What is the definition of a good mom anyway? There are as many answers as there are mothers, and the answers are formed by the mothers who raised us, where we grew up, where we currently live, how much media we let into our lives, and even how we’ve been educated. All these influences combine until each of us has our own somewhat self-imposed idea of what constitutes a good mom. And for some of us, we can never match up.
If you are one of those moms who feels more than a little discouraged by all the ways you seemingly fall short, I’d like to invite you to spend a few minutes challenging your preconceived notions, casting off unrealistic ideals, and redefining what it means to be a good mom based on your own personal strengths and circumstances.
Why is this even important? Because a mother who feels like she is failing based on unchallenged stereotypes isn’t nearly as confident, content, and successful as a mother who recognizes and works with both her unique strengths as well as her challenges.
Here’s the Reader’s Digest version of how this little mental switch worked for me:
My default definition of a good mother basically boiled down to a domestic goddess. Someone who could cook, clean, sew, craft, and garden like Martha. I’m pretty sure this came from my own experiences growing up. I have memories of my mother canning her own garden fresh produce, sewing Barbie clothes, and making homemade bread. I can remember her mother–my grandmother–cooking three hot meals a day, tending a large flower and vegetable garden, and making gorgeous dolls from old bleach bottles to give as gifts or sell at the church bazaar.
Rather unintentionally, this definition grew over the years as I approached my own journey into motherhood. It didn’t just evolve based on my own generation’s special flavor, it ballooned into an impossibly broad definition that included both the domestic goddess as well as the fitness guru, fashionista, home based businesswoman, and unstoppable soccer mom. My definition of what it meant to be a good mom was now spanning two or three generations of Supermoms.
Essentially, I created a monster–an amalgam of Martha Stewart, Kelly Ripa, June Cleaver, and Ma from Little House on the Prairie–and it wasn’t pretty. What I failed to consider was that Martha had only one child to my four, Kelly has a personal trainer and chef, June didn’t drive her kids to 27 activities per week, and no one expected Ma to do yoga each morning before gathering the eggs.
After several years of unsuccessfully trying to do it all (crashing and burning more than once), I started to recognize that I needed to drastically change my definition of a good mom, and I needed to begin by throwing out the things I didn’t even like to do such as sewing and crafting, frequent shopping for clothing and home decor, and yoga. (Despise them all.)
I also started asking myself tough questions like, “Does it really matter if my home is spotless every day?” “Is making 32 hand frosted cupcakes really the best use of my limited time and energy on my child’s birthday?” and “How do I want my kids to remember me? Trim and toned, or soft and accessible?” (Of course, for those of you who can do it all and still be at peace with yourself, congratulations! But for most of us, something’s got to give.)
After throwing out the things I didn’t enjoy (with the exception of those things that can never be completely obliterated, like diapers and dishes), and weeding out others that felt irrelevant to what I really wanted to accomplish as I mother, I realized there were now some serious holes in my definition. I needed something to go on. Where could I look for help in creating a new and improved definition of what it meant to be a good mom–a definition that would work for me? Personal history? Popular culture? Pinterest?
The answer was clear. I needed to look within myself.
Of course, there are many resources (like The Power of Moms!) that can help in the process of becoming a better mother, but ultimately, what it means to be a good mom can only be defined by each individual mother. Since there is no one-size-fits-all definition, it’s probably better to ask the question How can I be the best mom I can be? rather than What makes a good mom?
One of the tough things about trying to tailor your personal strengths and challenges to motherhood is that it is most definitely a jack-of-all-trades kind of job. Wether or not you are good at it, wether or not you like it, and whether or not you have the time, support, and energy for it, motherhood requires you to be a homemaker, tutor, personal shopper, nurse, psychologist, short order cook, semi-professional organizer of both time and stuff, cheerleader, activities coordinator, party planner, taxi driver, and the list goes on and on. (Mothers truly are amazing! Especially when you consider that they do many of these things on top of other work, both paid and volunteer.)
