I don’t remember expecting parenting to be easy, but I didn’t expect all the ways in which it would be so difficult.
First off, parenting imaginary children is one million times easier than parenting actual children with personalities and needs and opinions and a capacity to make more noise than I could have ever thought possible.
On top of those pesky real kids, what makes parenting even harder is our own idea of what parenting “should” look like and achieve. Often these are internalized ideas that we don’t always consciously realize we’re trying to implement. Sneaky!
One thing I’ve noticed in my years of both being a parent, and supporting other parents in my coaching practice, is that most of us are just trying to be a “good parent.”
This is especially true for women, or those who identify as a primary parent. I’m using the terms “mother” and “mom” since “parent” doesn’t really encompass the full context of what our society expects of moms, regardless of gender (and for search purposes so people can actually find this information).
Nonbinary, GNC, and trans parents, I see you and validate your challenges, too.
What does being a “good mom” look like?
The pressure to be a “good mom” starts with conception and pregnancy for most people. You "have to" be fit and healthy to get pregnant, eat right and exercise during pregnancy, and give birth the “right” way--or so we’re told.
We’re worried about being a “good patient” at doctor’s visits, not usually given true options for care, and often bullied into consenting to unnecessary procedures and interventions. We’re raised to be “good girls” who don’t cause trouble which can prevent us from effectively advocating for ourselves.
Then when birth proves unpredictable or there’s trauma, it must be our fault. If we fail to “achieve” a vaginal birth or have complications, it must have been something we ate or did or didn’t do.
How can we measure up to impossible, changing standards?
So what are the qualities of a “good mother”?
There isn’t one simple answer, despite what some people or society might say. It depends on you, your values, and what your kids need.
Some ideas that I think are myths come up a lot, though, so I want to tackle those first.
“Good behavior” comes from children who have “good parents.”
Your child’s behavior is not a reflection on your parenting ability, it’s a reflection of what your child is capable of handling in that particular moment. The definition of “good behavior” is also arbitrary, changes depending on the location and who is present, and is based in white supremacy and ableism.
“Good parents” act or look a certain way.
Cis, white, thin, and pretty are the images we’re most likely to see in the media. It’s starting to change, but if you do a simple Google image search for “moms,” the vast majority are thin, blonde, white women. That’s not accurate. The size of your body and color of your skin do not make you a better or worse parent (or person).
“Good parents” are perfect: patient, kind, crafty, loving, and present 100% of the time.
If you ever make a mistake, you should feel guilty, and have probably ruined your children’s lives forever! Oh wait, that’s not true. But social media and parenting books can make it feel like there’s One True Way to be, and any deviation is a failure.
I could come up with more, but the real issue here is actually more foundational. The good/bad binary is the real problem.
Binary options force us into false dichotomies.
When we position actions, decisions, and outcomes as “good” and “bad,” we assign a moral value to them. If you take a baby out in public, strangers tend to ask if they’re a “good” baby. The only answers this question allows are yes, they’re a good baby, or no, they’re a bad baby.
What exactly is a BAD baby?
My oldest didn’t sleep well. Was he a bad baby? No! He was just awake more than I liked. But binaries force us into these kinds of options.
With that type of thinking, if you’re not a “good parent,” you must be a “bad parent.” If “good parents” do certain things or act certain ways and you don’t, your only option is that you’re a bad parent. And it may not feel that obvious, but subconsciously that’s how binaries work. If you’ve ever beaten yourself up about a parenting choice you regret, that’s why.
This good/bad scenario plays out over and over with our kids, too. Good/bad behavior. Good/bad grades. Good/bad choices.
We can’t escape all judgment. It’s human nature to judge. We need to use some criteria so we can make decisions. But if we eliminate the moral options of good and bad, how do we choose what to do?
How to Be a Better Mom
Chances are high that you already ARE a good mom! You may be especially concerned if your parents didn’t provide a helpful model for what parenting looks like, so you’re figuring this out from scratch, or from what NOT to do.
To be a better parent, focus on what you’re doing well and do more of that.
Parenting isn’t only about meeting your child’s needs, it’s also about meeting yours so that you’re supported to make the best choices for you and your family. There’s a lot of outside pressure to make certain decisions based on “what everyone does.”
It can be hard to find this perspective when you’re in the weeds of parenting, which is why I offer 1:1 coaching and group programs tailored to support you.
Identify Your Parenting Values
There are so many more options than simply good or bad!
In my upcoming Mom School program, the first week is about setting intentions, discussing core beliefs, and identifying the most important values for your family.
We use all this information to create a personal MOMifesto, so that instead of trying to live up to an impossible external standard, you can revisit your own goals and priorities for you and your family.
Often the criteria we think about for “good parenting” comes from outside sources, or how our family life looks to others. By shifting the focus to our values, we can more easily ask ourselves if certain choices are in line with our beliefs, not just how others will see it.
So much of parenting feels like flying by the seat of your pants, but slowing down and taking the time to work through topics like this can make for easier decision-making later.
If you could use some support in this area, Mom School is opening up for enrollment soon.
I signed up because I was feeling lost in a sea of providing for others and feeling like there was nothing left of me for me. This course is awesome and it's well worth signing up! It feels great to do something for yourself. The "homework" isn't intimidating, the videos are fun, and you'll come away with actions for things you didn't even know you needed. It's hard for some moms to spend money and time to work on themselves because we are conditioned to just give and give and give. And that's exactly the kind of mom that needs this course.- Julie Sanders, Mom School alum