Motherhood is full of incredible rewards but can be wrought with struggles like self-doubt. In today’s show, motherhood expert Katherine Wintsch discusses the dragon of “mom doubt.” Whether it’s comparing yourself to other moms on social media or being hard on yourself for the weight you’ve gained, this feeling of being “less-than” can lead to sheer exhaustion. Find out how to slay this dragon. Click on the player below to listen now!
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Guest information for ‘Katherine Wintsch- Mother’ Podcast Episode
KATHERINE WINTSCH is an internationally recognized expert on the topic of modern motherhood and author of SLAY LIKE A MOTHER: How to Destroy What’s Holding Your Back So You Can Live the Life You Want. The majority of her expertise comes from studying the passion and pain points of mothers around the world—the rest is accumulated from a little trial and a whole lot of error while raising her own two children with her husband in Richmond, Virginia.
As the founder and CEO of The Mom Complex, Katherine and her team help develop innovative new products, services, and marketing strategies for the world’s largest mom-focused brands, including Walmart, Babyganics, Pinterest, Kimberly Clark, and the Discovery Network.
Katherine’s sought-after research and expertise have been featured by Today, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Fast Company, and she regularly writes about the topic of motherhood on her popular blog, In All Honesty, and for Working Mother magazine.
Computer Generated Transcript for ‘Katherine Wintsch- Mother’ Episode
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Announcer: You’re listening to the Psych Central Podcast, where guest experts in the field of psychology and mental health share thought-provoking information using plain, everyday language. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Welcome to this week’s episode of The Psych Central Podcast. Calling into the show today, we have Katherine Wintsch, who is an internationally recognized expert on the topic of modern motherhood. The majority of her expertise comes from studying the passion and pain points of mothers around the world. The rest is accumulated from a little trial and a whole lot of error while raising her own two children with her husband in Richmond, Virginia. Katherine, welcome to the show.
Katherine Wintsch: Thanks for having me, Gabe.
Gabe Howard: Well, I am so excited to discuss motherhood with you. Full disclosure for longtime listeners of the show, they know that I have zero children, so I’m definitely coming from a point way far away. Not only do I not understand motherhood, I don’t understand parenthood. So I’m very excited to learn a lot from you. Because one of the things that the Internet has taught me is that mothers are expected to be perfect 100 percent of the time.
Katherine Wintsch: Yes. That’s why we’re so exhausted. Yes. You know, Instagram certainly doesn’t help and Facebook or Fakebook, as so many mothers now call it. Yeah, there’s a lot of pressure to have all the answers, even in the sayings of moms know best. And truth is that we don’t always know best. We don’t always have the answers. And that can be hard for a lot of men, and women, and to be so new at something and not be slaying it.
Gabe Howard: When I was but a new podcaster, I always tried to tie everything together for parenthood. You know, I didn’t want to do a show on motherhood or fatherhood. I wanted to do a show on parenthood. And what changed my mind is the little boy a few years ago who fell into the gorilla enclosure because mom, dad, sibling and little boy were all standing next to each other. The little boy climbed over the fence, landed inside the gorilla enclosure and the Internet, just went nuts attacking mom, not dad, just mom. And I thought that the father standing right there, like, why is nobody attacking the father? Why is nobody attacking both of them together? It was she is a horrible mother. I would never let that. It was just I was like, oh, my God, there are so women just apparently have it really, really bad when it comes to the expectations that they have for parenting. And when I read your profile and your bio and I saw your book Slay Like a Mother, I thought, OK. Can you talk a little bit about why you wrote Slay Like a Mother?
Katherine Wintsch: I wrote Slay Like a Mother because, unfortunately for 20 years of my life, from age fifteen to thirty five, I lived with what I refer to as a dragon of self-doubt. And that was this ferocious beast that was in my mind and took up a lot of energy in my soul. And it chewed up everything I did wrong. Nothing I did was right, both in and around motherhood, but not exclusively in that area of my life. And it was an exhausting way to live. I never felt good enough, thin enough, tough enough, wife enough, mom enough. All the things. Despite having a very successful career and a lot of accomplishments. And after a lot of therapy and a lot of self-help work, I learned to slay that dragon of self-doubt. And I’ve come out victorious on the other side. And now I want to help women and mothers around the world do the same thing.
