own failings by looking at the successes of other moms, and "we rarely acknowledge or commend one-another's skills," I have a sneaking suspicion that had you called out for comments sharing own inner "You stink"s rather than for shout-outs to other moms, there may have been more.Both sets of examples you shared really ring true. A well-thought-out post. And thought-provoking. I'm really blessed that you've shared this blog with me.

  4. March 2, 2010 8:37 pm

    >What a great post. Sticking a strip of duct tape across my inner You Stink's pie hole as we speak! Thanks!

  5. March 3, 2010 5:16 pm

    >Awesome post that definitely rings true. A great reminder to focus on our strengths and forgive our failings. Thank you!

  6. March 9, 2010 5:02 am

    >Just what I needed to hear today. Thanks for the great post!

  7. Nancy permalink
    April 17, 2013 9:13 pm

    My sister Elisa is a single mom who works all day and goes to school at night. Somehow she does it all and still finds time to help her girls with her homework and be a great mom to them. Thanks for this post Adelle! I think it is really needed 🙂

  8. May 14, 2013 8:26 am

    I used to think “I stink” until I read Don and Katie Fortune’s books on Spirituals gifts – and then saw myself how God saw me – that I didn’t have to be all the other gifts – just what God called me to be – and it changed my life – and how I appreciate other’s gifts (instead of feeling threatened). It takes a way the judging and makes a way for the encouraging:)


  1. 31 Days to Shine: To Shine, Not Shame | Adelle Gabrielson
  2. Manifesto: A Cease-Fire for the Working Mom | Adelle Gabrielson
  3. Perfectly Imperfect: Seeing Ourselves For What We Truly Are | Adelle Gabrielson

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