“The very fact that you worry about being a good mom means you already are one.” ~ Jodi Picoult ~
I’ve wanted to be a good mother since I was a little girl. I imagined a big happy family, chicken roasting in the oven on Sundays, homemade lunches with scribbled love notes, and daily peace, joy, and contentment.
Fast forward 30 years and my life is more like a Jackson Pollack painting than a Normal Rockwell. It’s colorful chaos, a brilliant and beautiful collaboration of messes, motion, and madness. There’s lots of yelling and negotiating, noise and anger, disappointments, struggles and heartache. Of course, there’s loads of love, and I do roast chicken every Sunday, but mostly motherhood is nothing like I imagined.
Motherhood is Hard Enough – Don’t Make it Harder
Staying home with kids is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. There were so many unexpected challenges the first few years and just when I’d figure something out, it would change. Caring for four little people while running the household and trying to prioritize my marriage is literally a full time job.
But on top of all that, for years I made this job so much harder than it needed to be. I did not extend myself any grace or patience. I held myself to ridiculously high standards and left no room for rest, self love, or simple self-indulgent pleasures. I couldn’t even allow myself to enjoy the season of my life because I felt the need to push and push and push forward at light speed. Hell, light speed was too slow, I wanted ludicrous speed! Before you know it, I’d gone plaid and couldn’t even see the moments and simple joys I was trading for forward motion. (if you don’t get the Space Balls reference I’m sorry you had a sad childhood or are too young to appreciate Mel Brooks’ brilliance)
I believed a good mother put her children first, always. I believed bottle feeding, asking for help, or loosening my death grip of control was cheating. I felt completely responsible for taking care of everything myself because that’s what good mothers do and I wanted, desperately, to be a good mother.
The double edge sword of all of this was that while I was doing what I was “supposed” to be doing, I was miserable, angry, lonely, and struggling constantly. I felt like a failure. I felt guilty for not enjoying my babies more, feeling unfulfilled, and wanting more.
But What Makes a Good Mom?
I don’t know. Honestly, who the hell knows. What does “good” even mean? Who’s keeping score and judging? Good is so terribly subjective and relative anyways. It’s over simplistic to believe the most important relationship we may ever have can be broken down into “good” or “bad.”
If you love your kids and they are cared for, fed, clothed, disciplined, built up (and not torn down), and given opportunities for growth, I’d say you’re a good mom.
The History of Mothering
In the Middle Ages, children were considered to be animalistic creatures (well, duh) and keeping these little biting, sucking beasts in check fell to those on the lowest rungs of society. They were whipped, tightly swaddled and even sedated with opium.
The bible told us how to parent. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” was preached from the pulpit warning fathers to keep those little sinners in line. Mothers could not be trusted to raise them up right, being naturally too affectionate and susceptible to “excessive fondness”, so they were encouraged to ignore their instincts and defer to the authority of the ever wise, logical and rational husband (Sharon Hays, author of The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood).
Before the 1900s, childcare was based solely on keeping the infant alive, with little thought or concern to providing constant emotional care and support.
During the Colonial period, settling the land required mothers help work the land, harvest and cook the food, haul wood, maintain the home and generally keep their family alive in this strange new world. Little time was devoted to childcare, the task entrusted to older children or servants.
Today we see the male role, or masculinity, associated with bringing home the bacon and the feminine role of as that of maternal nurturer. It is the “natural” order of the family, right? In fact, this shift in responsibilities didn’t happen until society transitioned from an agricultural household economy to an industrial wage economy in the 19th century.
It wasn’t until this time that society began actually thinking about kids’ development. Articles and advice began popping up in Ladies’ Home Journal and Good Housekeeping letting mother’s know how they’re doing it all wrong. In 1949, Dr. Spock’s famous Baby and Child Care book became the mothering bible, encouraging structure and instructions on child raising, while letting parents know their wishes no longer matter and that the child must always, physically and emotionally come first.
Modern humans have been having babies for about 200,000 years, the last 6,000 as a part of civilization as we know it.
Intensive, all consuming, sacrifice everything, “good mother” parenting has only been the social collective guilt for the last two hundred years.
So for 198,000 years, babies survived without running the household and burning out mothers in the process.
