27 June 2009

Good enough mother

I am still working my way through Ayelet Waldman's book Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace, and yesterday I came across Insult and Injury on Judith Warner's Domestic Disturbances blog.

Both deal with the Mommy Police, the judgmental strangers that can't help but offer unsolicited advice or criticism on a mother's parenting, and are the bane of many mother's existence.

I have written here before about my dismay over the ridiculous expectations high achieving women expect of themselves, and others, where mothering is concerned. It upsets me when I hear women like Waldman, or my friends, who are clearly not bad mothers, refer to themselves as such, even in jest.

It is partly the fault of living in a society where far more is expected of mothers than of fathers to be considered competent parents. But just as there comes a point in one's life where you can no longer blame you parents for your own failings, we cannot lay blame for this solely on external forces beyond our control. As mothers, we are also responsible for buying into this.

No one should feel obligated to be a perfect mother. Perfection is an unrealistic, and unattainable goal, and if this is where you set the bar for yourself, you will never measure up.

What we should strive for is to be is a good enough mother, and a decent parent. Mistakes will be made, and often. I know mothers whom I think are too controlling, some a bit lax. Some I think should take a firmer hand in disciplining, while others need to lighten up. I know mothers with substance abuse problems, others who run anxious, and far too many who are unduly hard on themselves. I am sure my friends find faults in my mothering. Yet even with our many flaws, most of the mothers I know seem to strike the right balance; I would not call any of us a bad mother.

We are all imperfect mothers, which is as it should be.

If you can't let go of your desire for perfection for yourself, at least try to do so for your children's sake. The more you build yourself up in your children's eyes, the farther your descent will be on your inevitable fall from grace. If you think you need to serve on PTA committees, volunteer at your local soup kitchen, provide stimulating activities for your kid's entertainment because you are worried about them watching too much television, keep a well stocked craft closet for rainy days, provide freshly cut fruit or home-baked items for every charity bake sale at your children's school, work a full-time job outside of the home, all while keeping up with basic household management and the care of your family, you are headed for a nervous breakdown.

This job is really, really hard. Mothers need to help one another out, rather than spend undue energy taking each other down. To those that seek to judge you, give them an insincere smile and a silent “Fuck you,” and hold your head up high as you take your children by the hand and walk away.

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