What makes a good mother? Do we know?
“The current ideology of good mothering is not only spurious, it is oblivious of a mother’s desires, limitations, and context, and when things go wrong, she tends to get blamed (Thurer, 1994 pxii).”
To the generation of women who came before me:
It is not your fault that you cannot empathize with the new mother of today – it is not a version of motherhood you have ever seen or were ever given permission to live by.
Not by your community, culture, religion, society, or family.
I see now the turmoil that the latest version of ‘the good mother’ has on this generation today and the one that came before.
I see pain and confusion in the faces of the women that have already walked this journey.
They witness today’s mothering and, what may seem like the absence of ‘good mothering’ to them, but it is in fact, the shedding of perfect mothering.
I see and feel this in the women from my own family – my Grandma, my Mother, and my Mother-in-law.
I see and feel depletion and overwhelm in the faces of the women that walk among us now and I feel their turmoil with the conflict from the mothering they experienced that has emerged in just one generation.
The previous generations were given the idea of perfection, or what makes a “good mother.”
They were told, or it was demanded, that they live by everyone else’s standards but their own.
And I am here to repeat and confirm these words,
“The good mother is reinvented as each age or society defines her anew, in its own terms, according to its own mythology (Thurer, 1994 pxiv).”
You were born a good mother.
You do not need to be perfect, to in fact be perfect for your family, your child, and the world.
Within ONE GENERATION vast differences have surfaced in the cultural norms, pressures, and ideologies of ‘What the perfect mother looks like. Acts like. Or performs like.’
These differences are influenced by areas that didn’t exist before now.
Things like the tablet, screen time, COVID, and a crumbling education system with an overload of available content to tell you ‘What is and What is not’ to name a few.
Forces collide like the perceptions, ideas, and expectations without context, that I see previous generations of people trying so desperately to grasp on to.
Like, if the new mother, does something different – within her own worldly context – then, it somehow makes, what the previous generation did wrong.
Or worse, the actions themselves force a mother to doubt herself, to question whether she is a good mother.
It forces her to make decisions that are grounded in how everyone else around her feels and believes to be the truer way to live.
It is this magnetic push that I feel and see, in my Grandma, My Mother, and My Mother in Law when I, as the new mother, express my need for help.
They in fact do not know how to help me.
Generations before were not given help – they were given expectations, rules, and guidelines by the patriarchy to force them further into selflessness.
I realize now that selflessness is not in fact an identity and it only leaves mothers feeling alone, abandoned, depleted, overwhelmed, and anxious.
HUMAN MOTHERS have always needed help.
The other day I had an epiphany. It was – when you sustain trauma, your body goes into a hyper-vigilant state of fight.
This was a profound moment for me because it forced me to reflect on the traumas that I faced my entire life until now as a child-bearing woman, growing up and living in a misogynistic culture, community, family and household.
The versions of mothering I witnessed were ones of selflessness and loving, while the women were also not fulfilled by child rearing alone.
As long as whatever they wanted to pursue in life didn’t interrupt their wife and mother duties, it was allowed.
Previous generations of women sustained trauma by their family, community, church, and culture over an extended period of time without even recognizing it.
The version of the “good mother” that I was expected to live, even three years postpartum until now, is one where the mother is expected to do it all while quietly smiling without complaints.
Not to mention, she is also expected to maintain an image of perfection with her body, home and skills as a mother and wife. and maintaining an image of perfection of her body, her home, and her skills as a mother and a wife.
“Current standards for good mothering are so formidable, self-denying, elusive, changeable, and contradictory that they are unattainable.
Our contemporary myth heaps upon the mother so many duties and expectations that to take it seriously would be hazardous to her mental health (Thurer, 1994, p xvi).”
Because of their trauma, I understand now why the mothers before me have trouble identifying the need for help the younger generations of mothers have.
Previous generations believe we should be just like them.
Because of their trauma and cultural conditioning, they believe a “good mother” should be selfless. The pure act of selflessness means you give all and get nothing in return.
Cultural ideologies of “What the perfect mother looks like” are mothers that smile, sit quietly, eat and sleep very little, do not complain or raise their voice and do ALL their jobs gratefully.
Not to mention they are also serving the patriarchy.
I still witness this trauma passed down from the women who came before me, and from the women who were supposed to help me.
We must forgive them for the things they did not know. I forgive them for believing, I too, should be selfless like them.
Previous generations of “good mothers” are just victims of their own sustained cultural trauma that was reinforced by their community, their churches, and family.
Because there was a lack of loving help they received there is a lack of loving help they can give.
What can we do to change the perception of the “good mother?”
Give back to every mom in your life what you wish you had when you were raising your own children.
Give every mom unconditional love, support and guidance that is free of judgment, oppressive cultural norms, and stereotypes of what a “good mother” is.
Mothers today need SLEEP. They need REST. Moms need CONNECTION.
We need more than praise – we need actions that match.
They need someone, without prompting, to do their dishes, switch over their laundry, run the errand, and to say to them – go REST, I’ve got you.
Mothers need to be told they are perfect just the way they are.
Mothers need to be allowed to cry, yell, fail, be angry, and most importantly, they need to be allowed TO NOT BE PERFECT.
They should, like all women, be allowed to not smile all the fucking time, and be allowed to complain.
They should be able to say when things are not working and expect change.
Good mothers should be allowed to say no to generational abuse.
I was told by my Mother-in-Law “I am trying to figure out a way to love you.”
It is not about figuring out a way to love ME with all the added expectations of mother, wife, community member, coworker and so on.
IT IS ABOUT LOVING ME FOR ME.
Until my family, the world, society, culture, community, mom-bloggers, and so on JUST START LOVING THE MOTHER for exactly who they are – we will always be allowed to be reinvented by others.
And what will happen is we will always be the ones left depleted, overwhelmed, and anxious.
But, like Glennon Doyle has said, “Let her rest”. And she will still be a good mother.