How to feel confident and good about yourself at the school gates

In the film ‘I don’t know how she does it’, successful, high flying finance executive Kate Reddy lives in fear of being judged by other school mums, with their perfect home bakes and seemingly together lives.

And while this may seem ridiculously far-fetched, all too many otherwise-confident career women can crumble at the sight of their fellow mums at the school gate. Designer, coach and mum Katie Phillips explains how working mums can free themselves of their school mum fear with a bit of self-love.

Many mums feel uncomfortable at the school gates

I wanted to write a piece for working mums, so I asked a few friends what they wanted to know more about. And one said to me that she found playground politics tough, that she felt a competitive edge among many of the mums, and sometimes suffered feelings of not being good enough.

This is something I have heard countless times, and is a very real problem for many mums, whether they work or not. The sight of that mum who glides effortlessly into the playground on time, dressed stylishly with perfect makeup, accompanied by her smiley child who is dressed head-to-toe in an amazing home-made super-hero costume… well, it can bring up all sorts of feelings of guilt and inadequacy, allowing your inner critic to have an absolute field day!

Being a mum comes hand-in-hand with guilt 

Being a parent seems to come hand-in-hand with guilt and its multiple variants. Mums know it and we often talk about it. We empathise with each-other’s feelings, and talk in great detail about what it is that makes us feel inadequate. We discuss how the school puts far too much pressure on us, ‘There is too much to remember! We can hardly be expected to keep up with all those emails, surely?’

Plenty of coffee mornings are fuelled with secret discussions about the perfect mum, the outspoken mum or the pain in the butt mum – offsetting our own inadequacy. And what if you can’t make the coffee mornings because you have to work? For many working mums that’s a golden opportunity to ruminate on guilty feelings of being too busy, of having no balance, of missing their children growing up, and so on.

Feeling guilty or inadequate (or not) is your choice

Have you ever considered that you have a choice about whether or not you feel guilty or inadequate?

I would like to invite you to consider the following to be true:

  • Where you put your energy is what you will receive in your life.
  • How connected you feel internally, and how you love yourself will be reflected in where you choose to focus your attention (which brings us back to the first point). 

In short, you have a choice. You can choose to focus on what you are not achieving, on the costume you forgot to make, on how busy you are etc. And, you can choose to take it a step further and give it even more energy by talking endlessly about it. Or a step yet further by paying it even more attention, by ruminating about it until it affects your sleep and your health.

And what’s the result of all of that? Just more of the same to worry about – more guilt and more inadequacy.

Focus on what you do have and achieve 

Or, instead, you can choose to focus on what you HAVE. What you ARE achieving. What DOES work for you and your family. How you ARE feeling satisfied as a mum. What you ARE great at.

Placing your energy and focus on those things will not only mean you have less time to ‘play victim’, it also means you are raising your energetic vibration which attracts more of the good stuff into your life. And, when you are attracting more good stuff to feel happy and grateful about, you have the energy to consider what realistically isn’t working for you, get pro-active and change it.

And if, like Kate Reddy, you’re worried you’re not good enough as a mum and feel a level of playground competition, I would invite you to consider where else in life you do not feel good enough, and where that may stem from. Do you think that you are fundamentally good enough? Are you in competition with yourself? Are you good enough for YOU? Are you worthy of loving yourself?

Often what is going on internally is reflected in our perceptions of what is going on around us. If you fundamentally don’t feel adequate at the core of you, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll feel inadequacy in other areas of your life too.

I freed myself from feelings of guilt – and so can you

I know it is possible to free yourself from feelings of inadequacy and guilt – because I did it too. There was a time when I also feared the judgements of other school mums. But not any more.

Today, I am often the one racing from the car to the playground with my six year-old hot on my heels. I very rarely arrive looking calm and organised. And, if it is a costume day, I have either made something very far from perfect, or it is my car you hear screeching off into the distance, dashing home for a delve into the dress-up box because I completely forgot all about it – despite all those emails!

But I usually have a smile on my face, and I would like to think that my smile comes from within. I do notice the kids in the amazing homemade costumes and their supremely organised mums. But I judge myself against myself and my own self-worth – not against them. And my self-worth is the highest it has ever been. Loving myself is my absolute daily focus and priority (as is loving my son).

I know that where I place my attention is what I witness in my world. So while I see the same things as all the other mums in the playground, my perception is just different. I know I am doing my best. Because I love myself, I choose to be kind to myself; to treat myself with understanding and compassion.

And, because love is my focus, I am able to look at those ‘perfect’ mums with genuine delight. Good on them for making a fabulous homemade costume! In fact, they inspire me to create something equally as brilliant next time. They’re not my competition – why would I do that to myself? Instead, as a busy working mum, I focus on all that I DO provide for my son. Things like imparting the importance of self-belief and self-worth.

Choose to set yourself free

I am not saying this to suggest I am better than the mums who worry about what other people think of them. I am saying it to demonstrate that there is another way of being. And I have experienced both. For a long time I focussed on what others had and what I lacked. I know how it feels to think I am inadequate and not good enough. And I know what a mess my life looked like as I attracted more of what I gave attention to.

So I chose to do something about it. I chose to love myself, and the most incredible journey of my life started in that moment. And now, I’m saying that you can make that choice too. You can choose to walk into the playground with a shop-bought or imperfectly-made pie or costume with your head held high. It really is that easy.

By Katie Phillips from Daring & Mighty.