It is more important to be a good mom than to feel like you are a good mom. What do I mean? Well there are all sorts of definitions floating around in the world, and in our heads, as to what a good mom is exactly. The definition of a good mom differs by culture, country, social groups and between friends. To set the entire pile of logs to flame, let’s add in the fact that a lot of these definitions and directives are unconscious. We don’t question them. Until perhaps, we read an article, notice someone else doing it differently, or get into a disagreement with our spouse over what good mothering is.
Living in Switzerland has thrown the majority of unspoken cultural definitions of good mothering straight up in my path, forcing me to take notice, everyday. This has been a good thing. It has challenged a lot of unconscious ideas I had.
I sat down and read a lot of parenting books and philosophies written by psychologists, neuroscientists and sociologists to come up with my own idea of what a good mom is and should do for her kids. Guess what? They don’t agree on a lot of things. But some things ring true through every book. Read this article for the list of specific things you should do to be a good parent. Now let’s get more abstract.
As a good mom should:
Be authentic, be a real person, and set a great example for your kids to follow. Meet your kids at eye level, but always be prepared to take responsibility for the leadership in the family. Bad behavior is a warning sign that kids are in trouble and need guidance, not that there is something wrong with them or that they are trying to drive you crazy. Good leaders, as we know, inspire compliance instead of force and are willing to try on new perspectives to discover new and better options for how things operate.
Well this is all sounds great. But I can’t tell you how many times I have stuck to this and felt like a bad mom. I have been literally standing there, giving myself a pep talk that I am doing the right thing, and at the same time felt like an irresponsible or less than loving mom. How is that? Well those darn cultural, country etc. definitions are dug into my mind deep and now the Swiss ones have wormed their way in there too, conflicting with my USA concepts. They’re so deep, I can’t even rationalize my way out of them. It is only when I see my children happy, healthy and thriving with a lot of empathy toward once another and others that I let out a sigh of relief.
Here is an example. When my daughter was in kindergarten, which starts at age four here in Switzerland, I told her she was responsible for getting dressed and to the table for breakfast on her own after I woke her up. After breakfast it was her responsibility to pack the snack I made for her in her backpack, put her shoes and jacket on, as well as her cute little reflective vest. I gave her the full responsibility for these actions. I wanted her to build responsibility and through this, a strong sense of self. So what happened?
Well, many days she went off to the kindergarten bus wearing interesting, and not always matching, clothes. Sometimes they weren’t even appropriate for the weather. I didn’t comment, besides asking: “will you be warm enough in that?” If she said yes, I didn’t say anything more. If she didn’t match I said, “that doesn’t match.” To which she replied, “it doesn’t need to match Mom, it just needs to go.” Okay then.
You should have seen the looks I got from the other parents. I knew what they were thinking, and it made me feel like a bad mom. I took a deep breath and just let myself feel that way. I believed what I was doing was right. My friend even came and asked me point blank:
“What are you doing? She’ll be cold.”
“Then she will learn it and dress warmer tomorrow.” (Which she did, by the way, without me saying anything to her the next morning.)
“What if she gets sick?” my friend countered. “And what will the other kids think? She is always dressed way different than the rest.”
“Well, you can’t die of a cold, and as for dressing different, if she feels comfortable that way, then good for her. She has a strong sense of self.”
“What if she doesn’t make any friends, since she dresses different?”
Guess what? I had no answer to that last question. This is a questions for sociologists to help me answer. I know that people are most comfortable being with people who dress, talk and believe the same things they do. Standing out is a risk.
But you know what? Now I have two kids who get up and get dressed on their own every morning. They are pretty responsible little people.
This is just one example among the countless moments as a mother where we rely on our cultural imprints or question what we do as parents. Where other people in our surroundings make us question what we are doing as a parent.
My kids know I don’t have fixed ideas about how we do things, and how I relate to them changes as they grow older, they change, and I change. That is why being a parent is such a challenge. The sand is always shifting under your feet and what works brilliantly with one child won’t fly with another.
So take my hands my beloved children, and we’ll walk forward as a team. I promise I will do my best to lead you, to treat you as equals, to allow you to be carefree children full of joy and wonder for as long as possible. You know I will love you with all my heart… As all parents love their children. And yes, you can spend this entire afternoon watching movies, despite the fact that all the neighbors think mom’s who let their children watch TV are lazy and irresponsible. Despite the school letter advising parents against TV consumption. Despite my husband, who grew up watching zero TV and thinks he is the better for it. Guess what? I’m not feeling like a good mom right now. But I’m wrong. You’re tired, you’ve worked hard, you’ve played outside. Cuddle up together and enjoy your show.
Wishing you strength and joy in your parenting, Heather Nadine