Unfortunately, I don’t think mothers are told that enough. Some people are lucky to have “words of affirmation are my love language” partners, friends, or family members. But not everyone does.
My husband is not of that ilk, but he will buy me things until the cows come home. I get snippets of his approval at Change of Responsibility or Promotion ceremony speeches. I have a number of wonderful friends who have praised my parenting in one way or another. My parents have always been quick to validate and praise me when they see me succeed, and they have told me many times that I’m a great mom.
I learned it from them.
My parents did a lot of things right, and I aim to emulate those actions and behaviors as a mother. They did plenty of things that were great, but not necessary.
For example, my mother’s love language is giving gifts. She exhibited this trait this year when I sent her Amazon wish lists for my girls, as requested, for Christmas gift ideas. The woman bought every single toy. They were not expansive or overly expensive lists, but still, I figured she would pick one or two items for each child and call it a day.
Clearly I forgot who I was dealing with. But I digress.
I have come across a lot of moms who question themselves. They aren’t sure they are a good mom.
Maybe they yell too much or don’t do Elf on the Shelf. Perhaps they work long hours and feel like they don’t do enough fun activities while staying home with their children. Maybe they don’t grow their own organic vegetables to make baby food from scratch. Or they don’t breastfeed or use cloth diapers or make money for the family or sleep train or take away the pacifier or limit screen time.
The social media society we live in leads to a lot of comparisons, and it’s easy to feel like you don’t measure up. But these are not the things that make you a good mom.
As a therapist who works with adults and as a mother myself, I have unintentionally come up with three things that I believe make you a good parent. This is based on my own upbringing; that despite some setbacks, I am a relatively well-adjusted individual capable of handling stress and providing love; on sitting across from many children and adults who did not have ideal parents. It is also based on seeing how my own children respond to the various ways I interact with them.
And all three of these things involve love. It’s that simple.
While I know I am far from perfect, and I am not overly confident about much in life, I know I am a good mom. Even saying that feels arrogant. It feels like I shouldn’t say that because women are so often used to being self-effacing. But I will say it, because I know it’s true, without a sense of braggadocio: I am a good mom. Here are the things I do that make this statement true:
1. Love them fiercely
To most people, this comes naturally. So BOOM! Congrats! You’re 33% there, without even trying! Look at you go!
I remember when I was pregnant, I worried I wouldn’t love my child as much as my husband. I just didn’t understand how I could love anyone so much.
Oh, you silly, naive, pregnant woman…now I realize I would fight a bear or jump in front of a moving train for my children. They are everything to me.
They are the reason I get up every day (earlier than I would prefer) and the reason I sleep poorly at night. Their needs typically outweigh my own. And while that may be problematic at times, I (usually) don’t mind it. I will feed my child before I feed myself. I will make sure they are warm before I am. I will tiptoe around in the morning to allow them five extra minutes of sleep, and I will head to bed earlier than I prefer (we cosleep) to ensure they get enough rest for the next day.
My parents always made me feel special. They never made me feel better than anyone else; they just made me feel like I was wonderful and enough, just as I was. And they told me so. They did that with all of my siblings, as we four often boast that we are obviously the favorite.
So like my parents, I do the same. I love them so much it hurts, and I tell them every single day how wonderful they are. I tell them they are special, beautiful, magical, smart, incredible, and perfect. Love your children fiercely – easy enough.
2. Love them unconditionally
Okay, so I will have to revisit this when I have a 13-year-old girl because I tested my parents on this one. I made choices they did not agree with. I did stupid things and broke rules and lied. Like every teenager, I was a challenge at times.
Yet even when I knew I was in big trouble and that they were so disappointed in me (which is worse than being mad, right?), I still knew they loved me. I knew they weren’t going to disown me. They loved me unconditionally.
This lesson I have picked up more from my work than my parents. If your child is not the way you had hoped, you still need to love them. One glaring and obvious example is when it comes to sexuality or gender identity. I have had numerous clients whose parents did not respond with love and acceptance when their child came to them with some big news along these lines. My children will know that nothing they could tell me would make me stop loving them.
I am sure there are things out there that would make a parent falter on this one. I am thinking of horrific, extreme actions like crimes against a loved on. But if your kid is gay, transgender, atheist, a religion that differs from your own, the weird kid, annoying, not cool, a Democrat/Republican…you need to love them anyway.
If your son wants to wear nail polish or dance ballet, love him. If your daughter wants to shave her head or goes through a goth phase, love her anyway. Many of these things make your child more vulnerable, so you need to love them even more fiercely. Which leads me to my final point…
3. Be their safe place to land
I have read about how children, particularly toddlers, tend to act out more with their parents because they know it’s safe. They know if they have an emotional meltdown with mom or dad, the world will still continue to spin (these are really intelligent toddlers who understand cosmology.) There may be some discipline, but either during or after the said meltdown, there will be a warm hug. See above – unconditional love.
I remind myself of this as my daughter is in the prone position screaming on the grocery store floor because we can’t reach an agreement on in or out of the cart. She is doing this because she is navigating the world and lots of feelings, and she knows I won’t leave her there (even if I pretend to walk away.)
I’m talking about the kids who call their parents when a party gets out of hand. I’m thinking of the teenager who will go to her parents immediately when she finds out she is pregnant or the kid who got arrested and knows that dad will be angry but will still help him out of this bind. When a child wants to drop out of college, or (gasp!) enlist in the military, they know where their cheering squad is.
I won’t pretend that I always went to my parents immediately when I could or should have. But I also always knew that when I told them about something like a speeding ticket or a fender bender or a bad grade, they were still going to support me unconditionally. Going home and reveling the bad news would likely end in me being grounded. It was not going to end in them no longer loving me.
They were and still are, my safe place to land. Be that for your children.
There are so many sources of parenting information. It can feel as if the entire world knows how you should be raising your children and all the ways to make you feel like you are doing it wrong. But I’m sticking to these three principles of love. I know that by following these, I am and will continue to be a good mom.
And in case you need to hear it, you are a good mom, too.