When I became a mother, I was a kind of bummed that motherhood doesn’t come with an instruction manual. Yet there are a huge number of societal expectations for what being a “good mother” looks like.
Frankly, the same holds true for any role where society puts pressure on how you’re “supposed to be”. Being a good spouse, father, daughter, employee, and the list goes on.
No one is immune from societal norms.
Trying to be a “Good Mother”
For the longest time, my attempts to be a “good mother” were accompanied by stress and negative emotions.
Especially guilt about not being at home all the time, worry that this would somehow disadvantage my kids, fear of missing out on their firsts (as in first steps, first words, etc.), fear of being judged and found inadequate, and fear of my children being judged based on my inadequacies.
This drove me to ridiculous lengths and even exhaustion to do the things I believed a good mother should do.
Like the time I rushed from my office to the school concert, sweating profusely as I slid into the back row with seconds to spare, only for my 8-year-old to tell me that night at home, “Mom, I don’t really care if you come to my concerts. They’re not a big deal. I care way more about my sports matches.”
Or baking chocolate chip cookies from scratch after I got home from a business trip at 11pm so my daughter wouldn’t be the only one to bring store-bought cookies for the next day’s bake sale.
And insisting on sewing Halloween costumes for all three girls instead of buying the perfectly good store-made ones just because I was afraid of judgement from other kids and parents.
There’s No One Right Answer
Looking back, I can honestly say that my approach to being a “good mother” was not sparking joy for me and probably not for my children either. And it certainly wasn’t sustainable.
It was only years later that I realized that being a “good mother” (or a good anything) is up to your own interpretation.
There is NO single, correct standard because being a “good mother” is in the eyes of the beholder.
Most importantly, you’re more likely to be a good mother when you’re operating from a basis of caring, connection, trust, love and joy rather than guilt, worry and fear.
A Path to Success
Since then, I’ve gained confidence that I am a good mother – partly because my daughters have told me that I am.
But also because I’ve learned some valuable lessons that helped me change my ways and find a path to success – one that doesn’t involve going overboard to conform to some imaginary perfect person.
Things to Do Less of
First, there are a few things I’ve learned to give up doing. And if you like having peace of mind as much as I do, I encourage you to consider these too.
1. Don’t make assumptions
Find out what your children (and others you love) truly care about and need. Focus on those things and disregard the rest.
Always check your assumptions before diving in – it’ll save you time, energy and emotional wear and tear (and probably money too!).
2. Don’t judge yourself
Cut yourself some slack. No one is perfect. And those who are trying too hard (like I was) are making life difficult not only for themselves, but for the people around them too.
As extra credit, cut other people some slack too. You’ll have more friends and an easier life.
3. Don’t project your guilt and fears onto others
The other side of the coin from judging yourself is fearing that others must be judging you too.
If they are judging you, does it really matter?
When I stopped thinking that others must be judging me as a mother and stopped letting the things that other mothers did for their children make me feel guilty, life got much easier.
Things to Do More of
There are things I learned I had to start doing to be a good mother… and a good person.
1. Give yourself permission to do it your way
It’s so much easier to be good and feel good when you use your own intuition and situation as your guide. Learn to let go of the definitions dictated by society or other people and choose to be the kind of mother you want to be.
2. Use the “no regrets” test
I’m a fan of living a “no regrets” life, which means living your life on purpose and making conscious decisions.
So, before you decide whether or not to do something, ask yourself, “why am I doing this?” It will not only help you stay on task, but also keep you from going along with the crowd in a direction you may regret later.
3. Put people before tasks
I used to get annoyed if family members interrupted me when I was trying to work. And I was always working! I was on high achiever over-drive. And while I said my family mattered the most, my behavior said the opposite.
In the end, the work will always be there, but relationships may not. That’s why we must put people before tasks.
And speaking of family, go ahead and create your family’s own definition of what “good” looks like.
Do your best and enjoy the journey
All we can ask of ourselves is to do our best under the circumstances and enjoy the journey as much as we can. In my book, that’s a win.
And if you feel compelled to go the extra mile to keep learning and growing toward your own definition of “good”, then here’s a suggestion:
- Pick one area you’d like to improve on this year. Yes, just one! Remember, you’re cutting yourself some slack.
- And pick one area to celebrate – something you’re doing really well. This will give you a counter-weight to the area of improvement.
Be free to choose what “good” looks like in all your roles in life!
Now I’d love to hear from you.
What’s your definition of being a good mother (or a good parent)?
Leave a comment. I’d love to learn from you.