My mother was the quintessential nurturer. Sadly, she passed far too early. Many who knew her,  recall her as having one of her 4 daughters always attached to her hip, or pressed into service as the de-facto taxi to their activities. Having her as a role model, has moulded me into the mother that I am. I love my children with all my heart, putting their needs above mine. Always.

What defines being a “Good” mother?

I thought about this for a few days before I put the words down. I also posed the question of my girlfriends to see what their thoughts were as well. As expected, some were initially hesitant, as the subject perhaps stirred up some insecurities in them.

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What I wasn’t prepared for was for how controversial this topic is. I had one friend private message me and tell me that my question was loaded. That asking women what they thought traits of a good mother were, would stir up their emotions. She inferred that I would get the sugar coated stuff, that they would only tell the things that they felt they did well, and that it would make them have a crappy rest of the day to think about how bad they were if they didn’t feel good about their parenting or think of the faults in their own mothers. “The answers will all be very polite and inclusive” she suggested, and “… will be the “ideal” image on the ideal day”. Further, she thought that the question might also trigger feelings of self doubt and guilt. 

Geezus!.. I was just asking for Inspiration… Not trying to fuck up people’s lives or ruin their day.

A good mother doesn’t weigh her worth as a mother on how her children appear, behave, or the on the choices or decisions their children make. This was a comment I agree with from another friend. We just have to accept that we all do our best, based on what we know. I saw a quote somewhere a few years ago that I have never forgotten, it really struck a chord with me. It was ” Our Children are only ours on borrowed time”. The meaning behind this, I feel is that they are their OWN person, with their OWN lust for life and will be off living it their OWN way before you are actually ready for it.

In saying that a mother shouldn’t weigh her worth on her children, I am sure that we have all worried about our parenting. I know when my children were babies I worried constantly as I felt inexperienced. There have been other times during their growth that I have questioned my ability as a parent and whether I was doing the right thing. A few of us have sought help from our Maternal Health Nurse, Doctor or Therapist to guide us in our parenting. At times, when I wasn’t well enough to be a parent, I worried that I was unintentionally doing emotional damage to my children. 

It was disturbing and hard to hear that some think they haven’t been good mothers. Some felt that they failed due to how their children turned out. How can we put so much pressure on ourselves and judge ourselves, when there is no Rule book and some of us have had no one to show us how to be a mother, let alone a Good one. Same goes for Dads. I know my own father was beaten as a child and had a terrible father figure. So it shows why he was absent, even when in the same room as us. He didn’t know how to be nurturing.

One might feel that getting your children to eat their vegetables is being a good mother or getting your children to bed on time is. I definitely believe having a routine is helpful. It guides you through the day and knowing that 5pm is bath time and 6pm is dinner time and bed time is 7pm and then once they’re in bed, it’s “Mum” time, ensures that your Day runs smoothly. However this is just following a plan, it’s surface stuff, I don’t think it is a true definition of being a Good mother. Plus, this all comes to a halt when children enter adolescence.

One of my girlfriends said that trying to categorise what a “good mother is” is both difficult and elusive. As we are all in different circumstances, I totally agree. Some mothers are looked on as great mothers as they have the luxury of staying at home with their children full time. Some love it.  I did for ten years after my son was born and loved it, while still others  find themselves in the same situation and absolutely despise it. Some mother’s would cringe at the thought of being at home 24/7, as they have careers that they love. Thus, they define being a good parent in different ways, they provide for their children differently. None of these things are wrong.

I feel being a parent as opposed to trying to be their friend, is an important one. I tried being my daughter’s friend when she was a teenager. It backfired. She needed guidance and authority. Trying to be her friend meant that was lacking. Once I began being her parent again, she got back on the right track. I am not saying that I turned nasty and wasn’t “friendly”, far from it, I set boundaries and tried to guide her rather than expect her to know the right way. I didn’t make her do things my way, just gave good choices, rather than allow her a free reign. The relationship is different now as she is twenty and we are more friends, she is free to make whatever choices she sees fit, as she is an adult now. I taught my children life skills, I think this came from being a single parent, they are grateful for everything that they have, they are respectful and have seen how I have struggled over the years. My children are both extremely independent and capable of doing anything they want themselves.

