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Mom Blog: On Being a Good (and Bad) Mother

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For the past few years, we have run this article on Being a Good (and Bad) Mother on our mommy blog 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.

Bad mothers.

Yes.

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?! Note: Used with permission by the author.

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Comments
  • comment avatar Deanna May 5, 2008

    Love this post! I linked it on my Cafe Mom site here…http://www.cafemom.com/journals/read.php?post_id=966426&posted=1

  • comment avatar Heidi May 5, 2008

    How brilliantly put! I try hard not to judge, and yet I am guilty of doing it all the time. All the while being incredibly hard on myself and my own parenting skills.

    I think it is partly an obsession with ‘perfection’. Why do we expect perfection in ourselves and each other? Why can’t we settle for ‘doing our best’ ?

    I also see us doing it to our own children as they grow up – we want them to be perfectly mannered, perfectly dressed, straight A students, musicians, athletes, the works.

    Let’s stop for a while and just enjoy.

  • comment avatar Lisa Benson May 5, 2008

    Blast, I wanted that brunch giveaway. I guess I’ll just have to bribe my family to buy it for me now!

    And as for being a good mom, I am great at bribing (of course 🙂 and ensuring my family’s needs are always taken care of!

  • comment avatar yvonne May 5, 2008

    A wonderful post, Amber. Thank you. I know I’ve made a lot of mistakes as a mother, but I have tried to do my best. I think it is our own insecurities that cause us to be critical of others.
    We need to stop and help and encourage one another.

  • comment avatar cheryl May 5, 2008

    Wow. That was awesome. I’m off to post a link to this on my blog!!

  • comment avatar cheryl May 5, 2008

    Oops! my blog URL:
    cherylthoughts.blogspot.com

  • comment avatar Beth - Total Mom Haircut May 5, 2008

    Amber, awesome post. Seriously. I’ve tried to say this several times on my blog but you’ve said it best, here. I’ll link to this later this week – it’s something we all need to read.

    http://www.totalmomhaircut.com

  • comment avatar Txmommy May 5, 2008

    this was a great post. Thanks! You really articulated well a big problem society has. We need to support each other and help each other and most of all not look at what others are doing when making choices for our own families, but trust in our own thought and feelings.

  • comment avatar Paige May 5, 2008

    Wow. I don’t know any bad mothers. Really. I know a lot of different mothers who have different parenting styles and different levels of control, but they all love their kids and want what’s best for them. And I wish the best of mother’s days to all the mothers out there who are trying hard and doing their best with what they have.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  • comment avatar FFG May 5, 2008

    It is sad that women often tear each other down. Supporting each other could make all the difference.

  • comment avatar Joanne May 5, 2008

    I’ve never been able to understand why women feel so competitive about mothering. Why do we fight and claw to prove our parenting is best? It IS best…at least for OUR children. We should not presume to know what is best for her children.

    It took becoming a grandmother of a special needs child, for me to realize how judgemental I’d been of other mothers.

    http://www.live4truth13.blogspot.com/

  • comment avatar lulujohnson May 5, 2008

    I think it’s very hard to say what a bad mom is. The line is so thin. Question though, are you a bad mom if you do something for your own selfish reasons. I’ve had a few friends who smoked while pregnant and they stated the reason why they did it is because they needed something to relieve the stress, or had a friend who did not breast feed because she wanted to keep her boobs looking good after having the baby. This is not neglect but doesn’t seem like being the best mom you can be. Bad mother’s?

  • comment avatar Richelle F May 5, 2008

    That is a great post. Thanks for the reminder to not judge other mothers. It is hard sometimes.

  • comment avatar Anonymous May 5, 2008

    have you read “Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety” (Judith Warner)

    your blog reminded me of one of the overlying themes of this book…

    I’m not a mom – but I sent this blog to all my mom friends who seem to always be at the mercy of some “perfect” mom and her childrearing advice….

  • comment avatar Lizzy May 5, 2008

    Amen.

  • comment avatar Leslie May 5, 2008

    What an amazing post. Made me think…a lot!
    I’m going to link to you on my blog today. Thanks Amber!

  • comment avatar Andrea May 5, 2008

    Wow! Thanks for the great post. SOOOO true.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson May 5, 2008

    Thanks for all your feedback, ladies. You’re correct: she really nailed it with this. What a great reminder it was for me as well!

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson May 5, 2008

    Lulu- I agree and think the line for a bad mom is indeed very thin. But I think too often we place judgment on parenting preferences and don’t look at the big picture.

  • comment avatar Lisa May 5, 2008

    If I had the time I would cry. This week is teacher appreciation week, our 15th anniversary, and Mother’s Day. All I have been able to do is see all the areas I’ve failed in being a wife, mother, and teacher. I hate being needy, but I really needed someone to tell me that I’m doing ok. Thanks for the reminder.

