Thursday, May 26, 2011

I Don't Think You Are a Good Mother

I'm just going to say it: I don't think you are a good mother. But I'm not saying I think you are a bad mother either. I used to think I could judge whether other mothers were good or bad. But lately, I just don't have an opinion either way. Even if I did have an opinion, would it matter to you? Does it matter if a stranger thinks you are a good mother? Or a friend or sister or parent thinks so?

It doesn't to me.

Because we all have our own ideas about what it even means to be a good mother, so there is no standard way to judge.

You might say I'm a good mother if my children are quiet and reserved in public. But how do you know they aren't only acting that way because they are afraid of me? Afraid of what I will do to them if they make any noise or sudden movements? And if that's your idea of a good mother, then count me out.

You might say I'm a bad mother if I let my kids go out without brushing their hair. Or if I grant their requests without demanding that they say please. Or if I don't make them go to school. Or if I let them eat candy before dinner. Or if I let them stay up late at night.

We live this way because we allow our children the freedom to make their own choices. Because we trust our children to know what they need. We care about what they want. We value our relationships with our children above all else. If all this makes me a bad mother in your eyes, then I'm all right with that. 

Because right now there are two people in the world whose opinions of me as a mother matter to me. And those two people are right here:

My children help me to be a good mother to them, by letting me know what they need. They help me by telling me when they appreciate the things I do that make them feel good. They help me by telling me when something I do hurts their feelings. By forgiving me when I offer a sincere apology.

My children help me to be more reasonable. They make me question everything that does not make sense. I am also lucky to have a husband who makes me think. I listen to my children and my husband, and I can redefine what makes a good mother as often as I need to. That doesn't mean I always get it right. It doesn't mean I always know what's best or that I am perfect. And it doesn't mean I think I'm better than you.

Repeat: I don't think I am a better mother than you are! We are not in a competition. However, I do think I am a better mother than I would otherwise be if I didn't listen to my children.
Whose opinions about your mothering do you value most? Do your actions mostly reflect the answer to that question?


  1. I just wanted to say I love your blog. I don't know any IRL who feels the way I do about parenting and so often I catch myself doing things that don't feel right to me just because everyone else is doing it.
    So, thank you.

  2. You know, i really enjoy your seems so in line with my own parenting philosophy. I'd love to hear more about the night-time wind down...or up (as is the case in this house). It can be a stressful time for my partner and I, but we rather firmly believe that there just isn't a place for bedtimes in our family. would be beyond wonderful to hear how that goes for someone else in real life! (if you have the time!)

  3. I love your opinion on that! I wish I could be a little more like that - but I'm as judgemental as it gets...

    And I also have to admit that I'm way to concerned about what other people think about me as a mother. However - as long as my son still tells me he loves me, I think I must be doing at least something right!

  4. @jessica m and Jessi, Thank you! It does help to know that we are not alone in doing things differently. I found so much comfort in other peoples' blogs when I was getting started on this path!

    @Lyndz, Thanks! I definitely want to write a post about sleeping. It is on the list. I hope I can get to it soon!

    @Cemetry, I try to look at every parent as someone who was once a child. It's much easier to be compassionate if I try to picture what someone might have been through as a child that would lead them to parent the way they do. And I do care what other people think of me in general, but I have a lot more confidence when it comes to parenting, because I have the feedback of my kids. And as I said above, their opinions are really the most important ones!

  5. I love this post so much! My mom was one who, I'm sure, felt her value in how other people perceived her. To this day, she will still go on and on about how she was complimented whenever she took her four kids to a restaurant. But she achieved this by literally tying us to our high chairs at home to teach us to sit still at the table, and with threats at the restaurant itself. And don't get me wrong, I used to be a server and don't think kids should be allowed to run around crazy at a restaurant either, but there is a happy medium.

    Anyway, I love how well you put this and I completely agree. I don't care if some stranger thinks my daughter is bratty and annoying or "good" and quiet. They are seeing one snapshot in our life, and can think what they will about it, but the feedback I get from my daughters is so much more important to me than what anyone else has to say. I value that relationship far more than the one with the server at the restaurant or cashier behind the desk. And the funny thing is, though I know people who assume my kids must be brats because of how we parent, I get way more comments about how well-behaved my daughter is than anything else. They actually make me uncomfortable, like I'm wandering around with a trained dog or something. I never know quite how to respond, especially with my daughter right there listening.

  6. @Lindsay, The compliments tend to make me uncomfortable as well. I know what you mean. I also know that the opinions of a stranger are fickle. One wrong move and the compliments could easily turn upside-down! I usually just say thank you, but now you have me thinking about how I could otherwise respond.

    And about your mother... isn't it sad how concerned people are/were with keeping up appearances? I wish every mother could understand that it's not necessary to treat her kids that way!

  7. Vickie, I used to just say thank you as well (and sometimes still do), but I do wonder sometimes what message that sends to my girls. Maybe I'm overthinking it. I had a lady gushing over Meredith because she said thank you when the lady handed her some popcorn, and then was sharing it with her younger sister and I. To her, saying thank you and sharing are just natural things we do (sometimes). They have never been forced, and never been made a big deal of, and I don't think it would occur to her that they aren't just something that most people do (she learned these things by watching us, not by being threatened or bribed to do them). Also, the times she doesn't feel like saying thank you, I will say thank you for her, and, again, it's no big deal.

    At the time, I just smiled and changed the subject, but I do wonder if there are better ways to respond without coming off as rude myself while still honouring my daughter. I always felt like my mom valued us for the things she could brag about. On the phone she only ever mentioned our grades or accomplishments. That's exactly what I want to avoid with my own daughters and I think partly why the compliments make me uncomfortable.

  8. @Lindsay, I really don't feel like you are over-thinking it. It is important. I have been thinking about it a lot since you made the first comment, and I think maybe I will continue to say thank you and try to change the subject in these situations. But then later on, I will talk to my kids about how the conversation made me feel, and make sure they know what I really think about it. I can't think of any other way to respond in the moment that would be non-confrontational. Can you? I would love to hear more thoughts. I am not interested in engaging strangers in confrontation!