Gabe Howard: What exactly is the dragon of self-doubt?
Katherine Wintsch: The dragon of self doubt is the warped belief that you’re not good enough, and technically it’s kind of your greatest worries. Gone Wild. And those worries of failing, of falling short, of being left out, when those are left unsupervised, they create this exaggerated and distorted view of reality. And people so many people, women in particular, live with this dragon of self-doubt every day and don’t even know that it’s there
Gabe Howard: I love that you call it a dragon, because dragons aren’t real, they don’t exist, but we all understand what a dragon is and well, frankly, why to be afraid of them. Is that kind of the analogy that you’re drawing? Everybody is afraid of the fire breathing dragon, even though the fire breathing dragon isn’t real.
Katherine Wintsch: Yes, that’s exactly it. And also that it’s ferocious and it’s aggressive and when you live with self-doubt, it’s just a lot of heat in your face all day, every day. But, you know, I’m living proof that dragons can be slayed and that once you finally slay it, to your point, you realize that it was never real. It was always a figment of my imagination. And I was born enough. And I am enough and I’ve always been enough. But for two decades, because this beast was kind of staring me down every day, I couldn’t see my own self worth. I couldn’t appreciate it.
Gabe Howard: And how was this dragon of self-doubt born?
Katherine Wintsch: I’m a researcher by trade and I have studied this all over the world and according to my research, seventy five percent of the time a woman’s self doubt is born during or before adolescence. So it begins very early on. It’s not as though becoming a mother all the sudden makes you doubt yourself. That’s not the way it works. It’s very likely that something happened in your teenage years that cut you hard, hurt you deep and really gave your self-esteem a kick in the stomach. It can be brought on from horrific events like abuse and neglect, but it also can be brought on by very small slights. Someone made fun of you when you were in third grade because you pronounced a word wrong or in high school, you know, your first love broke up with you. But most people, when I talk about that, can recall pretty quickly, at least the time period in their life when they started to feel less than.
Gabe Howard: So here they are. They’re living with the dragon of self-doubt. What does that feel like? Or maybe more specifically, what did it feel like for you?
Katherine Wintsch: It was unconscious. I didn’t even know that it was a thing in my life. And what it felt like was exhaustion. It felt like an endless battle of fighting for my self esteem and coming up short every time. And, you know, in my career, I would become a vice president and I was all excited for eight days. And then nine days later, it was like, OK, Katherine, what’s next? You know, what’s it going to take to become a senior vice president and executive vice president? And so when you live with this dragon, you can only really be proud of yourself and your accomplishments for a very short period of time because it’s very externally driven. And so you really feel like your soul is tired. And mothers, we often talk about how tired we are. But I always say it’s not the physical demands of motherhood that wear you down. It’s the warped belief that you’re not good enough. That just exhausts your soul. So it was a fatigue filled existence I would tell you.
Gabe Howard: Now, if I understand correctly, self-doubt doesn’t discriminate.
Katherine Wintsch: Yes, everybody always tries to pit mothers against each other, even the example that you shared earlier about the child at the zoo and everybody attacking the mom for being a terrible human being. Mothers are often pitted against each other. Working versus stay at home. Tiger versus attachment mom. But my research shows that all moms experience the same frequency and intensity of self-doubt. They just come for different reasons from different sources. So a stay at home mother’s doubt might stem from the fact that she’s not financially contributing to her family, where a working mother’s self-doubt might stem from not being around or home enough. But it’s pretty compelling to know that as women and mothers, we have far more in common than we often believe, and we have a lot of the same doubts and fears and insecurities.
Gabe Howard: Thank you so much for that, Katherine. What areas of a mother’s life are affected by this self-doubt? Because if I understand correctly, it just kind of permeates everything.
