The Measure of a Mother


I want to be a good mother. Trouble is, what is that exactly? I was recently intrigued by a post written by Lindsay Ferrier at Suburban Turmoil, one of my favorite blogs, discussing “me time.” Her post notes that these days much is made of the importance of mothers taking some “me time.” But the gist of the post is that far too much is made of it. I found it interesting that mostly she balks at the idea:

“I’m lucky enough to know from experience as a stepmom that as each year goes by, I’ll have a little more “me time.” Each year, my children will need me a little less. Eventually they won’t need me at all, and I’ll be left with about all the “me time” I can stand. I don’t think I’ll look back at that point and wish I’d spent more time doing things for myself when my children were small.”

I don’t know. I think “me time” is just about balance, and it’s different for each mom. In its simplest form, it’s about taking the time we need to do the things that keep us sane, so that when we do spend time with our kids, we’re fully present and happy to be there. So Lindsay may claim she does not want “me time,” but she takes it even if it’s not what she calls it. For her, I suspect “me time” is writing and blogging. For some, it’s a shopping or spa day. For others, a solid eight hours of sleep is enough. It can take the form of anything from a simple twenty minute solo trip to the grocery store to an hour spent scrapbooking or working out at the gym. “Me time” comes in so many different forms and increments and certainly seems a necessary part of what it is to be a good mother.

Not that I can really articulate exactly what is the right definition of a “good” mom. Certainly it’s way too early in the game for me to make any kind of claims about my skills as a mother. But I do know that a huge part of it requires a mom to know when to put her child(ren) first, and when to put herself first, because all one or the other is no good. Again, there’s that balance thing. It sounds simple enough, but now that I’m a mom, I’m realizing it’s not simple at all. Oh, I’m still standing by that assertion, but I didn’t realize just how tricky it can be to know exactly when mom’s needs or the child’s need should take priority. It’s easy to be fooled.

Take the guilt I felt when trying to wean my daughter. I wanted to be done breastfeeding. I had nursed her for a year, so I felt I did right by her there and I had put in my time. She was drinking cow’s milk and taking a bottle just fine. Of course, she still wanted to breastfeed, mostly for comfort. But she didn’t need it — and I needed a break. I began looking online for the best way to approach this, and almost every internet source I found made me feel guilty. I read things like “it’s best to let the child decide,” “don’t offer, don’t refuse” and “don’t go cold turkey — it can be traumatic.” Sheesh. So whose needs should have taken priority?

Sleep training is another case in point. It’s 2:00 am and my child is crying because she wants to be in mommy and daddy’s bed, or wants to be held, or rocked, or fed. Mommy wants to sleep. Who should win? Whose needs are better served by giving the child what she wants, and whose are better served by letting her cry? And even when you know the right thing to do, there are plenty of times that doesn’t make it any easier. Not one bit.

When “good” moms are not busy balancing priorities, they are busy figuring out when to hold on and when to let go. One of the most powerful moments I’ve ever seen in a movie happens in Ray, the fairly recent biopic about Ray Charles. In the scene, Ray is a young boy who has just lost his sight. He falls and can’t see, so he is frightened and begins crying for his mother who is standing about fifteen feet away. She starts to go to him and then stops herself. You can see that it takes every ounce of strength she can muster to not help her son, because she realizes he is going to have to learn how to deal with his blindness so she can’t always rush to his aid. Instead, she chooses to stand there, tears streaming down her face, as she watches him falter, and then eventually find his way.

I’ve been a teacher long enough to have seen dozens of parent mistakes borne of the best of intentions. No mom wants to see her child fail. Or be hurt. Or suffer. But the “good” mom knows when to let those things happen to serve the long term good of the child instead of the short term quick fix of having everyone feel better.

I think my mom is a good mom. She isn’t perfect, and I don’t think she’d mind my saying she made mistakes, because hell, who hasn’t? But as my sisters and I grew up, my mother always seemed to know when to let us find our own way. She loved us unconditionally, and I always felt that. In fact, because she was a good mom, I think it was easy to take he for granted. As a teenager, I never went through any sort of ‘I hate my parents’ stage. I never hid from them or was embarrassed to be seen with them. I’m not sure how strange that is, but I always liked them and liked having them around. But it wasn’t really until I reached adulthood that I realized how artfully my mother managed that balancing act of involving herself in our lives and our decisions, yet taking a step back when she needed to.

So this mom stuff is hard. And I haven’t even gotten to the really hard stuff yet! I’ve been there while friends and family members who are mothers have gone through sleep troubles, divorce, learning disabilities, drug addictions, depression, and even devastating loss with their children. I am only now beginning to understand the true depth of those struggles.

But I am also beginning to understand the true depth of the joy motherhood brings as well. I love my daughter beyond words. It’s truly overwhelming sometimes to know that there is this life, this person, who now calls me mommy. I want her to be healthy and happy and safe. I will pray every day for the wisdom to know the right choices to make, and the strength to follow through so that my daughter can live a good life and know that she is loved.

I want to be a good mother — so I’ll keep working on knowing exactly what that is.


  1. trogdor says:

    It’s funny you should write about this because I’ve been reading through the mommy blogs, too and have been bemoaning the fact that there’s a whole lot of whining out there that so comes from a place of privilege–upper class, educated women. The whole “oh-woe-is-me” mentality of my life is so hard as a mommy. You know whose life is hard? The mommy that doesn’t have many choices and doesn’t have the luxury to think about “me time” because she’s breaking her back trying to support her family. I’m so glad you didn’t go in the direction of the whiners and instead took the thoughtful route of talking about the process of being a good mom. And in truth, I know even the privileged whiners (of which I will grudgingly acknowledge I may be a part of–although the upper class part is DEFINITELY DEBATABLE) deserve to let it all out, too, because yes, it’s hard being a mommy–period. But it’s also all about perspective. And kudos for thanking your mom. Now, I will go back to reading my Motherless Mothers book. Just kidding, man.

  2. Helene88 says:

    And at the end of the day, Kell, all anyone can ask is that you do what you think is right for YOUR child and YOUR family at that time in life. You can’t give any more than your “best” with the knowledge, wisdom and intuition you have at that moment.