Tag Archives: mothering

In which I say I’m a good mother

“I’m a bad mother.”

Even as I heard myself say those words to Mike last week on the phone, I cringed.

Mike was away for most of the week, so I was parenting solo, and Dominic had a wracking, chesty cough that started up whenever I put him down to sleep. At first we thought the cough was due to the shocking air quality in Luang Prabang at present – it’s grey and smoky and ash is falling from the sky because everyone’s burning their rice fields in preparation for planting. But after the cough had hung around for ten days, I enlisted the help of a Lao-speaking friend and went in search of a local pediatrician.

“How’d it go?” Mike wanted to know when we talked that evening.

“The doctor listened to his chest and said he sounded fine. He knew the English words for asthma and bronchitis – my two big concerns. But he said it was just a cough and it’ll probably go away by itself.”

“Good,” Mike said, sounding relieved. “So it all went fine then.”

“Yes,” I said. “Except for the part where the doctor asked me to undress him and I laid him in my lap to do that because there was no examining table, and then he rolled and I almost dropped him on his head on the tile floor. I’m a bad mother.”

I’m a bad mother.

It wasn’t the first time I’d caught myself saying this recently, and more than one of my mothering friends use this phrase frequently. They toss it off casually to chastise themselves for not being quick enough to catch a slipping child and prevent a tumble, or to justify why they’re allowing the child to eat sweets or watch television, or even just to explain a grubby hands and face.

“Why say it at all?” Mike asked, when I explained the subject of this blog post over breakfast this morning.

“I think we say it as a defense when we feel that someone might be judging us,” I said.

“So,” Mike said. “Let me get this straight. Since you’re mostly hanging out with friends when you do this, you call yourself a bad mother to fend off potential judgment not from the global faceless audience but from people who already know you and like you?”

I took a bite of toast and thought about this for a second.

“Exactly,” I said. 

“That makes no sense,” Mike said.

And it doesn’t, really, which is why I don’t want this phrase to become a standard part of my vocabulary. Words are important. The words that we tell ourselves repeatedly, no matter how flippantly, can carve channels of belief into our minds. Our emotions – following the path of least resistance – find those channels and are guided by them. And while “I’m a bad mother” is far from the worst thing I can imagine myself saying, it’s not exactly what you might call “life-giving” either.

In addition.

I want to be secure enough in my decisions that I don’t feel the need to justify those decisions to my friends – at least not with an off-the-cuff blanket statement about my worth as a mother. And I want to trust that when things like tumbles happen, my friends won’t be watching with a spirit of criticism but with a spirit of fellowship – fellowship that comes from understanding that no parent, no matter how careful, can prevent every mishap.

Most importantly, however, I don’t want to say this too often because it’s not true.

I am a good mother.

Sure, I have moments when I almost drop my precious bundle of joy on the floor. And we’ve fed him too much papaya, mango, and pumpkin lately so his nose and toes have turned a bit yellow because of vitamin A overload. And sometimes I sit down beside him on the floor while he plays and watch an episode of Glee, or check my email while he’s in the bouncer instead of giving his royal babyness my full and undivided attention.

But I am a good mother.

I read to him, hug him, and make him baby food that’s far healthier than what I eat. I spend inordinate amounts of energy teasing smiles out of him. I delight in kissing him up under his pudgy little arms in that spot that makes him squirm and squeal with laughter. I let the dog lick his feet because he loves it so, and I don’t let the dog lick his face because I love him so. I take him outside to look at clouds and coconut trees. I explain butterflies and the wind. I give him fascinating toys to experiment with, like the toe spreader from a pedicure set I’ve never used, my hairbrush, and an egg whisk. I drag myself out of bed and comfort him when he starts to cry after I’ve just fallen asleep (though sometimes not until after I’ve begged him to “please, please, just stop it”). I watch with wonder as he sets about every day the demanding business of learning to live in this world. I would do almost anything, anything, to protect him.

And the thing is … I think that’s pretty much how most mothers operate. Not as perfect mothers, sure, but as mothers who love their children up, down, sideways and sleep-deprived. Mothers who sometimes makes mistakes, but who are learning more every day. Mothers who are doing the best they can to love their children unselfishly and wisely and energetically and patiently (yes, particularly patiently).

So let’s not call ourselves bad mothers – at least, not too often.

Let’s say it like it really is.

“We are good mothers.”

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Practices of Parenting

EmergingMummy.comA blogger I read regularly, Sarah Bessey, has been hosting a Practices of Parenting Carnival this week, where she invited readers to submit posts on their practices of parenting via a link-up. (You can find all of Sarah’s original practices of parenthood posts here.)

The response was extraordinary – 117 posts and counting! I linked up my Peace Like A River post, and over the last couple of days I’ve looked at all of the other posts that bloggers linked to on Sarah’s site.  They were heart-felt and moving and some were gorgeous. Here are seven that stood out to me.

Making Mama (and Papa) Art: This is a beautiful post, one after my own heart, about writing notes and letters to our children, “because the written-words seem to go beyond the everyday-words.”

In which I assign beauty: “The best way I can make the world a better place is by sending my little people out into it as the most compassionate they can be, and so I tattoo this message beneath their skins, in their hearts and in their sights and in their bloodstreams: this world is filled with beauty. That person is filled with beauty. You are filled with beauty.”

I love the message of this post – a message so closely tied to gratitude. There’s something in me that jumps up and down and says a big “Yes!! It makes the world and our hearts a better place when we notice and celebrate beauty”

The practice of a happy bedtime: “Our happy bedtimes benefit both my children and myself.  It is a chance for all of us to let go of the failures and frustrations of the day, as well as all of the worries of tomorrow, and just remember how much we love each other.”

I love bedtime. I the peaceful grounding provided by all the little bedtime rituals, and the big exhale that comes when I crawl into bed and know that the busyness and demands of the day are done. I liked this reminder about the important role parents play in kids bedtimes when they’re young.

Parenting in our little village: “This is what joyful parenting looks like to me. Not just staying at home with my kids, but taking them out into the wild and woolly world and engaging with it.”

This post challenged me. I want this sort of rich and multi-cultural parenting circle. But as crazy as it sounds, given where we live, this is something we do not have going for us here yet. Or maybe I should say, “this is not something we’ve worked hard to get going for us here.”

Speak out love: “The idea that somehow it can get a bit old, or tired, to hear “I love you” too much doesn’t stick either – I would much, much rather be told it too much, and say it too much, than to spend each day longing to hear those words, or not knowing how to get them out.”

I was raised in a loving home and I can still find it uncomfortable to say these words out loud. Why is that? Mike’s much better at giving these three words away than I am.

The practice of creativity: “There is something sacred about the act of creating together. I wrote about why I want to raise creative children, and I know that the best way for me to do this is to live creatively in front of them.”

This challenged the writer in me. Writing is a solitary creative pursuit and it was a good reminder to start thinking about how to involve kids in creative projects that we can do together.

Watering weeds into flowers: “That day I didn’t want to pay the price for future fond memories. Right then, that day, I didn’t want to be yelled at about tightening the straps of tiny shoes. I wanted to do my work, alone.”

I liked the way this was written – a good example of storytelling without hammering home the message too hard.

Do you have a Practices of Parenting you’d like to share? Leave a comment below, or a link to your own blog post. Then head on over to Sarah’s blog and link it up there.

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