Katherine Wintsch: Yeah, it does. And, you know, a lot of people think that maybe, oh, you’re just doubting yourself as a mother, but my research shows that if you have this dragon of self doubt, it really scorches, you know, all of the earth around you. And where we see it come up most often is in a woman’s marriage. Her relationship with her partner, how she feels about herself in that situation. Certainly, her physical appearance and all that comes with that being a woman and being judged for that. Certainly, parenting skills, but then also their careers. If you have this dragon, there’s almost no area of your life is safe. But I do think it shows up most prominently, probably in one or two areas. And for me, it was certainly in my career. And that’s where I was looking for my self-esteem. And so that’s why I was working 80 hours a week and practically killing myself to try and prove myself, because I thought if I collected enough titles and trophies and I’d finally feel good about myself and eventually realized that the world doesn’t work.
Gabe Howard: Let’s flip this conversation a little bit and talk about what women do to feed their dragons of self-doubt, because I know that we’ve been talking about a lot of external factors, but there are internal factors as well.
Katherine Wintsch: Yes, and no one knows that this dragon of self doubt exists inside of you except for you. So you’re the only one that knows it exists. So you’re the only one that can slay it. And there are a couple things that you can do to stop feeding the dragon. The first is setting more realistic expectations. As women and mothers, we think I have to make the perfect meal every night. I have to never yell at my children and I have to get the next promotion at work. And we’re just layering on the backpack of pain and weight that we’re carrying around, trying to be perfect. And you know a lot of people think that high expectations set you up for success. And I believe that. But if they’re too high, then they’re going to set you up for failure. So just kind of level setting. What you expect of yourself is important. The second way that we feed this dragon is by fearing the future. This happens with moms all the time. Say their child gets a C on a science test and all of a sudden, they’re like, oh, my gosh, I know that they’re going to be in jail by the time they’re 17.
Katherine Wintsch: I’m going to be doing their laundry for the rest of their life. I’m a horrible mother. And we often fast forward more so than men do to kind of a doomsday future. So if you can keep your head and your heart in the same time zone as your body, then that’ll save you a lot of heartache. And then the third way we feed our dragon is by comparing ourselves to other women and mothers. And this is just a fascinating sequence of events where we’ll walk into a girlfriend’s house and maybe her house is super clean and all the sudden we cascade and assume and make projections that she’s perfect in every area of her life. See a clean house, and you’re like, oh my gosh, I bet she never fights with her husband. She probably got straight A’s in high school. Her kids are obedient angels and she never burns the meatloaf. And we project this perfection onto other women, which just leaves us feeling like everybody else is perfect and we’re pathetic. And again, I’m a researcher and I know for a fact that all women are struggling with this. So you’re not alone and certainly not pathetic.
Gabe Howard: And we’ll be right back after these messages.
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Gabe Howard: And we’re back discussing motherhood with author Katherine Wintsch. All right. Let’s talk about strategies for slaying the dragon. How can moms everywhere slay their dragon of self-doubt?
Katherine Wintsch: Well, what’s fascinating about this dragon is that you can only kill it with kindness and you have to kill it with kindness towards yourself. Finding ways to be self compassionate. Give yourself grace when you make a mistake. Everybody makes mistakes. And instead of yelling at yourself and beating yourself up, chalk it up to the fact that you’re new at whatever you’re going through right now. Another thing I often talk about is teaching the main voice in your head some manners. So we all men and women have this negative voice in their head. My research shows for women it tends to be cruel, where for men it’s more critical. So you can hear this voice come up and then you can redirect it towards a friend. So I’ll give you an example that is sharing entirely too much information about myself. But it’ll make the point. I was at a hotel gym the other day on a business trip and I was exercising. And at the end of my ride, I put both of my hands on the top of my backside and felt what I felt like was two handfuls of cellulite. And then the negative voice in my head immediately was like, oh, my gosh, what must that look like? And I’m looking around to see if other people are noticing it. And so that was the dragon speaking to me. And I corrected it and I taught it some manners. And I said, no, no, no, no, no. What this looks like is that I got my rear end out of bed this morning and I put it on a bike. That’s what this looks like, period. That’s kindness towards myself. And your dragon has very little space to live when you learn to love yourself.
