I'd seen the show before: Some homeowner finds a painting in the attic, or a teapot in the garage, and wonders if it has any value. She waits in line to talk to an expert who can evaluate what the "antique" is worth - or at least what it might sell for at an auction. The thrill is when the lamp is a Tiffany or the painting is an original Monet - what are the chances? The owner is delighted and admits that it had been stashed in a corner, maybe with last year's preschool art projects piled on top of it.

But this time I was watching the show in an attempt to take my mind off my current situation. See, an emergency appendectomy 10 days before Christmas hadn't been part of my holiday plans. Recovery meant time in bed and no driving for six weeks, not to mention taking it easy on the bending and lifting. Did I mention Christmas was in 10 days? If there was ever an inconvenient time, this was it. Worst of all were the feelings of being an inadequate mom.

Enter "Antiques Roadshow."

Somewhere between the Tang Dynasty marble lion that brought tears to the appraiser's eyes and the $60,000 Eskimo hunting helmet someone snagged at a flea market, I started to see a pattern.

I'd been lumping myself together with the laundry pile and last month's junk mail - and why wouldn't I, when I felt as equally unmovable and unproductive? I wasn't a bad mom, but I felt like I was an ineffective mom. I knew I loved my children, but I couldn't do much, could I? And if temporary disability didn't affect my self-appraisal, then surely the "mom routine" could. What's to value with Cheerios stuck in my hair? How important can I feel when a child is kicking my shins because I'm trying to dress her in anything other than last year's Halloween costume?

And society at large isn't any more helpful. Rarely have I seen media messages even hint, much less portray, mothers for what they are: indispensable, vital, strong.

1. Know my worth

Here is where I imagined for a moment that the next item up for appraisal on "Antiques Roadshow" was a mom.

"This is a Tamara Passey original. She has a wonderful New England influence from the 70s. Notice the fine smile lines - evidence of the happiness she radiates to those around her. It looks like she's in decent condition, indicating the amount of dedication she's demonstrated to family and friends. What we know about this MOTHER is that she possesses listening abilities not readily seen by the untrained eye. Her value: priceless."

2. Be my authentic self

In other words, copies are never as good as the original.

I can readily recognize the disappointment in the owner's eyes when he learns his hoped-for-masterpiece is a copy; an imitation. This concept is easily understood in art. Though imitations and copies can sometimes fetch handsome sums, the place and value of the original is unparalleled. It is almost hard to watch the expert gently explain to the owner that his piece is worth far less than he had hoped, solely because it was not the work of a master, but was instead a cheaper copy.

Is it possible that I experience similar disappointment when I spend enormous amounts of energy and time trying to be as good as, or better than, someone else? I become much more confident when I spend half as much effort on being my best self, sharing the gifts and talents only I can give. My love is more authentic. It's not forced or frustrating.

3. Love accordingly

No question about it — I take better care of myself when I know my value. I eat nutritiously; I exercise without criticizing myself. I allow myself to take breaks for reading or baths, because I know I need the rejuvenation.

Does that really make me a better mother? Maybe not any single one of those things alone, but added together, certainly.

When I know how valuable my work is as a mother, I take care of myself. I am a healthier woman - and a happier, better mother.

Editor's note: This article is adapted from "Mothering through the Whirlwind." It has been republished here with permission.

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