  • comment avatar Suzanne May 5, 2008

    Great post, Amber! I think we could all learn from it! 🙂

  • comment avatar Catherine Dix May 5, 2008

    I’m totally with you on ditching self-righteousness everywhere. But… I’m not quite ready to ditch my parenting books. 😉

    Great post!

  • comment avatar Ana May 5, 2008

    Brilliant!
    I’m remind of an incident in the park where a mother was horrified because I gave my son juice to drink. I remember thinking to myself “Well at least it wasn’t gin and juice.” However, not long after that I judged a woman who was letting his child walk around w/o shoes thinking to myself “dogs poop around here, how gross.” I was being no different than that woman who judge me for giving my son juice.

    I will definately pass this on!

  • comment avatar Elizabeth F Deane May 5, 2008

    Great post! Here’s to great moms everywhere!

  • comment avatar MaryRuth May 5, 2008

    well said Amber. thanks for sharing.

  • comment avatar chel May 5, 2008

    They do call “being a mom” one of the hardest jobs ever. Learning from each other and supporting each other is key. All of our kids are different and require different things, needs and wants.
    We are so quick to judge another mother for something we are against, but it doesn’t make them a bad mother!
    I loved your post and your words. You said it all perfectly.

  • comment avatar Sheila King [http://www.tonynsheilaking.blogspot.com/] May 5, 2008

    I absolutely loved this post. YOU hit the nail on the head… we all need to support each other just because we are women and have so much in common. We may not agree with someone elses decisions or methods, but because we might choose something different… doesn’t make the other person wrong in her decision. Thank you so much. toodles, Sheila, NV

  • comment avatar Tanya May 5, 2008

    Great post Amber!!

  • comment avatar aubrey May 5, 2008

    what a beautiful and heartwrenching post. thanks for sharing!

  • comment avatar Eve May 5, 2008

    Damn, that is some harsh stuff. Didn’t expect it. Well, lately I’ve been treated pretty nasty by strangers for the only reason that I have four children. People can think what they want, but when they come up to me and tell me that they can’t believe I would even WANT “THAT MANY” it always takes my breath away. Especially considering my children’s behavior has been great on these occasions. Someone even asked if any of them were “oops babies.” The nerve. Well, there are way too many times we’re ALL selfish or ignorant or less-than exemplary in our mothering, but if we truly love our children, then I think that mothers, in general, are doing the best that they can. And we need to love and support each other more, as fellow mothers. Don’t be afraid to speak up and compliment other mothers in public–she might replay that nice comment over and over in her head–and how much nicer that would be than a nasty comment intentionally dropped to hurt.

  • comment avatar Lara May 6, 2008

    This was just wonderful. And so true. I don’t often judge other mothers, but I certainly berate myself more than enough! This post really made me feel better about myself as a mother. Thanks for that. 🙂

    http://www.lalakme.blogspot.com

  • comment avatar Cherrye May 6, 2008

    Nicely said, Amber! I find myself doing that, and I am not even a mom yet!

    http://my-bella-vita.com

  • comment avatar Carol May 6, 2008

    I try not to judge but it’s hard not to sometimes. It’s human nature I think!

    This post is good for me in a different way. It actually makes me feel better about myself. I am a new mother… not to a baby but to a teenager. I’ve never had kids of my own so this was a struggle for me to have someone who is not completely self-sufficient living with me.

    I am harder on myself than others are on me. I hear other mothers talk about how they cook their kids healthy organic meals every evening and how they would NEVER cook all of that processed frozen foods with all of the preservatives, sodium and such. So I feel guilty because I do that. I try to make a good homemade meal every night but it’s hard when you don’t get home until 6pm and you are just starting.

    However, I never mistreat my stepdaughter and love her as if she were my own daughter. So maybe I will stop being hard on other mothers and myself!

  • comment avatar Carol May 6, 2008

    Oops! My blog… mrssquirrelassassin.blogspot.com

  • comment avatar diana/sunshine May 6, 2008

    great post, amber. i couldn’t agree more. we should be supporting and encouraging each other instead of judging. i am much more willing to learn from someone who i know is in my corner.

  • comment avatar Jody May 6, 2008

    Thank you for this post. I agree completely! Our culture has gotten much too caught up in the “image of parenting”. Trust your own instincts and trust that others’ instincts are appropriate for their children too.

    Jody @ Mile High Mommy

  • comment avatar Lauren May 6, 2008

    You know I am always feeling like I am a lousy mother…I needed this. Thank You.

  • comment avatar Anonymous May 6, 2008

    Standing applause with lots of cheering.

    And I’ll be linking this post to my blog.

  • comment avatar Anna Maria Junus May 6, 2008

    Okay, that last comment was from me. I didn’t realize I had to sign it.
    🙂

    amjunus.blogspot.com

  • comment avatar Amanda May 6, 2008

    So well put! There are things in this life that just don’t matter–and we all too often judge others, (not just even other moms), on those things. I do try to refrain from judgment, but all too often find myself falling into that trap. As we gain understanding, we certainly step away from judgment more often. Thanks for the post!

