A Good Mother

Olivia usually falls asleep in our bed at night. Some nights she’ll look at books until she’s tired, but a lot of nights I will lay down with her, scratch her back, and make up a song about her and her imaginery pet cat. Last night she wanted to tell stories. But, in a rather out-of-character moment, Olivia wanted to not just hear a story, but tell one as well. Her story went something like this:

“Once upon a time, there was a mommy. That’s you! The story’s about you. (She whispered to me.) She was always busy and having to go places. She would take someone with her sometimes. When she got home, she napped…”

I don’t remember the rest of the story. There was more, but that first part was all I remember. I laughed at first and thought it was cute. I told myself that that’s not really true, because it’s not true. I reminded myself that I’ve started going to the gym three or four times a week, so in Olivia’s mind it does look like I’m going out all the time

At first I was okay with the story. But tonight I’m struggling with it. I know her story isn’t an accurate depiction of my life. But it was her depiction — it’s the way she sees it. And in her depiction I am not a very “present” mother. But I am a present mother. (I think that’s why I’ve been going a bit crazy this semester, because I’ve been deliberately focusing more on the kids, the family, the household, so the time left for school has gotten smaller. (I honestly sit here and wonder how I had so much time to do research last semester. Maybe because I didn’t sit and wonder about having time to do research???))

So I struggle between her perception and what’s going on… or at least between her perception and my perception of what’s going on.

Perceptions. They are the means by which we know. But they are also what limit our knowledge. (Yes. Thank you. Why, yes, I do have a degree in philosophy…)

If there is anything that women struggle with as mothers, it is perceptions. There are so many ideas about what it means to be a good mother. So many women, doing motherhood in so many different ways, that it’s hard not to think… “if she and I are doing things so differently, how can she not think I’m completely wrong in my parenting?” Which often leads to, “Who does she think she is? How dare she judge me?! Well, all I know is that her way of doing things isn’t so great. In fact, she’s quite the idiot. I would never parent like that!” And the accused quickly becomes the accuser.

Perceptions. Our own perceptions. Others’ perceptions. Society’s perceptions. Even our own kids’ perceptions. All different. And enough to make us filled with confusion and rage. (Or maybe that’s just me… like I said, it’s really getting to me tonight.)

But I guess what I have to keep telling myself is that all of these perspectives are limited. Others’ especially (since they don’t see the hours spent between these trailer walls), but also my own. Does that mean I have limited self-understanding? Why, yes! Yes, it does. I don’t know if each thing I do is exactly the right thing to do or if one of those things will scar my child for life. What I do know is that I have to live my life out of love instead of self-preservation. And that means I can’t live out of the need to preserve my status as a “good mom”.

So, here it is. I’m not a perfect mom. I’m not always a good mom, either. Sometimes I lose my temper for no reason other than my own self-inflicted tiredness. (Of course, Olivia seems to think I have an excessive napping habit, so I shouldn’t be tired, should I?!) Sometimes I don’t know how to discipline my kids. I don’t know which method or maneuver will teach them to share or have compassion. Sometimes I feel lost and that those most basic and beautiful things of life aren’t getting through. Most of the time I have more questions than answers. And too often the fears overshadow the hopes.

But I think that’s because I forget that I am limited and that I don’t have to have some all-knowing perspective in order to function in this world. Instead, I have to live in the questions. Because that’s what we have. We don’t have certainty. We have questions.

Do I know if I’m spending enough time with my children? I know I’m spending more time than some moms and less time than others. Does thinking that way help in any way?! Do I know if they are going to grow up feeling loved and secure? Nope. Don’t really have control over that one. Do I try to do my best with that? Yep, I do. But does that mean that I always love them and show them love fully and without any strings? Nope.

I told my counsellor the other day that before I had kids that I had never failed. At anything. Lucky me? I don’t really think so. It’s made parenting really difficult. I was used to life made up of jobs that could be completed in a timely manner and marked with a 98+% (because if I got 95% I’d ask to redo it for a better mark). But, oh no, not parenting. There are no gold stars at the end of the day. No check marks to show that “Today your child was intellectually, socially, and spiritually stimulated and went to bed feeling 100% secure in mommy’s love”. No True or False exams.

Nope. Instead we’ve got those crazy tests where it’s all:
“A: Perhaps”,
“B: Marginal”,
“C: Uncertain”,
“D: A and B”,
“E: A and C”,
“F: A, C, but not D”
“G: none of the above”
“H: all of the above”
“I: immediate fail because you aren’t using a #2 pencil”

You see what I’m getting at? We live in the questions. We’ve got no choice. And sometimes I think I get so bothered by those people who don’t see the questions is because I think they must be either naive or delusional. But I kind of wish I could be them!

In the end, after thinking a lot about Olivia’s little bed time story, I am left with: I am a good mom and I love my kids, even though I don’t act in good and loving ways all the time.

In other words, “A good mom isn’t good all the time.”

Let’s be honest about this, I think we’re all in the same boat here.

Posted in Family, Motherhood, Parenting, Philosophy | 11 Comments

11 Responses to A Good Mother

  1. rebs says:

    So, here it is. I’m not a perfect mom. I’m not always a good mom, either. Sometimes I lose my temper for no reason other than my own self-inflicted tiredness. (Of course, Olivia seems to think I have an excessive napping habit, so I shouldn’t be tired, should I?!) Sometimes I don’t know how to discipline my kids. I don’t know which method or maneuver will teach them to share or have compassion. Sometimes I feel lost and that those most basic and beautiful things of life aren’t getting through. Most of the time I have more questions than answers. And too often the fears overshadow the hopes.

