South Asian Mothers and Self-Esteem

woman-low-self-esteemPrerna felt as if time was at a standstill. She looked around her house. Everything was in its place and clean. She should have been ecstatic. This level of orderliness was something she had been after her family for over 20 years. This thought brought tears to her eyes. She missed her family. Her two children were grown and had moved out to attend college. Her husband was as busy as ever with his job. Having just recently been promoted, his retirement plans were once again pushed back several years.

As she sat quietly at the kitchen table drinking her tea, she what was next for her. She had been out of work for over 20 years, raising their children so reentering the workforce seemed impossible and impractical. She no longer had any hobbies as her entire time for the past two decades had been spent taking care of her family. And now that her family had moved on to bigger and better things, she was left behind thinking, “Who am I?”

Without a clear answer to that question that seemed to ring in her head every day since her youngest moved out of the house, Prerna began to feel down on herself. “Why can’t I think of anything I’m good at?” she would think. She even forced herself to sit down and make a list one day to prove herself wrong, to have evidence that she had skills. All she could come up with was that she was an incredible mother, cook and chauffer. Seeing such a short list upset her even more.

But it wasn’t just that. She had slaved over taking care of her family for years. In a 24-hour job of being wife and mother, she received no vacation time, no benefits and certainly no promotions. And she received no salary. When she thought about that, she often began to cry. “I’m nothing. I’m just a wife and a mother,” she would sob in the bathroom after her showers some days.

She felt as if she had achieved nothing, had nothing to show for her hard work. When she was busy fussing over her children, managing schedules and extracurricular activities, she didn’t have time to notice that she never talked about herself. Now that most of their friends’ children have moved on, talk has shifted back to the adults. What achievements does she have to share with her friends? What makes her special?

Many South Asian mothers and housewives have a very similar experience as Prerna, feeling negatively about themselves and questioning their worth. This often happens when they compare their achievements against their husbands’ success in the professional field. Here are some quick tips for South Asian mothers and housewives to improve self-esteem:

1. Measure apples to apples. Your husband might be the CEO of a large company, but you are the CEO of your family. Comparing professional success to personal achievements is often unfair, leaving you most likely to feel as if you have underachieved. Instead of measuring your performance based on your husband’s measuring stick, identify how much your contributions add to your husband’s to make a successful complete picture.

2. Value what you do. So many times, these negative feelings that South Asian mothers and housewives have come because they believe their husband’s success in the professional world is more valuable than their success as a mother or wife. Make an effort to change that view by complimenting other mothers and wives and taking pride that you are raising the next generation in your family and in the community.

3. Find an activity that is just for you. Most of the time, when a South Asian woman becomes a wife or a mother, she forms her identity that is closely tied to her husband and/or her children. This results in a loss of her independent self which can become confusing and result in feeling lost or depressed especially when her “work” is done, such as when the children grow up. Find an activity, whether it be paid word or volunteering that you are passionate about and highlight your strengths. This can be a great reminder that you possess numerous qualities outside of your role as a mother or wife.

4. Count your roles. When one part of our life takes over, we forget that we exist in other forms. South Asian mothers are also wives, daughters, neighbors, sisters and friends. Be sure to maintain positive and healthy relationships in all of your roles and nurture yourself in each of these relationships. Go out to dinner with just your sisters, visit a spa with your friends or take a walk with just your neighbors. This will help create a better balance in your life and you can always remember that you are a complete person and not just a caretaker to your immediate family.

Having high self-esteem not only improves your marriage but also a your ability to be a good mother to your children. You will be able to teach them the importance of taking care of yourself and maintaining good overall health which will encourage them to have healthy relationships and a healthy lifestyle as they grow older too.

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  1. How many countless amount of time I have felt like Prerna. It good to have tools to handle such thoughts but it is easier said than done. As I am slowly approaching the empty nest, I too am taking inventory of my achievements and find a short list. I kids tells me they would not be who they are without my support, but I feel they are just being kind. I am being cherished and loved in the family, but sometimes I feel I don’ have anything to show for it. I did what a mom was supposed to do, nothing great. What am I supposed to do now?

    • Millions of women around the world share your story. It is much easier said than done to implement these changes. However do keep in mind that low self-esteem or feeling as if you don’t have anything to show for it are all due to thoughts that we run through our minds. Those thoughts can be controlled (for more info click here: Self-Esteem. Pay attention to the judgment you place on yourself (or other mothers) in terms of their successes, their achievements. What thoughts run through your mind when someone tries to compliment you and try to identify why the thoughts are so negative or why accepting a compliment even from your children is so difficult. Retraining your thoughts will be the best way for you to learn to have pride in having taken on the most difficult job in the world – raising the next generation of South Asians.

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