  • comment avatar Shannon May 6, 2008

    Well said.

    And just for the record, we gave our son a lolli to enjoy during every one of his haircuts from 12 months on!

  • comment avatar Guinevere Meadow May 7, 2008

    Thanks for this, Amber.

  • comment avatar Sabrina Koogler May 7, 2008

    Bravo. What a wonderful post by you both. There’s been so much about judgement out there in the blog world lately and this really puts a face to it all. Thanks.

  • comment avatar Jamie May 7, 2008

    Great thoughts!

    It takes a tribe to raise kids. If we didn’t cut down or disapprove of those around us so much we would all have a little more help.

  • comment avatar Ashby May 7, 2008

    What a great blog! I’m a first-timer, although it looks like I may be a frequent visitor! Love your sire!

  • comment avatar dana May 8, 2008

    I am one of those mommies who gives her kids pizza, pancakes and chocolate just about every day…just to shut them up for 15 minutes so I can shower or, shamefully, surf the Internet in peace.

    I was at Target the other day (Target is the only store I get to shop at nowadays…love Target!) and a complete stranger felt the need to lecture me about the Danger of Binkies because my 2 year old had one. ARGH! Frankly, I’m a lot more worried about teaching her to say “please” and “thank you” and “could you help me with this” than getting rid of the bink!

    I completely agree about the criticism and backstabbing that mommies do. I really wish we could realize that we are all in it together–and none of us is perfect but we are doing the best we can. This parenting stuff is HARD, and I wish more women were supportive of that fact,

    Great post, thanks for addressing an issue that frequently gets my panties in a wad 🙂

  • comment avatar UtahMommy May 8, 2008

    Thank you! There is much more to say than this! Thank you for reminding me what it really means to be a mom!

    I will be adding this to my blog and sending to a few family and friends!

    http://www.jwittfamily.blogspot.com

  • comment avatar Lisa May 8, 2008

    This is a great post! Thanks so much for reminding us we are all human!!!!

  • comment avatar Allie May 8, 2008

    Incredible. What a humbling post Amber. Upon first reading this, I was nodding my head and agreeing with you. But half way through, it dawned on me that I too have been guilty of judging in the past when I never really realized that I was. Thank you for the eye opener.

    Happy Mother’s Day!!

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  • comment avatar White Hot Magik May 11, 2008

    Amber, that is one of your best entries ever. There are a whole lot of difference that we quibble about that don’t really mean a thing. Thanks for being a good mom and reminding us what makes one.

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  • comment avatar Krista December 18, 2009

    Wow this was an amazing post 🙂

  • comment avatar imaginary binky May 5, 2010

    Beautifully written, my friend.

  • comment avatar Lisa Vratny-Smith May 5, 2010

    Brought me to tears, Amber.
    Thank you for encouraging a community of moms supporting each other and being gentle with themselves.

  • comment avatar Denver Mon May 6, 2010

    Well put! I will be much more conscious of this now, to not be so judgemental of myself or others. Thank you for this post!

  • comment avatar Katie May 7, 2010

    Great post Amber. Also check out this cute Mother’s Day tribute video created by a hospital to say thanks to moms around the country:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HkWc9qcuJ2

    Happy Mother’s Day!

  • comment avatar Mama Bird May 10, 2010

    I’ve been meaning to read this since you first posted. Glad I finally got to it! Well said, Amber! We all need to hear it, too. Because, like you point out, we all beat ourselves up over something trying to be the perfect mom. Good reminder to also pat ourselves on the back for the ways in which we are great mothers!

  • comment avatar Joanna May 10, 2010

    Mothers tend to be very hard on themselves, often second-guessing their actions/reactions. But like you write, most mothers are good if not great moms. I always try to remind myself that as long as my child is safe and happy, I’m doing a great job as a parent. That really should be enough!

  • comment avatar Kelly Ozley July 14, 2010

    I really loved this post. As a single mom I worry ALL THE TIME that I am a bad mother and that they will be permanently scarred.
    Kelly Ozley
    kellyozley.wordpress.com

  • comment avatar Michele May 2, 2011

    Great article! Will share with my friends

  • comment avatar heidi chowen May 2, 2011

    Fantastic post!! I love this. Every parent should read it…well, everyone should read it really. Thank you for writing this. xoxo

  • comment avatar Daria May 16, 2012

    I loved this. Thank you for reminding us to treat each other with kindness and a dose of reality rather than leaping to judge. Excellent post Amber!

  • comment avatar Nicole Emanuel-Cordova May 27, 2015

    I really enjoyed reading this! Its a great reminder that just because as mothers we do it differently than other mom does NOT mean we are doing it wrong. I have been reading Jill Savages “No More Perfect Moms’ and find so many similarities in needing to be perfect, losing sight of the great and wonderful small things that make life so enjoyable. Thanks again.

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