    I understand what you are saying. I too have a lot of questions and wish I had more answers or the right answers when it comes to discipling and discipling my son.

    Being a good mom is being someone who loves your child more than themselves. It’s being someone who realizes even though they aren’t perfect God has called them to a job that is not easy but is also rewarding at the same time.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    I’m out that way in a few weeks. Maybe we can catch up. Are you taking a week long class in March or taking a week off? My hubby will be on campus for that week long class time.

  2. Hey, I’m not taking that class, so if you and I. want to come out one day and visit, that’d be great!

  3. Lauralea says:

    One just has to do the best one can. And not take it personally if they need therapy when they leave home. I can also say, with complete honesty, that I am glad I didn’t get a philosophy degree 🙂 Fewer questions that way, I think.

  4. Carissa says:

    I understand and agree wholeheartedly, Dixie. And I’d have struggled a lot with the bedtime story too…so much of this I wrestle with on a daily basis….

  5. Bria says:

    I struggle with this as well. I struggle with thinking that I’m not being the best that I can be. I feel like, for the most part, and I’m wondering if you relate to this, that in the overall grand scheme of things I’ve, thus far, done really well as a mother. But on the day-to-day…sheesh, that’s where I start to wonder if I’m good at this whole parenting thing. Is it just me? Does that make sense?
    I also feel that I’m learning how to be a good mother by sifting through what my boundaries are. What I can take/handle and what’s going to push me over the edge. If I can keep track of my limitations and work at operating within my boundaries then I’m more likely to be a happier more attentive mother to my kids. I’ve only recently started to recognize this but it’s already made a huge difference. I need to say ‘no’ more often and run the risk of coming across as a snot to others so that I can have the right frame of mind to focus more intently on my family.

  6. I totally get what you’re saying, Bria. I was talking to a friend the other day (a friend who actually said she and her husband thought Marc and I were good parents!)… I was telling her how bad I felt for escaping to the bedroom the night before while the kids watched a movie after supper. I just needed some quiet.

    She said I shouldn’t feel bad. If I did it every day? Maybe. But she compared it to having cake for breakfast one day. Sure, it’s not a healthy choice. But if you look at how you’ve eaten a balanced breakfast every other day that week, cake on one day isn’t so bad.

    I think maybe that kind of explains your day-to-day versus grand scheme of parenting idea.

    And, yes, the boundaries. I’m feeling that a lot these days. That’s why I’m not drumming at church anymore, for one thing. And I’ve also realized that I need to slow down during the day so that I’m not completely exhausted at 4pm when everyone gets home from school.

  7. Maureen says:

    Pacing yourelf is important as a parent, I believe. You need to refill regularly so you don’t run on empty, by doing “whatever” that means for you.

    I believe a lot of things, actually.

    I think that it is good for moms to NOT be there for EVERY need that your children have, so that they can learn to find their needs met through other people AND in themselves.

    I think that moms need to step back sometimes so that dads can learn to step in/kids can learn to reach to dads.

    Moms need to step back sometimes so that kids can find their own solutions and problem solve on their own to the best of their ability/age.

    I think that first comes God, then hubby, then kids, and as moms we get that all wrong sometimes.

    And I think that, sometimes, in order to be a really good mom, we have to recognize that having OUR needs met in other places ‘besides/and including the home’ brings growth in us that helps make us the best person that we can be, including a being a better mom.

    If the happiness and contentment of our kids always comes at our expense, I don’t think there is family balance in that (poor grammar, sorry).

    As mom to 9 and 12 year olds, I am starting to speak a different language, ex. “OUR house is dirty, so WE need to clean it” instead of the age old “YOU need to help ME with MY housework”. I think a happy family comes by prodding your kids into being contributing members of the household. This comes with age, but also with the notion that mom does not (solely) hold the universe together.

    AND, I believe that there needs to be a whole lot of grace extended to ourselves as we figure it out in a manner that works in our own family unit and as our families grow up, as parenting styles do change with the seasons of childhood growth. I can’t hover over my sons at youth like I did during children’s church. We need to let go and everybody has to be cool with that.

    I am not so sure that others are that interested in what kind of parenting goes on inside my home. We all have unique styles of personalities, friendships, marriages – why would our parenting be any different? If your parenting style is working for you and your family, GOOD FOR YOU!

    Hope I’m on topic here. Sometimes I read something and it starts a thought process in my mind that is totally in a different vein….

  8. Bonnie says:

    I am just so very very very glad I believe in something bigger than me.

    Otherwise….I’d never be able to do this.

    Grace….it’s what every Mother needs!

  9. Amarie says:

    In other words, “A good mom isn’t good all the time.”

    Absolutely! Just like the general saying, “Nobody’s perfect” you can say the same about being a Mother. Every single day after my daughter goes to bed I think about all the “Mom” things I could have done differently, and I sometimes drive myself crazy thinking about how my behaviour will or will not affect how she grows as a person.

    Since there’s no way to know if you’ve failed or succeeded in what you’re doing as a parent, maybe you could either: believe you are doing an “A” job most of the time according to your own parenting standards; or believe you’re doing a sub-standard job according to your own standards. Then all you need to do is give yourself the grade that keeps you sane!

    And I think that just questioning your parenting is, in fact, good parenting. If you already think you’re perfect, there’s no room to learn or grow 🙂

  10. Cyndi says:

    I was reading this afternoon (Changes that Heal) about sorting out our “Ideal” self from our “real” self and loved this quote (your post made me think of this 🙂 “(God) says we are incredibly wonderful, extremely sinful, beset with all sorts of weakness, and overflowing with talents” Like Bria mentioned, it really all evens out in the end…

  11. Lindsay says:

    I would like gold star stickers too.

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