Cognitive distortions: overcoming all-or-nothing thinking for moms and dads

Thank you for joining Stay-in-Bed Mom Blog (SIBMB) for an ongoing positive self-talk series. Self-love starts with positive self-talk. We’ll continue to discuss cognitive distortions, or unhelpful thinking styles, through the lens of parenthood.

A little cognitive distortion here, a little exaggeration there isn’t going to affect your mental state in the short term. However, if your negative thinking becomes chronic, then your mental health will undoubtedly suffer.

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What’s all-or-nothing thinking?

Sometimes called “black and white” or polarized thinking, this dysfunctional thinking pattern supports an overly negative and rigid outlook on life. With it, you’re unable or unwilling to see things in shades of gray and instead prefer to think in extremes.

All-or-nothing thinking may underlie many unhealthy psychological states like panic, low self-esteem, perfectionism, and hopelessness.

What’s an example of all-or-nothing thinking?

If I’m not a perfect mom/dad, I have failed.

Either I do it (e.g. parenting) right or not at all.

What does all-or-nothing thinking look like in your mom or dad life?

Things don’t just feel a little messed up — they’re f*cked! “Everything” is going wrong.

A day in the life of a stay-at-home parent isn’t just going poorly — it’s the worst day ever.

It’s not that, that mom at the library story time is being difficult — it’s that “everyone” is.

How can all-or-nothing thinking be harmful?

It makes you focus on what’s wrong rather than what’s right and sets you up to see the bad in people, things, and situations rather than the good.

You commit the grave error of moving from part to whole too quickly, which precludes you from seeing the potential positives of a person or a situation.

Am I thinking in “black and white” in my daily life?

You may be if…

You’re uncomfortable with shades of gray and prefer things to be more “black and white.”

You catch yourself using words like always, never, everything, totally, ruined, can’t, everyone, no one, anymore, etc.

  • You “always” do that. (You make a comment that’s directed at your spouse, an older child, a parent, an in-law, etc.)
  • I “always” get taken advantage of as a stay-at-home parent, work-from-home parent, working parent, etc. “No one” respects/appreciates me.
  • I “never” catch a break.
  • Things will “never” get better.
  • I “never” do well in X (e.g. cleaning, cooking, crafting, etc.)
  • My mom/dad life is a “total” disaster.
  • Something’s “totally” wrong with X (e.g. my child’s eating, hygiene, potty training, sleeping, social habits, etc.).
  • I “can’t” do anything right as a parent.
  • I “can’t” handle this (e.g. being a mom/dad, solo parenting, working full-time, etc.).
  • “Everyone” is judging all my parenting actions.
  • I’m not good at X (fill in the blank) “anymore”.

What can I do to overcome all-or-nothing thinking?


  • Use the 3 Cs of Cognitive Restructuring:  Categorize –> Challenge –> Change your negative, self defeating thought or thinking pattern.
  • Accentuate the positive. Example:  Focus on your strengths as a parent.
  • Dismiss or parry off self-defeating thoughts. Example:  Acknowledge the intruding thoughts, visualize them (e.g. I like to think of them as black balloons!), and then let them go.
  • Separate self-worth from performance. Example:  Strive for progress not perfection.
  • Use the word “and,” instead of “or.” Example: I’m a good mom “and” have bad moments. Yes, I have good qualities and do good things “and” sometimes I make mistakes and poor decisions.
  • Consider all options. Example: Perhaps I can work from home “and” stay at home with my children.


  • Don’t put yourself in the “never-always-every” box. Challenge yourself to think of times when these words were not true. There are few situations that are absolute.
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A Final Thought – From the Pillow

I’m a “total” disaster. Challenge that thought! I AM mom (or dad) enough.

So keep talking back to your brain.

What strategies have worked for you for overcoming all-or-nothing thinking?

12 thoughts on “Cognitive distortions: overcoming all-or-nothing thinking for moms and dads

Add yours

  1. I’m amazed, I must say. Seldom do I encounter a blog that’s equally educative and amusing, and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head.
    The issue is something which too few folks are speaking intelligently about.

    Now i’m very happy I found this in my hunt for something concerning this.


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