In honor of the start of my new group for new moms. I wanted to take the next couple of weeks to talk about some issues that are central to the moms in our lives. The purpose of this new therapy group is to give moms a place to gather where they can talk about the adjustments they are having to make to being a new mom. Motherhood has so many meanings in our culture that it can be overwhelming trying to figure out where you fit in. What do you want your place as a mother to look like? As the mom of an amazing three year old, I can tell you that there have been times with my other mom friends and myself have all questioned out mothering abilities. Does the fact that my daughter refuses to wear her coat to go to the car make me a bad mom? Does the fact that my friend's son fell off the swing at the park while she was talking to another mom mean Child Protective Services is on the way? Of course not, but all of these small "failures" of mothering add up over time to one huge case of Mommy Guilt.
No mother ever believes that she is good enough for her child. Some children are easier to deal with than others and make some moms look better in public than others. But I can guarantee that every mother on the planet knows the feeling of shame associated with the first time you actually raise your voice above that high-pitched twinkle we usually use with our children. And why? Is it because parents should never raise their voices towards their children? That's just not realistic. Is yelling the best way to deal with children? No, but sometimes it just happens. No matter how many imperfect moms grace our television sets (Rosanne, Marge, Kate) the ideal of Donna Reid still exists. There is some part of most moms that feels guilty for leaving their child at daycare while mom works or, heaven forbid, doesn't have to work and can do other things with her time, like clean the house, do the laundry, cook the dinners, and run the never ending list of errands that go into being a stay at home mom. This myth of the perfect mom who always has the right snacks hot out of the oven when the whole neighborhood of children arrives at her doorstep is perpetuated by every commercial, television show, and most movies.
Why can't we as mother's cut ourselves a break? Maybe it should start with our own judgments of the parenting skills of others. That's right - I'm talking to you. We all do it. We see the 5 year old walking through the mall with a paci and think, "What kind of a mom . . ." Recently there was a news story featured on Yahoo where a mother of 6 planned her meals for an entire year. Were the comments at the end of the story impressed by her planning skills? No. Each and every comment made some sort of dig at either the food she had chosen to serve her family or the fact that she carried her child during the interview. Now, could her menu have been more healthy - absolutely. Was she serving anything to her family that I haven't fed to mine - nope. It's time to let go of our own guilt at not being the perfect mom, so that we can let other women be the best moms they can be. Perpetuating the myth that there is some magical right way to be a mom by putting other mothers down, comparing ourselves to the make believe moms in Walmart commercials, and denigrating our own skills is not only harmful to us, but harmful to our daughters who may one day grow up to be moms themselves. The next time someone tells you what a great mom you are - listen and then say thank you. You're a mom, you've earned a little credit.
Further reading: The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women by Susan J. Douglas and Meredith W. Michaels