Gabe Howard: I really like that story so much, and I think that many of us can relate to that in so many different areas of our lives. But what you describe was that your life doesn’t seem to have a dragon anymore. What’s life like without a dragon?
Katherine Wintsch: Sometimes the echo of my dragon might come back. Like I mentioned on the exercise bike, but it’s definitely gone from my life. And I just feel freer. I feel lighter. And, you know, I still have chaos in my life, as everybody does. But the chaos around me is so much easier to deal with when I’m not also fighting the chaos inside of me. So it doesn’t make your children obey you any more or you don’t really fight with your husband any less. There’s still chaos. But when you’re calm on the inside and there’s not this beast inside of you trying to kill you, it makes the rest of your life much more manageable. And it’s much better on this side, much calmer.
Gabe Howard: I know that you’re a researcher by trade, and one of the things that you researched were how are millennial mothers being affected by self-doubt and how are they handling, battling and perceiving their self-doubt dragon. It’s fascinating to me to talk to listeners and hear how the average 40 something believes that the average 20 something has it all together and then the average 20 something believes the average 40 something has it all together. And just like you said, everybody is comparing themselves to each other, but incorrectly.
Katherine Wintsch: Without a doubt. And my research shows for millennial moms that the younger moms, the ones having all the babies right now, that it’s harder to be a mother today than it ever has been before. And I think, unfortunately, a lot of people look at the millennial generation and look down on them and say, oh, it’s a flippant generation, fly by the seat of their pants. But when you look at the time we’re living in these mothers, these young mothers are dealing with everything from bullying to school shootings to deadly peanut allergies. And these are pretty grave concerns. And it’s not something that mothers from previous generations ever had to deal with. There’s certainly no rulebook or guidebook. So there’s a lot of newness to motherhood today. And then you pile on top of that social media, millennial moms have a gateway and a doorway to the perfect lives and sometimes fake lives of millions of other mothers. You know, when my mother was making my school lunchbox, she wasn’t comparing what other mothers were serving their children for lunch. And so this constant comparison game can really wear somebody down and it certainly fuels the fire of a dragon of self-doubt.
Gabe Howard: When we talked about social media, you made the point about Fakebook. And one of the things that I just thought of right there, and you were talking about school lunches and packing lunches, I see all of these would, of course, I perceive as adorable pictures on Facebook of the children on the first day of school or the children on the first day back from holiday vacation or, you know, they’re holding their little lunchbox. And I do see some of my parent friends. You know, I packed Molly the perfect lunch today. And of course, they have a perfect picture of food. But it never occurred to me that other mothers might be looking at that picture and thinking to themselves, oh, man, when I make a sandwich, the top piece of bread doesn’t line up with the bottom piece of bread and it has a hole in it from where I gripped it to tight, and are those brand name Ziploc bags? Yeah, I don’t even put it into Ziploc. Oh, you’re using Tupperware? I can see how all of this just becomes incredibly overwhelming. Do you think that it would be wise to not follow other mothers on social media? Do you think that the dragon lives on social media?
Katherine Wintsch: Well, I think it’s a good question, and I would say that if for a short term strategy, if looking at other people’s perfection really makes you feel like crap about yourself, then yes, I would unfollow the people that are known to do that. And I would start following more women and mothers that are real and keep it real, like Celeste Barber is an Internet sensation of Instagram fame, and she has over six million followers and she’s always just making fun of all of her mistakes and her body size. And, you know, she’s having a hoot. So you can follow people that keep it real. But it’s really only a short term strategy, because the truth is and I talk about this in Slay Like a Mother, you have to slay this dragon of self-doubt. And once you do, you will care a lot less about what other people post on Facebook. So Instagram used to make me crazy and make me feel less than an inferior compared to other mothers. But now that I don’t have that dragon telling me I’m a loser, I can look at other pictures of mothers and I can be happy for them in that moment. They had a great moment, but I have my great moments, too. And maybe it’s not making a lunchbox. Maybe it’s making a great book or a presentation at work or something else. So the long term strategy is you have to learn to love yourself. And when you do, you care less about what other people are doing.
