I've recently come to see that I am a "good mom" ...but not for the reasons you may think.
I could just as easily be labeled a distracted mom, an indifferent mom, a working mom, an overbearing mom and yes, sometimes, a scary mom.
And I'm usually, well, almost always, the "bad guy."
While I try hard to meet all of my 4-year-old's needs, at some point in the day, every day, we crash into each other over what that means, and it often isn't pretty!
In no other line of business, no other profession, do we judge ourselves, our very nature, so harshly as motherhood*. When you meet an engineer or a doctor, you rarely ask them if they are a "good engineer" or a "good doctor." Rather, it's accepted that they probably have good days and bad days at work and that it shouldn't reflect how they feel about themselves as a whole or completely define them as a person; it's just their job.
Motherhood is different.
It's a job with no time clock to punch; a 24 hour gig that sees you through your best and your worst. In this line of work there is a "mom standard" to uphold, like a water level we tread madly to stay above, and when we inevitably fall below it, our shame is palpable. It's an impossible standard to meet and even the "best moms" I know, the ones who really love this stuff, have terrible-looking days.
We reinforce these outdated expectations ourselves, propagating them daily through parenting tips, blogs and social networking. We put on our best e-faces and pump out our best lists of advice on "how to parent right" ...as if any guidance could ever universally apply. Most moms I talk to hold themselves to an unattainable, fictitious standard and when they don't manage to produce that airbrushed version of motherhood, they condemn themselves as failures.
"I wasn't a very good mom today" is a phrase I hear too often. When I probe deeper, it turns out that there was some inevitable conflict, a lot of tears and raised voices, which they classified as "bad" parenting, leading them down a road of guilt and self-blame.
Or perhaps it was a day when they had to focus most of their time and energy away from their kids, to make their household run or to meet a few of their own basic needs, and they've therefore failed to live up to the "all-attentive-mother" of their dreams. Let's be honest; if you take a good look around, it's clear that none of us are that mom.
When I ask friends if they think they're a "good mom," most are able to conjure up images of countless meals, bath-times and books and will bravely say "yes," but it's usually filtered through memories of short-temperedness, bribery, frustration and heaps of self-doubt. Sadly, that "yes" is rarely declared loudly and is often qualified with confessions of times when they lost their calm, or lost their minds and therefore weren't any "good" at this.
We know we love our children, but what we don't seem to know is what a mother's love actually looks like.
I can tell you right now, it's not always cuddly and sweet and it's rarely Instagram-able.
When you raise your voice to set a boundary, causing your kid to crumble into a fit of tears, you are being a "good mom" (even if everyone else in the grocery store looks at you accusingly).
When you tell them "ENOUGH!" and they decide to challenge you to a public duel, you are modeling "good mom" behavior... and it's not sweet, it's fierce.
When you have to be the "bad guy" and call bedtime, causing your children to enlist every other person in the room to join their private army against you, you are actually a shining example of bravery and goodness.
Because it's easy to be nice to children, to want them to stop crying, to do whatever it takes to make them smile and publicly behave. But moms can't always choose easy.
Often, you are the only one who knows that another cookie will mean a terrible night's sleep, not the grocery clerk handing out samples. You alone understand that teeth brushing is important for long-term health, even when your small humans claim it's the "worst thing in the entire world."
We are the Bearers of Bad News and the Ministers of No because we love our children and this is the form our love takes. These challenging moments are exactly what being a "good mom" looks like.
I am tired of making excuses for my daughter's unappetizing behavior. "She's just tired," "She's hungry," "She's having a hard day" ...as if I too bear the weight of her irrational decisions and toddler mood swings; her tantrums somehow reflecting poorly on my parenting report card.
I can honestly say that when I see your child having a meltdown, it never crosses my mind that it's because you must be doing a terrible job. Instead, I want to hug you, to tell you to soldier on, despite the tears and the stares, to remind you that you are doing your job impeccably.
Like an astronaut or a chemist, a mom's job looks different from day to day. Some days may be picture worthy, while other days our love appears wrathful and even mean. I'm not saying that we shouldn't aspire to meet our children with gentleness and patience, just that we don't have to silently flog ourselves when our parenting doesn't look so nice to others. I can admit that for every smiling picture I post online, there are dozens of images clouding up my cloud with grumpy, crying, non-compliant moments that tested my patience.
Of course, there is a line between being fiercely loving and being abusive and it's crucial that we investigate that line regularly within our homes and our communities. There is a clear way to be strong and firm without ever turning to mistreatment or cruelty and there are lots of resources available on how to draw that line.
But the opposite of Mommy Dearest is not the all-smiling, gentle mother who gives her kids whatever they want. To find a balance, we must finally call June Cleaver's bluff. We must stop judging ourselves and others against an impossible standard of motherhood and admit that life gets hard and conflict arises. It's our job to let our children see that sometimes we get angry and irrational too, and to show them healthy, non-violent, ways to handle such strong emotions.
Because it's actually more detrimental to pretend like we have it all together, all of the time... or that such a façade should ever be sought. It doesn't do our children any favors to put on a front and instead teaches them to bury their emotions and to hold themselves to the same impossible standards that plague us.
Our honesty will give our children permission to be completely human. If we hide our shadows, how can we expect our children to acknowledge and befriend theirs?
So here's to the moms who take it on! The brave warriors who've stopped trying to be a "good mom" and are just being mom... good, bad and ugly mom... day in and day out. I know it isn't easy and it often isn't fun and one day rarely looks like the next.
I know it, because I live it.
Let's collectively agree to stop aiming to be "good moms" and redefine motherhood to include the hard and the grit of it. Because that is a mom I can aspire to be and a mom I can model for my daughter, warts and all.
* I write this about motherhood knowing full well that many dads face some of the same challenges. I do so because I can only speak to my individual experiences, and I believe that dads face different societal pressures and expectations than moms do on the whole.