Are you a good mother?
If you’re anything like me, the very sound of those words strung together to form that question makes you slump your shoulders, furrow your brow and exhale with a guilt-ridden sound of defeat.
And if you’re anything like the mothers we talk to all over the world, the little voice in your head probably said, “Pfffft, not really,” before you could even gave it any really thought.
Now, there’s good reason this question gives mothers pause, but it’s interesting how we don’t pause nearly as long when answering the same question in other areas of our lives.
If you were trying to evaluate “how good you are” in most areas of your life, you’d probably answer the question easily and effortlessly. Like I did here:
Am I a good wife? I believe my husband would probably say yes. On most days.
Am I a good friend? It goes in fits and spurts, but overall, I’d put my performance in the “win” column.
Am I a good cook? Decidedly, no. But I’ve been trying to get better and I think it’s working. So I’ll go with, “I’m an OK cook” even though I cannot boil an egg for the life of me.
Am I good boss? Yep.
Am I a good tennis player? I stink compared to most of my friends. But, I hit some great shots every now and then and I’m getting better. Oh, and I just bought some gooooorgeous new tennis outfits. So I’m going with, “Heck yes.”
A couple of observations I made while going through this little exercise:
- I tended to evaluate the scenarios in question on the law of averages. I have good days and bad days, but on the whole am I doing a reasonable job?
- I am perfectly fine with doing a reasonably good job. I’m not trying to be the perfect wife (sorry, Richard); I’m just trying to do the best I can.
- I was most concerned about my own opinion, not what I thought other people would say.
- If I put considerable effort into these areas of my life, that went a long way towards tipping the scale to yes. Cooking, for example.
What’s interesting (and sad) is that when it comes to evaluating our jobs as mothers, we tend to approach our answers in exactly the opposite manner.
- We expect to be an awesome mother every hour of every day. If I raised my voice with my daughter this morning, I must be a bad mother. Terrible, in fact.
- We strive for perfection—24/7, without reprieve.
- We consider everyone’s opinion except our own. This past Monday someone suggested I travel too much, and everyone questions why I don’t cook for my husband more often. Clearly, I suck.
- Effort means nothing.
The different approaches are remarkable:
- Use the law of averages vs. Evaluate your performance all day, every day
- Strive to do a reasonable job vs. Strive for perfection
- Consider your own opinion vs. Consider everyone else’s opinion
- Effort matters vs. Effort means nothing
It makes sense that our standards would be (and should be) high, but how can we find a way to give ourselves a break? How can we quiet the inner drill sergeant who constantly suggests we’re not quite good enough?
The other night, I found a way. A great way.
I believe the world revolves around expectations. And I think we’re living up to the wrong people’s expectations for what makes a good mother.
- We want the kindergarten teacher to think we’re a good mother.
- We want the next-door neighbor to think we’re a good mother.
- We want the soccer coach to think we’re a good mother.
- We want the random woman behind us in line at the grocery store to think we’re a good mother.
- We want the 17-year-old lifeguard at the pool to think we’re a good mother
In all honesty, I imagine I have 10 to 12 different people that I’m trying to convince I’m a good mom on a regular basis.
Well, I used to anyway. Until I saw this.
I was at a friend of a friend’s house recently and I noticed this gem of a picture laminated and hanging in her kitchen. It’s a simple fill-in-the-blank exercise from a 9-year-old boy to his mommy:
(. . . and the music at the party sstopped playing.)
Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh. The children! Maybe that’s whose expectations we should be considering. Not our own. And certainly not those of a random stranger at the grocery store.
Geez. Why didn’t I think of that? Seems so logical after reading the writing on the wall—literally
What do your children think of the job you’re doing as a mother?
Yep, those people. The people you work so hard for. The people who you’d run into a burning building to save. The people who got you into this mess in the first place.
Why not ask them how you’re doing?
I bet they’ll help you lower the bar of perfection, and I bet they’ll tell you that you’re already clearing that bar by 100 feet. Every. Single. Day.
Just like Gus told his mom, Catherine.
Ladies, we’re simply trying too hard. We’re putting too much pressure on ourselves and we’re being too mean to ourselves.
We don’t need to be perfect all the time. We just need to take them to the store and buy them treats.
We don’t need to cook organic food all the time.
We just need to cook. We don’t have to read the New York Times every day.
We just need to know how to read. And we need to trust and believe them when they say we’re as pretty as a rose sitting in a meadow.
So, why not ask them? Why not ask the very people you’re doing this job for in the first place. How am I doing?
Now, take note: this is not a performance review. And Lord knows we’re already vulnerable enough as a species. So I’m a fan of leading the witness a little if not—or a lot.
Ask your children, “What makes me a good mom?”
I recently tried it out on my 6-year-old daughter and she said (in three seconds flat), “You’re nice to me and you buy me pink clothes.”
That’s the bar? That’s the freakin’ bar? It’s 87 stories below where I’ve been setting it. Being nice and buying pink jumpsuits and tank tops?
Lord have mercy, child. Let’s jump in the car and go to Walmart right now. I could do that all day long. Then I walked over to my 5-year-old son, pulled off his headphones, and here’s how a similar conversation went:
Me: Alex. What makes me a good mommy?
Alex: What you said?
Me: What makes me a good mommy?
Alex: Ummmmmmm. Being nice. And cookies.
And here’s the kicker. Of all the adjectives I would use to describe myself as a mother, “nice” is not one I would use. I lose my temper more than I’d like. I raise my voice more than I should. And I occasionally (OK, frequently) roll my eyes at them.
So while I don’t really fancy myself a “nice” mother, it was the first thing they both said—and they weren’t even together when they each answered the question.
Looks like they’re into the whole law of averages thing, too. As they should be. As we all should be.
So, go do it. Ask your children today.
And here’s why. Here’s what happens if you don’t ask.
I was at a conference in San Francisco last year and during a panel discussion, a very senior and successful creative director, PJ Pereira, talked about the pressure so many mothers put on themselves. He told the audience that his 61-year-old mother recently asked him if he felt neglected because she had worked a lot when he was growing up.
His response to her: “Neglected? I don’t remember feeling neglected. I remember having a rockstar mom.”
If we assume PJ’s mom had him when she was 25 years old, that means she carried that damaging thought around in her heart and on her back for 36 long years.
Her son saw her as a rockstar mom. She saw herself as a negligent mom.
Thank God she asked.
Now it’s your turn.
P.S. Lauren, our managing director, found this jewel of a sentiment in her daughter’s backpack yesterday.
See, ladies. It just ain’t that hard.
Now, go get your own proof in writing so you don’t forget it. Ever.