I’ve been thinking lately about whether or not I’m a good mom; or more specifically, what makes any of us good parents.
I think most parents have doubts from time to time. You have a particularly bad day ( … week … month …? ) and you fall onto your couch at night wondering what on Earth you were yelling about all day. Or maybe more importantly, why you couldn’t get your child to follow a simple command. Any simple command.
You vent to your spouse or your mom or a friend and they tell you what you need to hear: You’re a good mom. You’re doing your best. This is a hard age. But you’re doing a good job.
Thanks, but … based on what?
Ok, take me for example. A former DINK who planned her pregnancy. I saved up for the maternity leave and for anything my child might need, I researched all the safest baby gear, I toured daycares — and turned my nose up at a few. When Ryan got sick, I skipped work to care for him. When he outgrew clothes, I bought him more. As he continues to grow, whatever he needs, he receives. (As a bonus for him, he gets a lot of “wants,” too.)
When we saw he struggled at a full-time daycare, I chose to freeze-frame my career so he could have a parent at home. I take him to and from preschool, I take him to tumbling classes, I take him on play dates. I fill up the kitchen sink every day so he can splash in it. I am forever vacuuming up rice or shredded paper from whatever random activity I’ve conjured up for him.
In other words, I planned for this child, I wanted this child. It was always my intent to be a good mother. I’m trying to be a good mom. I want to be a good mom. Furthermore, I have the means to be a good mom. Does that automatically mean I actually am one?
If you really care about your parenting performance, if you think about it every day — yet, you fall short — are you still a good mom? Does wanting it badly enough count as success?
Let’s say you’re at a playground and you see a sweet little girl who takes turns, who politely says hello to her “new friends,” who seems the perfect mix of personable and kind and confident. Do you glance over at her beaming mother and think, “Yep, she’s a REALLY good mom…“?
Now let’s say you see a boy run wildly across the parking lot as his mom yells after him, “Hey, we hold hands in the parking lot!!” You see him run over to a slide and push that sweet little girl out of the way because he couldn’t possibly stand to wait his turn. What do you think about his mother?
If you try your hardest to do everything right, yet your kid is the one who is still getting timeouts every day at school; if you read book after book about only children and spirited children and children with this/that; if you ask for advice and take it and you still feel like you’re barely treading water … are you a good parent?
How much of it is intention? How much is actual results?
I am not writing this for reassurances that I am any good at this. If I look deep inside, I know that overall, yes, I am a good mom. Some days I’m exceptional; some days I totally suck. But in the grand scheme, over time, I believe I average out to good.
But when we look at someone else’s parenting and the behavior of someone else’s child, what do we think? Maybe if we know the parent and know their particular struggles, we appreciate their effort more than the random parent of the random wild child at the playground that makes us cringe.
My kid has been both the sweet, kind kid and the wild, pushy kid. I have beamed in pride at my child’s model behavior and I have cringed while attempting to look semi in control as my child goes nuclear. For a while, we were mostly doing the latter. Lately, we’ve starting having more successes and it’s got me wondering about all this. About how we perceive parenthood and how much of a child’s behavior is normal development, how much is natural temperament and how much of it is mom-and-dad-screwed-up.
Personally, I think I would define a good parent as one who is involved. There are many things we have control over and many more that we do not. But we can’t pretend to have control over a single thing if we’re not paying attention.
By that definition, I’m certainly a good parent (passed my own test, boom!). But it’s such a subjective topic that I suspect everyone has their own definition. I’m interested in what other parents think, but I’m even more curious as to what non-parents think. So, tell me …
What do you think makes a good parent?
I'm Meg. I grew up in Ohio, came of age in Arizona and am now raising a family in Pennsylvania. I'm a freelance writer, an essayist and a stay-at-home mom to a spirited four-year-old boy. We're on a journey to adopt our second child through the foster care system. I'm told I am too organized and too sarcastic for my own good but I don't see how either is possible.
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