Gabe Howard: One of the things that I was a little surprised to learn is that you talk about struggling and suffering. And to me, those always seemed like the same thing. But there’s a difference between struggling and suffering.
Katherine Wintsch: The difference between struggling and suffering is that struggling is brought on by the external circumstances in your life. So making dinner for your family every night, trying to get a promotion, trying to stay married, dealing with a cancer diagnosis in your family. Those are all struggles but suffering that’s brought on by the internal forces in your life. And that’s when you yell at yourself for not handling the struggles better or for having those struggles in the first place. The interesting part about the research that I’ve done shows that the goal is to struggle. That’s the human existence. You’re going to struggle today. You’re going to struggle tomorrow. You’re going to struggle the next day. And you can’t buy your way out of it. Move your way out of it. Grow your way out of it. You know, that’s the human existence. But suffering occurs at your own hand and no one can make you feel like crap about yourself without your permission. And so if you’re causing your suffering, then you can uncaused it and you can learn to love yourself and you can just accept that life comes with struggles and that you’re not weird or crazy or inept because you’re struggling right now. It just means you’re normal.
Gabe Howard: I really, really like that one of the tips that you have is to turn self-doubt into self-love. And an example that you gave really, really spoke to me. I just love it so much. You said find a classic love song station on the radio and turn up the volume. Close your eyes and imagine you singing it to yourself. In other words, that it was written by you for you. Now, full disclosure, I often do this while driving, so I do not close my eyes. But I want to say I’m not a mother, I’m not a parent. But I don’t know. This works. I imagine myself on stage as Mick Jagger or Freddie Mercury or just whomever. It does make me feel better. And I imagine that my life is a lot less stressful than the average moms. So I just loved that example. Thank you so much, Katherine. We’re nearing the end of the show. So what final bit of advice do you have for mothers struggling with self-doubt?
Katherine Wintsch: Start talking about it. And you cannot fix what you do not acknowledge. Start to listen for that negative voice in your head. That’s the first step. Just realize that you’re yelling at yourself all day, every day, and then start to say it out loud. Tell a girlfriend. Find a therapist to talk to for 30 minutes. But if this only stays in your heart and your head and your soul, it’s just gonna eat you alive. Find the courage to say out loud how you really feel about yourself. And that’s really going to spark and ignite your healing.
Gabe Howard: That’s wonderful, Katherine. Where can folks find you on the Web? And where can they get your book Slay Like a Mother?
Katherine Wintsch: My book, Slay Like a Mother, is available everywhere books are sold, at Wal-Mart, Target, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, independent booksellers. And then it’s also available on Audible. So you can listen to it if you like. And it’s my voice reading it so I can read you your bedtime stories if you like. And certainly, invite others to follow us on Slay Like a Mother.com, that is on Facebook and Instagram.
Gabe Howard: Katherine, thank you so much for being here, and I have no doubt that you are going to help many mothers slay their dragons.
Katherine Wintsch: Thanks for having me, Gabe.
Gabe Howard: You’re very welcome. All right, listen up, everybody, I’ve got a couple of favors to ask you. Wherever you downloaded this podcast, please subscribe. Give us a rating. Give us a review. Use your words and tell people why you like the show. Share us on social media and do the same. E-mail us to a friend that you think would benefit. We have a private Facebook group. You can find it really, really easily just by going to PsychCentral.com/FBShow. And remember, you can get one week of free, convenient, affordable, private online counseling anytime, anywhere, simply by visiting BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. We will see everybody next week.
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This article originally appeared on Psych Central as Podcast: Motherhood and The Dragon of Self-Doubt.