Sometimes being a mom in today's world makes you think you have one single mission: to be the perfect mother. If this is your train of thought, help save your sanity by veering away from the idea of perfection and aiming for good instead. When it comes to motherhood, perfection is impossible, but being a good parent is entirely doable.
How to Be a Good Mother: Realize Perfection Doesn't Exist
The first thing every mother needs to do to be a good mom is recognize that no one is perfect, especially parents. Parenthood is dynamic, messy, unpredictable, and exhausting, and while you are amazing, you are only human. Mistakes will be made, meltdowns (yours) will be had, and the sooner you come to terms with the notion that perfection is a unicorn, not a realistic goal, the happier and more capable you will feel in your mothering journey.
According to science, striving for parental perfection is more than impossible; it is harmful. Studies have found that mothers showed less confidence in their parenting abilities when they fretted over how others viewed their mothering practices. Those scouring social media to see what wondrous things other moms were out there doing experience more stress and less joy in their parenting practices. The dangerous practice of constantly comparing and viewing others as better at the job of mothering becomes a slippery slope for many. Aiming for perfection is a bad habit that needs to be dropped.
Stop Seeking Validation From Social Media
Social media can be a negative space for parents, creating a realm where everything outside of themselves looks pretty darn perfect. Recent studies have explicitly looked at Facebook and mothering, and what they revealed was, moms turn to social media for validation regarding their parenting abilities and practices. Mothers can become depressed when they post something parenting-related and don't receive positive comments and likes on it. Good moms know they are good moms; they don't need others to give them generic feedback via likes and comments to feel their personal parenting success.
Take Care of YOU
When you become a mom, your focus shifts dramatically: care for the children above all, and put yourself last. Yes, you need to care for the kids; they depend on you, but you cannot very well do that when your tank is empty and you are physically and emotionally depleted. You have to care for yourself too. Self-care looks vastly different depending on the person. Some moms need to get away for a weekend, while other mothers need to tap out and soak in a tub once a week. Some moms consider alone time self-care, while other mothers seek out social interaction with friends. Carving out time for yourself is not selfish; it is essential.
Less Is More
You scroll through your Instagram or Facebook accounts, and all you see are family meals that look like they belong on a magazine cover, and homemade Halloween costumes that deserve an Oscar award in the category of Best Costume Design. You instantly feel so much less than perfect because your family ate crock-pot chili two nights in a row, and you bought their last (five) Halloween costumes online.
News flash: You are still a really good mom. Would stressing over a gourmet meal that the kids refused to eat anyhow make you a happier, more serene mother? No. You would have been more stressed had you tried to achieve that Pinterest Perfect meal. Would your children have enjoyed Halloween more if you put several hundreds of dollars and countless hours into making them a stunning peacock costume that they were only going to wear one time? No. In their $20 Amazon costume, they ran through the neighborhood with friends, got loads of candy, and won't even remember what they were 30 days from now.
That timeless saying, "less is more," completely pertains to parenting. The point is this: when you shoot for the stars, you sometimes fall flat. When you fall flat, your kids see a sad mom or a mom who feels unworthy. That is good for no one. Make the crock-pot meal, get costumes on Amazon, know that you are meeting your children's needs, and kids don't grade their parents on whether meals and costumes are Pinterest-worthy. They grade their parents on love, time, and patience. Set your expectations to whatever seems manageable for you.
Learn to Relate to Your Kids
You don't need to read a million books on how to communicate with your child effectively, nor do you have to drag your family to therapy sessions, retreats, and seminars. You DO want to prioritize communication with your children if you want to be a good mom, however. Communicating with kids is more than talking or prying. It is learning to effectively listen to them, as children don't always say what they mean, nor mean what they say. It also means that as your kids grow, you need to grow as a communicator and listener. Learning to better communicate can take time and practice, but these steps will have you well on your way:
- Use "door opener" statements. These statements encourage children to expand on what they are saying, promoting more sharing and better communication. Examples of door opening statements are: "What do you think about that?" "Would you like to talk about it?"
- Keep your tone positive. Try to work in more "do's" than "don'ts." For every negative statement you make, you'll want to counteract it with at least five positive statements.
- Strive for two-sided conversations. This means learning to engage with your kids and not speak AT them.
- Use "I statements" as much as possible. Look at how using an "I statement" turns the entire tone of the conversation and situation around:
- Instead of "YOU are being annoying right now," say, "I am feeling really tired and crabby, and I need to take a timeout."
- Instead of saying, "You need to get that homework done," try saying, "I need you to work on that assignment, please."