A close girlfriend swears that she was a friend to her children after the age of 13. That she believes old school mothers would disagree with this but for her a good mother is treating her children like a friend, being respectful, non judgment and totally supportive of her children as they grow and learn and establish their identity as an adult . She feels this creates self esteem and taught her children to have the confidence of self. She says she has done this with both of her children (now both in their twenties) and that they are great friends and they turn to me for support and advice even about the most embarrassing or difficult things to talk about, they tell her everything. Another mother agreed with this theory too, she says that her Willingness to be her daughters equal, to be on the same level, to relate from humanity not just from the superior role as “mother” was what she had success With. I find it fascinating that this worked for them, yet not for me. 

Being Selfless is another trait that is seen as being a good mother. Putting your children before yourself for the time they are with you until they leave home. My favourite response was “A good mother is one who attends to her child’s every need even when she is really hungover” another mother said she looked after her adult child when he was hung over, and cleaned his messy apartment after he had held a massive party the night before and was very hungover.. doing this without judgment. No judgment is a great trait to point out!

I had another girlfriend, who isn’t a mother herself gave a beautiful response with the things she admires about her own mother that she sees as “amazing”. She says that she always felt loved. Truly loved, I can honestly say I felt that too from my mother. That has been one thing I have been determined to show my children. I always want them to feel they are loved! 

Unconditional love was another response. This is something I truly believe is key to being a good parent. To know your parent’s love you unconditionally – to me – is the most important thing. This is actually the thing I miss from my mother. I don’t feel I have had this from anyone but her.

The same girlfriend , also recalled her mother made sure her and her sisters ALWAYS make up after a fight, and taught her that she should never let anyone interfere with her sister relationship (boyfriends / husbands etc). She said her mother taught her that kindness and compassion are the most important qualities a person can have, and to always moisturise and use eye cream!!!! I love this. None of her answers were materialistic. They were all feelings and then a handy tip for staying looking younger.. LOL

Among the women polled, allowing our children to express their unique individuality is important. “Being willing to let our children’s unique and powerful spirit to be expressed, explored and validated.” was one response from a girlfriend. For example, I’ve always allowed my children to colour their hair if they have wished. I’ve also allowed mine to choose their own clothing. I make sure to nurtured their own talents, praise them, encouraged them, and come from a place of understanding and acceptance – even when they’re things I am not necessarily interested in.

The ability to be willing to just listen was another important quality offered; of not always feeling like we need to offer up our own solutions, or “fix” things for our children, but instead to just listen, letting them be HEARD. I agree. Listening without knee-jerk judgments, demonstrates our respect in their opinions, that we are allowing them to learn and to grow in themselves. If they ask for help, then of course we are the first people to help them fix things.

This topic really challenged me and the 20 or so women I polled for this piece. So, again I ask: “What makes a good Mother?” The answer is different for everyone. The qualities that I think necessary might very well be different than what another thinks. It’s all a matter of perception. How I mother, how I nurture, could be vastly different to how others do it. There is no absolute “right” way. In the final analysis, mothering with Love and Kindness work. 

This piece is dedicated to the wonderful women brave enough to weigh in with their thoughtful insights  on what qualities they thought defined what being a good mother is. It was difficult for some, just as this piece has proven difficult to articulate. 

My final thought: We should all be proud of the journey we are on, and of the tireless efforts we expend for the sake of our families. It’s good enough! Nothing has to be “perfect” -(nor will it ever be – the BEST we can hope for is to do what we can with what we know and the resources we are blessed with. And my dear ones, that is more than sufficient.

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