Does this mean we should go back to handing kids off to servants, beat the little demons out of them, and defer all parenting decisions solely to our husbands? Of course not, but it does challenge some assumptions around roles in the family and the importance of the always present, all sacrificing, ever giving mother figure.
Good Enough is Good Enough
Our kids do not need (or want) us to do everything for them. The kids will be okay if we ask for help, let some things go, or put ourselves first once and awhile.
The kids will be okay, better even, if we give them more responsibilities, demonstrate self care, and help them understand the world does not revolve around them.
Children will not do as we say but as we do. Would we counsel our daughters to put their dreams aside? Would we tell our sons it’s okay to let their health deteriorate? Would we make our kids feel guilty for saying no to things that overwhelmed their daily lives?
What if you could still be the present, loving, involved mom you want to be, while feeling less crushed by the chaos of daily life? What if you could have relationships, interests, and time to feed your soul? What if you had less stress?
Not only do you deserve to live this way, but your family deserves more than the angry, burnt out, exhausted shell of a person you may have become. Please understand it’s not only okay to want more, but it is absolutely critical that you demand more for yourself. That you will be a better wife, friend, and mother when you put yourself first, even if only once and awhile.
It begins by letting go of all the bullshit you’ve come to believe about being a good mom and accept that good enough really is good enough.
Maybe society will view you as the most amazing, devoted, hardworking, selfless mother on the planet, but to the people who matter most, you’re probably just the lady who is always correcting, yelling, sulking, demanding or rushing them through life.
Redefine What it Means to Be a Good Mom
Good moms do everything for their children Good moms teach their children to do everything for themselves.
Remind yourself that mowing down obstacles, shielding them from pain and disappointment, and generally making their life easy is not.your.job. In fact, doing this regularly will only inhibit their ability to grow into resilient, successful adults capable of handling their own lives. Our job is to love, support, guide and nurture our children. And most importantly, teach them not to be assholes. If we’re doing that, everything else is just gravy.
Good moms put their children first always. Good moms prioritize themselves sometimes.
It is okay to leave the kids in daycare so you can recharge. You should make time for your spouse over your children on a regular basis. You get to use your hard earned cash on yourself sometimes instead of buying new toys, clothes, or games they don’t need.
Our kids not only need to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them, but they also need to see what self care looks like. SHOW them how to slow down, take care of themselves, and say “NO” confidently and guilt-free. You can better handle the demands of motherhood when you prioritize yourself. The Little eBook of Self Care is filled with over 50 original ideas (beyond the cliches) to help you rest, recharge, and remember to put yourself first from time to time and is a great place to start.
Good moms go the extra mile. Good moms effectively manage their time.
I was a much “better” mother when my oldest was in preschool. When it was Charlie’s turn to bring snacks, I chose only healthy, homemade options. I bagged freshly washed grapes, sent a homemade melon salad, and made my own sliced apple bags.
Fast forward eight years later to last week, when I realized at drop off I completely forgot it was Vivienne’s day to bring snacks. I left her, ran to the dollar store, bought a box of fruit snacks and delivered them 10 minutes after class started. And guess what? She was thrilled, the kids were happy, and I saved myself about 30 precious minutes of washing, chopping, and bagging fresh fruit.
Sending fruit to school doesn’t prove I’m a good mother it just proves I care about the teacher thinking I’m a good mother. Send fruit if you wish, of course, but the truth is, I only sent it the first time because I had this idea that “bad” moms bought snacks, that somehow the effort and energy that goes into preschool snack prep is directly correlated to how much I love them.
Your value is not connected to how hard you work, the effort you exert, or how much you sacrifice.
You can spend an hour making homemade pancakes Saturday morning or you can throw frozen ones in the microwave and spend the remaining 58 minutes cuddling your kiddos while watching cartoons. You can stay up until 1 am decoupaging mason jars for a birthday party or hit up Party City and instead spend the evening talking and laughing with your spouse.
Let Go of Expectations
I could go on and on about the danger of expectations, but just remember “Life is what happens when we’re making other plans.” Life is what happens when you waste all your energy worrying about being a good mothering instead of just being a present, happy, imperfect one.
Stop confusing perfection, effort, and sacrifice with love.
Love doesn’t have anything to do with homemade Halloween costumes, giving up your career, or putting yourself last. Please remember, most of the shit you spent all your energy and effort worrying about is the last thing that matters.