A Good Enough Mother

I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden – Lynn Anderson

Tell me about your mother – attributed to Sigmund Freud

“You know,” the kind, older mother said to me, “there is the idea of the ‘good enough mother.'”

Several years ago, I had been confiding to this woman by describing the growing guilt and panic that seemed to be settling into my bones and soul as my kids grew older. I was tortured by the mental list of things I had to get just right as their mother in order to ensure they grew up happy and whole. I wasn’t supposed to have problems, since problems took time and energy away from my kids. The pressure was crushing me.

In my mind, what motherhood required was a superhuman level of focus, dedication, and sacrifice. And as I struggled with my own demons while feeding, disciplining, and teaching little people day in and day out, I felt I had none of these qualities, and I was desperately afraid of anyone finding out.

How could I possibly forgive myself if I wasn’t the best mother? The idea of a good enough mother sounded almost lazy.

Our society has a cherished prototype of the perfect mother, and despite decades of growth in feminist thought and massive cultural change, the idea remains largely the same:

A good mother is a mother first and a human being second.

Whether she works or stays home, uses public education, homeschools (or pushes herself to the brink pandemic schooling), and whether she is married or divorced, she is bound to exist in a sort of agonizing miasma of guilt and second guessing of nearly every choice she makes for her kids and for herself.

Her self was absorbed long ago into a role. Every move she makes, or so she has been taught to believe, affects the life and future happiness of her children.

A mother who must reclaim and tend to herself for a period of time to heal from illness, to grapple with relationship problems, or to work towards a goal almost always does so with a nagging sense that she is abadoning or failing her children somehow.

Society celebrates the guilty mother and her nail biting worries. We moms even have a unique brand of guilt, our “mom guilt. “Worrying shows you care” and “The fact you feel guilty about being a good mother means you already are one” preaches the internet and its flowery mom memes.

Perfection as a mother is preferred, but the world will accept good old self-flagellation if we can’t quite measure up.

I remember when I first had the epiphany that my own mother had suffered through years of loss and struggle while trying to be the best mother she could be.

I realized my mom had been a human being all along, not just my mom. I wonder how it would have changed our past relationship if I had not been taught to put her on a pedestal, a pedestal that denied her the right to make mistakes and to change…to be fully human.

I see my own children in pain and frustration sometimes as they too realize that their mom is merely human, that she cannot put the world to rights for them. I see the look on their faces as they begin to understand that the coziness of their early years is being replaced by the agonies of growing up and the complexity of modern life.

There is nothing more excruciating to a mother than to see her kids hurting, and it is a special kind of hell to worry that your choices, mistakes, and limitations may have contributed to that hurt. But when I wake up too early sometimes and lie still with the question that chokes me, “What kind of mother would…?” and all its acccompanying guilt, I have to remind myself that I want my kids to live in truth and light and to develop strength and resilience. They need my love, not my efforts to always make life easy for them.

I hope that as I continue to raise my kids the chains of guilt and second guessing can be loosened and that I can embrace the idea of being a “good enough mother,” a mother who is honest in who she is as a person and who sets an example of love and peserverence, not shame and perfectionism. I will never teach my daughters that, if they choose to become mothers, they suddenly cease to be people with issues, challenges, and dreams.

I want to say to them, “Your mom will always be there and love you, but maybe not always in the ways you’d prefer. Her love will sometimes be a clumsy thing, but she is always trying.”

Maybe, just maybe, that will be good enough.

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