- Instead of telling kids, "All you do is fight," Say, "I need everyone to remember how to speak kindly and respect family members."
Stop Trying to Do it All
You might have gotten it in your head that a perfect mother makes a home-cooked dinner, drives the kids back and forth to sports with a smile on her face each night, cleans the house, plays games and puzzles, and reads stories between the hours of 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., every day, no matter the season, no matter the circumstances. Listen, no one does that.
Nobody is doing all the evening tasks happily and perfectly all the time. If you find that you continue to try to master it all, only to fall flat on your worn-out face, STOP. A good mom knows when to call it quits. She knows when everyone is exhausted and overwhelmed, and she doesn't feel guilty for pulling the plug on the mountain of commitments her family has. A good mother will press pause and learn to just be with her kids. Cancel practice, order take out, cue up a family movie, and breathe. Your kids won't think, "man, she sure dropped the ball; we have so much to do." They will think, "Mom loves us, sees us, and just wants to be with us."
Don't Be Afraid of Mistakes
If you are perfect, this means you don't mess up, nor do you make mistakes. Is that what you want your kids learning, that mistakes are not meant to be made or learned from? Nope. Mistakes are a massive part of life and the learning experience, and you want to make mistakes and expose them as opportunities to learn and grow, so your children understand it is okay for them to mess up too.
Moms can model for their children how to navigate and move through mistakes. When you mess up, as ALL good mothers do, own it. Make it transparent, talk about how you plan to move forward, and do so. Furthermore, learn how to apologize. We expect it from our children, so we should expect it from ourselves. When a good mom does something that warrants an apology, she is not above issuing one.
Spend One-on-One Time With Each Kid
Moms are spread incredibly thin 99% of the time, and it is such a rare occurrence that a child gets that special one-on-one time with mom. Good moms recognize that while they are forever burning the midnight oil, running here, there, and everywhere, individualized time with each one of their children is key. The time doesn't have to be a big drawn-out event. Kids are far more interested in the simple act of getting mom all to themselves than what they are actually doing. Take one of the kids out to walk the dogs or go on a grocery run. Make a special trip to Target with the middle child, or take the little one to the park on a Sunday afternoon. Consider a once a month dinner date with each of your children, alternating kids every month. During this time, hone in on listening to your child and connecting with them.
Attend Most of Your Kid's Activities and Events
Wouldn't it be great if you never missed a practice, game, or performance? Sure, in a perfect world, mom makes it to everything without breaking a sweat. In the real world, getting to everything is not always feasible. Parents work, they have multiple children needing to be in different places simultaneously, and multitasking is a significant part of survival for most moms.
You can't be at every single life occurrence, and you shouldn't feel bad about that. You are not skipping a soccer game to lie on the couch and binge-watch a new Netflix series (then again, if you occasionally need to tap out and take care of you, no judgment), but you are probably missing it so you can juggle ten other necessary tasks. Try to be at most of the kids' happenings, especially big games or major performances, but don't shoot for a 100% attendance rate. The kids, particularly older ones, don't need you hanging over the fence going full-on helicopter mom at each practice. Give them some space to grow, be independent and navigate activities without you. The kids will NOT end up in therapy because you joined a youth sports carpool. (Sidenote: Girl! Join a carpool! It's a game-changer!)
Praise the Little Things
Moms are always looking to the bigger picture, onward and upward! They make schedules, plans, lists and are constantly on the move, getting everyone what they need when they need it. A good mother learns to slow down and see the little positives happening all around her. She sees her young child picking up her crayons, or her oldest child wiping up a spill or cleaning their room without being asked. She notices little things her family does, and she praises them for their good deeds.
Good moms don't stay up all night fretting over a perfect holiday family photoshoot or throwing a party that the neighborhood will be talking about for years to come. Instead, they create traditions that focus on family. Try creating a family game night, making Sunday night dinners, having New Year's Eve at home with the kids, or having a family sleepover in the living room around Christmastime. Choose to include traditions that are easy to create and easy to continue. Remember that traditions are all about the love and the bonding, not about the showiness that you later get to post on social media.
You ARE a Good Mother
Some days you might not feel like you're winning at parenting, and self-doubt may creep into your mind; but rest assured you are already a good mom. You love your children, care for them, and most importantly, you keep trying and showing up for them. These are qualities of a good mother. Moms don't hear that they do a good job nearly enough, but they should. There is no harder, more intense job on the planet than that of motherhood. So connect to your kids with an open heart and mind, continue to learn about yourself and your children, and know you are good enough and your kids love you.