Keeping all of this in mind, I’d like to suggest three ways to become the best mom you can be.
1) Start where you are. Maybe you didn’t grow up with a great role model for a mother. Maybe you’re a single mom without a lot of support. Maybe you’ve got everything you could have ever hoped for but are nonetheless struggling with postpartum depression. The myriad of personal challenges and life situations that influence our ability to measure up to our own idea of “personal best” can’t be addressed here, but each of us can take an honest look at our lives and and promise ourselves to simply start where we are.
I’ve compared motherhood to other types of work, but unlike most other jobs or professions, motherhood often requires a wide variety of skill sets that many women haven’t been trained or prepared for. Be easy on yourself and remember that on the job training (often without a boss or mentor) is no easy thing. It’s also important to remember that while you may still have a lot to learn about time management or basic homemaking skills, showing love to your child through kind words or doing something special with them will say “good mom” more than anything!
2) Focus on your strengths. Can’t cook, but love to paint? Do artwork with your children over mugs of Progresso soup. (No one will die of malnutrition.)Terrible at decorating, but great at organizing? Your kids will be much more grateful to find their shoes every morning than to have designer pillows on the sofa. Horrible at organizing, but full of patience and good humor? Fantastic! (Really, what’s more important?) More of a thinker than a doer? You’re going to make a great tutor when your kids are in school. It’s all good, and you can rest assured that your children were sent to your home because they needed to benefit from whatever it is you have to offer. Remember that being a “good mom” is ultimately about the relationship you develop with your children and the important life skills you pass on to them, not the outward, superficial things we often associate with the definition of a “good mom.”
3) Do what you love to do. Like other types of work, there will always be certain unenjoyable parts of motherhood that just come with the territory (like dealing with a screaming baby at 3am, or cleaning up the same toddler-made mess twenty times a day, or trying to persuade a teenager to talk about their day), but don’t let yourself get lost in unpleasant details or the idea that being a mother is all about selfless work and sacrifice. When someone chooses to be a school teacher, or a doctor, or an engineer, they most likely choose that profession because there is some inherent interest in and love for the work that they do. Isn’t it the same with motherhood? Most likely, you had some initial motivation for becoming a mother; a vision of the wonderful moments you would enjoy with your children or the things you would accomplish. As much as possible, do those things!
While I do take care of the basics, my own journey to becoming the best mom I could be led me to throw out my overblown expectations of being a dream homemaker as I remembered what I loved to do before I became a mother: journal and take pictures. Bingo! A personal blog to record my family’s history was a perfect outlet for me and helped me feel like I was accomplishing something meaningful for me and my family. I didn’t feel that when I was cleaning, decorating, and organizing during every spare moment of my life. But while the process of blogging helped me to feel more love and gratitude for being a mother as I focused on the positive moments in my family’s life, it wasn’t really something I could enjoy with my children. (And I do think it’s important to have both.)
It’s taken several years to figure out what makes both me and our family tick, but in the end, our collective personality is really starting to gel. We love nature so we plan trips to national parks, we love music so we’re learning to play different instruments, and we love to eat and cook, so we have fun making food at home and trying new things when we’re out and about. Doing what you love to do (alone and with your family) adds zest to life and creates opportunities to bond as a family.
By starting where you are, focusing on your strengths, and doing what you love to do, it becomes easier to let go of the irrelevant or ill-fitting expectations and standards you’ve developed over the years and create your own definition of what it means to be a good mom. When you start where you are, you put the past in it’s place and allow yourself to experience success little by little. When you focus on the things you’re already good at, you get a boost of confidence that encourages you to learn new things. And when you do what you love to do, you usually do it well, creating a sense of contentment as well as energy for the less enjoyable things that still need to get done. You can’t go wrong!
Question: What’s your personal definition of a good mom? What’s getting in your way?
Challenge: Take a few minutes to sit down and define on paper what it means to be the best mom you can be.