On Being a Good (and Bad) Mother
For the past few years, we have run this article on Being a Good (and Bad) Mother for Mother’s Day. It is a good reminder of why we’re in this together and you are great.
Every year, mothers are celebrated on that one special May day (which is not to be confused with “mayday,” another word with which mamas are familiar).
And every year growing up, I remember my mother was consumed with guilt and inadequacy, the very antithesis of what Mother’s Day is supposed to be about. Was she the perfect mom? Of course not. None of us are. But she loved, sacrificed and cared for her children as best she could.
A few years ago, I was at a resale children’s clothing store. As I poked around, the shopkeeper asked the age of my son and she confided she had a boy his same age. At check-out, I grabbed both of my children a free sucker to reward them for their good behavior. She looked at me and distastefully commented,
“I just can’t imagine giving my 21-month-old child a sucker.”
I laughed her off but almost wished I had said something like, “Yeah, I feed him straight sugar via intravenous for breakfast.”
As I walked out of the store, I was irate. How dare she criticize me? At that same moment, I noticed a very tan, very pregnant woman leaving the adjacent tanning salon. Immediately, I placed judgment as I incredulously thought, “I can’t believe she is doing that!”
I stopped myself. I did not know that woman. I did not know her circumstances. For all I knew, she had just received a spray-on tan or her skin was naturally that color.
Being a bad mother does not mean you give your child a sucker. It does not mean that you feed your baby formula instead of breastfeeding or that you choose to work instead of stay home. Being a bad mother is not about using disposable vs. cloth diapers or failing to feed your child organic food. Religion (or lack of it) does not make you a bad mother, either.
Don’t get me wrong. There are bad mothers out there. I was recently lead to a fantastic blog post by Sabrina Porterfield on this very subject:
“There are women out there who are bad mothers. There are mothers shooting up while their children die of starvation and neglect in the next room. There are mothers out there who stuff a pillow over their heads so they don’t have to listen to the whimpers from their 8 year olds while their fathers sodomize them. There are mothers out there who abandon their children on the street because they no longer wish to care for them. There are women who slowly twist their children’s limbs until they snap while their children cry and beg, promising to be good.
But most of us are not.
At some point along the line, women in the Western world stopped trusting their instincts. We began to listen to doctors. We eagerly read studies and books that would confirm to us that yes, we were good mothers!
And worse, we began to betray each other. We began to gather in camps, and we set up rules for what constituted good mothering. And any mother who strayed outside those rules was a bad mother. We’d sit together over tea and discuss in outraged tones the ignorant woman down the street who bottle-fed her child from birth, smugly asserting our superiority in breastfeeding our own children for years. We’d converse over a power lunch about the poor deluded woman who quit her high-profile job so she could stay home and finger-paint, rolling our eyes and congratulating ourselves on our excellent luck in nannies. We’d snipe over email and on message boards, on blogs and over the phone.
Look at me! I am a better mother! And I can prove it to you by surrounding myself with other mothers who think just like me! I can prove it by shoving these books in your face! I can prove it by demeaning other mothers who have made different choices than mine!
Why are we doing this?
Why can’t we feel confident in our own mothering choices? Why do we feel such a need to prove ourselves through book after book and scorn directed towards other mothers?
Ask yourself, and be honest. When was the last time you criticized another mother in your mind? Was it today? Was it yesterday?
The next time you hear yourself making a nasty comment about another mother…stop. Just stop. And ask yourself – is she really a bad mother? Does she abuse her child? Does she neglect her child? Co-sleeping is not abuse. Bottle-feeding is not neglect. Think about what is coming out of your mouth.
Do not diminish the pain of a child who sleeps chained in a closet, ribs cracked from her latest beating by equating her to a child who has learned to sleep by crying it out for a few nights in her crib. Do not diminish the pain of a child who has been sexually abused by equating her to a child that sleeps peacefully between her loving parents. Do not diminish the pain of a child who has not eaten for days by equating her to a child who is not fed meat or who drinks formula.
None of us are perfect. And we will all make mistakes. We will learn, we will revise our thinking; we will throw up our hands and let go of a long cherished ideal because we have just got to do it or collapse.
So how about instead of attacking other mothers, we start feeling confident about ourselves? How about we look to our own children instead of spending time self-righteously judging everyone else’s? Throw away your parenting books. Think about what your doctor tells you and evaluate what it means. When other mothers criticize you, shake it off and ignore the temptation to turn around and attack back.
Let’s try supporting each other for a change. I think it would make all of us better mothers to do so.”
Forward this link to all the mothers you know and let’s rejoice in ourselves and each other this Mother’s Day! And tell us what makes you a good mother?!