8 Ways to be a good Mother, instead of a Perfect One!
By Kate Kripke
I think it’s fair to say that each one of us enters motherhood with a set of beliefs or expectations about what it means to be a good mother. We develop these beliefs from the pressure of our communities and society as a whole, the experiences with our own parents, and through the expectations of friends, family and media. These outside influences can have so much power and influence over us that when we finally do become mothers ourselves, it is unbearably difficult to listen to our own ideas of what this “good mom” thing is all about. So difficult, in fact, that anxiety, depression, and overwhelming emotion can latch on like crazy to our new identity.
I want to share a brief story with you about a mom who I saw in my office this summer. This mom has given me permission to share her process around the topic of being a good mother, because it gives such a clear example of the ways in which perfectionist thinking and unachievable expectations can lead to distress. Celia* came to my office when her baby was about four months old. She was attractive, articulate, and also very scared by the unpleasant thoughts and anxieties she had been feeling since her baby was born. Celia felt that her thoughts and emotions were out of control and that she was going “crazy.” She described a traumatic delivery in which an emergency C-Section led her to believe that she would not make it through alive. “I realized that I needed to be willing to give up my life for my baby,” she said.
Everything worked out but Postmortem Depression began. When Celia’s symptoms were being managed through a combination of medication and therapy support, she began the process of identifying beliefs about motherhood that might be adding to her distress. We created exercises that with her in my office that asked to write down all the things that she believe to be “good enough” mom. Celia’s first list looked like this:
• A “good enough” mom: Loves her child unconditionally
• Always does what is best for child
• Never resents her child
• Should be able to handle kids all day without needing breaks (luxury)
This list made me anxious when reading it, and so I can only imagine what it must have felt like to her to believe that all of these things were a necessary part of mothering. After some discussion, the list was rewritten to:
• A Good Enough Mom does her best to
• Teach her child how to live life to the fullest
• Be there for her children when they need her
• Teach her child the importance of self-worth Provide food, shelter, and love
Celia is doing much better. She has not had a panic attack in some time and her scary thoughts have decreased. She is more able to access feelings of hope and optimism and she is enjoying her baby more. Her medication is helping with the biochemical imbalances that added to her symptoms of postpartum anxiety and OCD and her more realistic idea of what it means to be a good mother to her kiddo has taken some of the pressure off.
We all do this. Each of us enters motherhood with some idea of what we “should” do in this new and often overwhelming role. While many of those things may be entirely appropriate, many others may be entirely unachievable. I encourage you to ask yourselves what is it that you believe goes into being a “good enough” mom to your kiddos and to write down your own list. Take note of the “shoulds” and the “always’” and whether or not you are noting ideas that are truly yours or whether they are someone else’s (breastfeeding your baby vs providing nutritious food whenever possible might be a good example), your assumptions of someone else’s. My guess is that each of you is most certainly being a good mother already…