I can’t count how many times I’ve heard this phrase. People have said it to me probably hundreds of times. There were a few times I’ve been able to look at myself and really believe them. I could say to myself, “you’re right. I am a good mom. In fact, I’m an AMAZING mom! I’m doing awesome at this!” But for YEARS, , it just didn’t sit well with me. There was always a little voice inside that said, “Um…I’m not so great at this mom thing. And how would you know, anyway? You only see me when I’m on my best mothering behavior. You haven’t really seen what kind of mother I am.” Most of the time I’d smile and nod, and say thanks. I would look away, hoping my face won’t give me away. But I wasn’t appreciating the intended compliment on the inside. Then I started asking myself, “Why does such a kind gesture make me feel so uncomfortable?”
It Took A Long Time to Understand.
First, I have to say that I’m not always a good mom. To be honest, sometimes I’m kind of a crappy mom. I yell. I say hurtful things. I think hurtful things. I neglect important things. I indulge in selfish ways. I’d like to say those things are only happening a small minority of the time, but I can’t confidently say that. I know my own inner world so much better than the person in front of me. I see every one of my worst moments upi close, and to be told I’m doing well in the face of that feels….icky. I’m trying to forgive myself, to give myself grace for my bad moments, but that’s definitely a work in progress. I’m just not completely there yet. It’s not a one-and-done, either. There are times when I’m better at giving myself grace, and times when I beat myself up. I guess we all do that, to some degree. (I know when I’m not doing well in this area because that’s when I retreat into my favorite escapes.) I just don’t like to feel obligated to accept a compliment when it feels so untrue. But what else could I say?
What Exactly Is A “Good Mom” Anyway?
Some women were taught that a “good mom” will give everything, put all of her efforts toward helping others, even to the detriment and sacrifice of herself. “A good mom doesn’t work outside the home; she will sacrifice her personal ambitions for her kids.” “A good mom never do anything for herself, she always puts her kids first.” “A good mom gives and gives, but never asks for anything in return.” This is certainly what was modeled to me. Over the years, I’ve seen that this does not a good mother make. At least, it did not ME a good mother make (I have a fabulous mother, for the record). I was unhappy, unfulfilled, overworked and underpaid. Which translated as short-tempered, tired, and emotionally unavailable to my children.
So on the outside it seems like such a kind thing to say, but on the inside, it sounded like, “You’re so good at neglecting yourself!” or “You’ve done such a good job at sacrificing everything you are for the good of others, while neglecting your own development.” “You’re so good at getting in line, doing what you’re told, and not standing up for yourself.” Or “wow! You’ve done an amazing job at shutting yourself down.” Now you see why that feels so icky?
I Am More Than “Mom”
The thing is, if that’s the definition of a good mom, I don’t want to be a good mom. Thanks, but no thanks. I’m done with that. That kind of mothering has not brought me happiness. It has not provided the sense of fulfillment that I thought it would. Raising kids is something I’ve always expected I would do, and always wanted to do. I love my children. I have not regretted motherhood for a single moment since my first baby was born. It is such an important work. But I know there is more to my purpose than ‘just raising children.’ I know that I am here for something more than to be a baby factory, clothes folder, and dishes washer. My worth does not have anything to do with how my kids “turn out.” I was put on this earth to be my own person, to fulfill my own purpose, hopes, and dreams, not just to be the wind beneath someone else’s wings. I wish I had understood this at a deeper level when I was 20. I wish I had understood that having a purpose and caring for a family wasn’t ‘either/or,’ but more like ‘and/when.’ I would probably feel more prepared for this stage of life. I could have spent some of that time figuring out what I want to do, and how I would do it. (Although, maybe that’s not the way it works. I couldn’t really say; I’ve never lived anyone else’s life.) It took me a long time to decide what my purpose is. For years I could feel it was close, just under the surface, waiting until the right time to emerge. Now, I am watching it emerge. I don’t know exactly what it will evolve into, but I am excited to find out. I know it will be wonderful and beautiful.
It’s “Excscary!” (Exciting and Scary)
At the same time, I struggle with this a little bit. It seems like it would be a lot easier, in many ways, to stay back and be the “helper” for others’ success. I’ve never been one to enjoy being center stage. I’d rather be the stage crew that only enters the stage when the lights are down, or the one in the little booth in the back that nobody notices is even there. There’s a lot less exposure there. Hiding in the back is pretty much what I’ve always done. You can choose the discomfort of being center stage, or the discomfort of letting someone else play the lead role in your own life. Choose one and stay small. Or choose the other and claim what is rightfully yours—the power to fully live your life. And what comes with that is personal growth. Becoming your best self.
To The Women Who Came Before Me
For all the women who paved the way, I thank you. To those who were strong enough and aware enough to figure this out, who were brave enough to go after what they needed in the face of invalidation, I offer you my heartfelt gratitude. You created the path for those of us who would not have been strong enough to stand up on our own. And with deepest respect for those who followed the old way, who gave so much of themselves, who put their hearts and souls into raising the next generation, I say thank you to you, as well.
What I Think A “Good Mom” Is
I get to decide how I define “a good mom” for myself. And you get to define what it means to you. This is such great news! Because we have full control over our own “good mom” status. We no longer have to live up to someone else’s standard or expectation. To me, a good mom is someone who does her best, is not afraid to go for it. is loving and nurturing. She lives with honesty and integrity. She takes care of herself when it feels right, gives from the heart, and never apologizes for either. She messes up sometimes, and forgives herself for it. She also freely forgives others. She has good days, she has bad days, but in the end, she loves herself. She never gives up on herself.
So, next time someone tells me I’m “such a good mom,” I will understand that they are saying it from a place of love. I will wholeheartedly receive that love offering. Maybe they see the progress I am making, maybe they don’t. Maybe they see my shortcomings, or maybe not. I will remind myself that I am probably doing better than I think. I will remind myself that I can be working to better myself AND love and accept myself exactly as I am. And, ultimately, I am the ONLY person who gets to decide what kind of mom I am.
Written August 2020 Edited June 2022