Mothers can often be their own worst critics.
I met someone outside the butcher's the other day who came up to me and said ''you're that Karen Hardy from The Canberra Times, aren't you?''. It's always a worry when this happens. Not that it does a lot. Not to me anyway. I'm no Paris Hilton. But you worry when readers attack, in person, or via a, usually handwritten, letter, or a terse email. You can never be too certain that even the most inane thing you've said hasn't put someone off side.
But there was nothing threatening about this woman, and as she reached out and put a hand on my arm and said ''Sometimes, dear, you're too hard on yourself'' it was like she knew I was in need of a little kindness.
And she was right. Women are quick to judge other women, I've written about that many times before. We pass judgment about parenting styles, dust build-up, dress sense, choice of partner, driving ability … we should be nicer to each other.
But we're also exceptionally quick to judge ourselves. Writing in her Sunday column last week, Angela Mollard - do yourself a favour and follow her on Twitter at @angelamollard - wrote about how motherhood is one role that women consistently rate themselves worse than they are. It wasn't until she read a school project her 12-year-old daughter had to do, an autobiography, ''promisingly titled Don't Blame My Parents'', she wrote, that she gave pause and reassessed the job she was doing. ''I'm a mother raising a child; in spite of my fears and failings, I'm doing a good job.''
How many times have you said that to yourself lately? I'm doing a good job. I know it's been a while since I have.
But you know what? I am doing a good job. Not only at motherhood. At many other things too. Sure, there are some things where I do need to pull up my socks and get stuck in again, but for the most part I am doing a good job. Not a perfect job. But who is?
And so I started to think about things I am quite happy to admit I'm good at. I'd love to be able to say salsa dancing and speaking Mandarin, but I've never tried either of those. Although I'm sure if I did take them up I would be fantastic. I'm OK at hockey, for an old girl, and golf, for a once-a-year hitter, and I think I can sing. Even if no one else does. I'm a good cook. A good friend. I can tell a good joke and I can write. And I am a good mother. And on my best days, I am kind and loving and funny and forgiving. At my core I am a good person. I know that.
But perhaps it's not just about recognising what is good about you. Perhaps it's about acknowledging what is good about the people in our lives. Telling them how much you value their friendship, about the joy they bring into your life, how much you look forward to their company. Compliment the shirt they're wearing, or tell them how much you like their children. Sometimes I think there's no better compliment. Be there for them and listen. It's a lost art. Tell them how decent they are. How they bring you strength. How good a person they are. Being a good person is highly undervalued.
We need to stop focusing on the negative and look for more good. In people, in places, in situations. Sometimes it's terribly hard. There is so much negativity out there. In the media, in society. But is there, or is it just that we focus on it so?
For many years now I've silently advocated having a good-news reporter on staff here. Someone whose job it would be to find that story, every day, that would make you smile, or laugh, or think better about the world. No, not stories about puppies and kittens (not that there's nothing wrong with the occasional cute puppy story) but stories about, say, enduring love, or people who have overcome adversity and hardship, stories of people doing good. Would it be viable?
Perhaps looking for the good involves being more grateful. In a very Oprah moment a year or so ago I bought a gratitude journal. Somewhere where I could make a note every day of something that made me pause and be thankful. But I haven't even opened it. What's stopped me? The whole idea that I'd be grateful just to find the time to write in it. Pathetic.
I am grateful for so many things in my life. So many good things I have been blessed with, worked hard for, achieved. I am grateful that I have people in my life who are good. That I have a job I like immensely, one which allows me to spend time with my family. Who are all good people to a one.
I wonder what drove this woman at the shops to accost me. Had she after so many years, she was a woman of mature age, come to the realisation that if we put ourselves down too much one day we come to believe it? As much as I like to spin that self-deprecating is my shtick, perhaps it's time to ease up. Or was it something much more simple. Had she recently tried the pork and fennel sausages that butcher Geoff Martin and I collaborated on and thought they were much nicer than I said they were in the accompanying story we did for Food & Wine? I'll never know. But I'll be forever thankful.
Because she did some good that day.