Like many moms out there, I consider motherhood my most important job — and also the hardest one. So I wasn’t surprised when I came across a statistic this summer that said mothers who work outside the home spend just as much time (or more) with their kids as stay-at-home moms did in the 70’s. As the demands of motherhood have grown over the past decade, so have the parenting magazines and blogs that constantly push the importance of the ‘good mother.’
I’m constantly aware that time spent with my kids is a big factor in being a ‘good mom.’ When my teenager wants to go to the store with me, I feel guilty because I want to refuse. But I don’t — and so she comes along (masked, of course), even though sometimes it’s the only solitary time I might get that day … or that week. A ‘good mother’ appreciates when her teen daughter wants to spend time with her. After a long day at work, I automatically assume my daughters must need my undivided attention until bedtime. Totally reasonable, right? A ‘good mother’ doesn’t take a Tuesday night pottery class, because what if her 6-year-old wants her to read bedtime stories instead of her dad? And over the past 10 years of ballet, soccer, music, and gymnastics, I have jumped through hoops to make sure I’m the one who takes them to practices and lessons — because that’s what a ‘good mother’ does. As they’ve gotten older, you can imagine how exaggerated these self-imposed statutes have become. It’s exhausting.
Famed psychologist Carl Jung once wrote, “The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of its parents.” I wish I could say I came across this quote all on my own, but in truth it’s referenced by author Glennon Doyle in her most recent memoir “Untamed.” Props to Doyle for making me face the ridiculous — and frankly unattainable — notion of the ‘good mother’ and take a good look at the unlived life I’ve slowly built.
Here’s the thing — I want my girls to tag along on shopping trips … ordinarily. I want to be the one reading bedtime stories … usually. I want to be the one who takes them to lessons … most of the time. But I also want permission to take a break when I need it, and I’m the only one who can grant that permission. This mindset is a work in progress, and I catch myself repeatedly coming back to that ‘good mother’ illusion. However, I know the struggle to undo this falsehood is what’s best for myself and for my girls.
Because I set the example of what a ‘good mother’ should be, and like Doyle writes, “If we keep passing down the legacy of martyrdom to our daughters, with whom does it end?” If my daughters choose to one day have kids, my wish is that they’ll live productive lives that offer them fulfillment in addition to the fulfillment of motherhood. An abundance of fulfillment, so to speak. And if that’s what I wish for them, I’ve got to set an example.
At the end of the day, how’s that for being a ‘good mom?’
* This column first appeared in The Walton Tribune on December 5, 2020 *