“You’re such a good mom.”
This is one of the most loaded compliments a mother hears. It’s loaded with someone else’s biases. They’re basically saying, “You mother in the way I think you should, therefore, I approve of your mothering.” It’s a value judgment, not a truth. And its not satisfying to have others approve of us, especially when we are doubting or questioning ourselves.
This thing, the good mother thing. We have it in us the way as women we have messages about being nice, or thin, or helpful. Being a “good” mother in society is kind of like being a “good” woman, which is something defined by someone else’s standards, ideas, and values, NOT our own. And, its super limited.
Here is an example of the thinking one has when ping ponging between other’s values as a mom:
I should sleep with my kids. I shouldn’t sleep with my kids. I should give the baby tylenol for her fever/teething to help with her discomfort. I should only use natural remedies. I should spend more time at home. I should spend more time at work. I should put my kids in more activities. I should have more downtime with my kids. I should feed them only organic gluten free foods. I should be less rigid around their eating. I should be more patient. I should be more firm. I should be more disciplined with the kids. I should loosen up a bit. I should clean my house more. I should let things go more.
These are all examples of spinning out on someone else’s track, and needing to BACK AWAY SLOWLY. This way of thinking leads us nowhere besides the land of uncertainty and self doubt. Unless, we become so sick of it, we ditch it all in search of our own answers. Which I’m completely in favor of.
Truth be told, I have said, “You’re such a good mom,” to other moms. Like when I see my beautiful friend doubt her way of mothering, her worth, and her incomparable value to her family. Interestingly, its not uncommon to see an incredibly loving and devoted woman wondering if she is fucking everything up.
What I really meant to say to her though was, “I see how much you care. I see and know how hard mothering is sometimes. I believe in you, I love you, and am here for you.” Hopefully this intention came through.
But I’m done saying it. The phrase “good mother” is so charged with other’s expectations and ideas about motherhood, it just doesn’t help. I’d rather find another way to help her with her emotions. Besides, if we are all trying to just be a “good mom,” we have missed something much more essential to our own and our family’s wellbeing: being ourselves.
It sounds so easy, right? Just be yourself. Love yourself! Accept yourself!
Ah, if only it worked that way. If we don’t pause, and learn to track our inner experience and the way it shifts and evolves, we are at risk of glossing over the deeper identity and value changes that emerge within motherhood.
When motherhood comes along, I don’t care how well you know yourself, its going to throw you. Motherhood is a great equalizer. No one gets out unaltered by the experience.
As a mother, we are launched into making decisions of enormous gravity about our children’s lives and wellbeing, as well as our own. We change our lives, and go through a major process of adjusting. Motherhood can be exciting and liberating. It can also be incredibly boring and stifling, depending on the day. In order to deal with all of this in a way that doesn’t completely stress us out and deplete us, we have to get to know ourselves and who we have become through this process of mothering.
How am I finding my own way with mothering, one that accurately reflects me? It’s actually not that hard, although I have made it hard by resisting the obvious sometimes. The answers are built right into the experience of mothering.
As mothers, we find out real fast what we suck at and what we need help with (and hopefully also what our mothering genius is, too). Motherhood naturally destroys the fantasies of who we think we are or who we wish we could be. It gives us the opportunity to know ourselves deeply. We learn through trial and error, through getting schooled and through our triumphs. We learn what we love to do, which aspects of mothering we thrive in, where we need help–all through our direct experience.
As mothers, we learn that the simplest things can be the most profound. That things like a nap, a good meal sitting down the whole time, and a quiet evening with our partner, are some of the most glorious things in life. We learn about our enormous capacity for love, and for pain. We learn about our limits. We learn that despite our endless love for our children, we can’t be “on” or with them all the time. We learn that we don’t have endless patience for these innocent beings, and that sometimes it is used up by 8am. We learn that while we want to give our children all of us, we also realize that without some essential boundaries we could use up our precious life force entirely in their first 3 years, give or take.
When I’m trying to be a “good” mother, its like trying to be someone I am not. And despite it feeling awful to try to be someone other than myself, I have tried. I have tried because I doubted whether the way that I am is ok, or enough.
There are ways of mothering that just aren’t for me. For instance, I suck at being an “entertainer” mom. I am miserable at planning a birthday party beyond cake and guests, or organizing fun filled days of adventure beyond a hike or a picnic. I have learned to hire gifted teachers who love nothing more than making art, doing performances, teaching traditional crafts, and deeply nurturing my kid’s creative little souls. My son has mourned the fact that I cannot teach him a single craft. Really, we have processed this. Knitting, felting, weaving, and making fairy houses are some of his favorite things to do. I struggle with drawing, let alone building a tiny elf king’s piano out of nature objects.
It would be so cool if I could knit amazing shit for everyone, including myself, but so far its just not happening. I recently did start knitting a scarf with my son, though. But the reason I agreed to the knitting in the first place was because it was a great way to hang out with him and connect with him, which I really love to do.
My way of mothering centers around showing up for my kids in a way that has them feel cared for, loved, and seen. I want them to feel at home and safe with me and in our home. I want them to feel permission to be themselves, in all of their struggles, brilliance, and power. I want them to feel I am predictable, and I want to demonstrate clear, congruent boundaries. I want to feel deeply connected to them on every level. The way I do this as a mother is in my particular way, a way no one else can show me how to do.
My mothering is simple and not real flashy. It requires that I attend to myself very well so that I have consistent, sustainable energy for mothering. Knowing myself in this way provides me with a compass, and a point of orientation, in the ever evolving needs of our family.
So no. I don’t want to be a good mother. I want to be the mother I am meant to be. I want to mother with love and gratitude for this incredible opportunity and responsibility. I want to maintain my vitality, for me, my children, and for all the other areas of my life. I want to keep learning with each and every step into this unknown of being a mother. It can feel like a revolution inside to find my own way of mothering. And as I make my way along my path, bushwhacking, caught off guard at times, and very inspired often, I hope to see a glimpse of you on yours.