I’m a good mom.
The first time I said it out loud it felt amazing. Like telling your ungrateful boss that you’re finally walking out the door. Yes, it really was that rebellious.
I’ve been as prone to self-deprecation as any new mother. I’ve chastised myself for being late to doctor appointments or buying the wrong sunscreen. I worry that I’m neglecting my son if I work late or allow him too much screen time. If I let him stay up past his bedtime or eat ice cream two days in a row, if I yell or curse or cry I occasionally buy into the myth that I’m falling short of some universal standard.
But the truth is, I have always been a positive influence on who he is becoming. And the more I say it out loud, the better I feel about my experience as a parent.
These days everyone describes motherhood in words that are coated in guilt and sacrifice and self-doubt. You’re not supposed to be proud of everything that you do. You’re not supposed to give yourself credit for how well you do it. You’re not supposed to ask others to respect or value the effort you put in or the results that come back.
So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that no one does.
I don’t know if that’s a shocking statement or not. But it seems clear to me based on the criticism women receive when their children act out in grocery stores, or have unkempt hair, or gain weight, or fall down. America doesn’t truly value its mothers. Just ask John Oliver.
“Regardless of education or income, mothers are expected to perform flawlessly and with no expectation of praise or acknowledgment...”
Neither a “stay-at-home mom” nor a “working mom” is a particularly complimentary title. Both are assumed to be getting away with something or accused of not doing enough. Both are criticized for looking at their phones while at the park, or in the alternative, for helicoptering their children into adulthood – (fathers don’t receive nearly the same amount of scrutiny). Regardless of education or income, mothers are expected to perform flawlessly and with no expectation of praise or acknowledgment (save for one absurd holiday every year).
In our drive to do right by our children, many of us have bought into this unhealthy narrative. We pit ourselves against every parent and child development expert on the internet ― only to discover all the ways that we might be doing better. The pressure has grown to the point that even secure, confident women have casually capitulated, referring to themselves as “bad mothers” and embracing the fact that they are not living up to so many inane and conflicting expectations. The phenomenon is prominent enough to result in a mainstream Hollywood movie titled “Bad Moms.”
But giving in to this culture of self-deprecation only makes it easier for others to devalue the work that we do. If we want things like paid parental leave and flexible work schedules, if we want equal relationships with our spouses, if we want the respect of our children, we have to talk about how effective and valuable we are as parents. In the same way that we must demand recognition for our contributions at work, or negotiate fair pay raises, or stand our ground when we’re interrupted in meetings, or put an end to all the gratuitous apologies, we have to stop feeding into the criticism and convince everyone that we’re worth the investment.
We can start by acknowledging that we’re good mothers.
Last night, I woke up at 2:30 a.m. to comfort a two-year-old who was having nightmares and constipation. We sat on the couch watching “Dora the Explorer” and eating prunes until 3:30 – when I finally got him to bed, my infant woke up for a late night feeding. This isn’t a frivolous anecdote on how difficult parenting is. It’s a potent example of dedication and resilience. It’s a textbook answer to any interview question on strength, compassion, and competence.
It’s clear that the needle is already moving towards more family friendly work environments. In large part because men are asking for it ― and it’s a documented truth that when men start taking on traditionally female roles, those roles take on more power and prestige. But if men with “World’s Best Dad” coffee mugs can step out of their comfort zones to ask for time off to attend to sick children, women can help the cause by not berating themselves if they forget to charge the baby monitor.
I’m a good mom.
I know because every day I can see my son growing into someone independent and unique. He isn’t always happy or well-behaved. I make mistakes that he may carry with him into adulthood. Sometimes I discipline him too early or too late. Sometimes I let too much slide and sometimes I expect far too much. Balance is something of a pipe dream.
But I’m a good mom. And I owe it to myself to say it out loud.