The Good Mother.

Via Lynn Shattuck
on Sep 22, 2013
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mothers day

Relephant reads: 

To My Post-Partum Self: Things I Wish I’d Known.

The Depth Charge of Becoming a Mother.

50 Things Moms Need to Do for Themselves.



I remember talking to another new mom at a mom’s group when my son was a newborn.

The other new mom was clearly connected with her infant daughter; I could almost see the cord of love twining them to each other. I could see it in the gentle but sturdy way she held her daughter and the way she smiled and gazed at her—while my son alternated nursing and crying, nursing and crying, we chatted.

“I have this ‘good mother’ voice in my head sometimes,” she admitted. “The other day, Julia was napping and I realized I’d forgotten to turn the baby monitor on. I checked on her and she was still sleeping, but I thought, ‘a good mother wouldn’t forget to turn the baby monitor on.’”

I nodded, but not because I agreed that a good mother wouldn’t forget to turn the baby monitor on. I nodded because I had that voice, too. It seemed to have arrived about the same time as my son’s placenta and was equally unpleasant, but unlike the placenta, it carried no nutrients.

It said: A Good Mother wouldn’t forget to bring extra clothes when her baby has a diaper blowout. A Good Mother would read her baby books every day! A Good Mother would be fully focused on her child instead of surfing the internet while she was nursing. A Good Mother would know how to soothe her baby.

Unfortunately, four and half years later, the sneaky, unpleasant voice still pipes up. I was bringing my son to school this morning, and in the bright sunlight, I noticed that his shirt had a few small pink smears on it, most likely dribbles of frozen yogurt.

My mind raced. Getting dressed this morning had been a battle, as my son is still in his monochromatic clothing phase. It is “Wear your class color” day at his school today, which meant his friends and teachers from the Green Room at his preschool would be wearing green. After a brief, heated discussion, I realized that my son would wear his favorite matching grey shirt and shorts instead.

“I want to be in the Grey Room,” he sulked.

“Honey, there’s not a Grey Room at your school, unfortunately,” I replied.

“Mama, make it the Grey Room!” he demanded.

So as we were walking and I noticed the stains on his grey, not green, shirt, I quickly decided that the easiest thing would be to let him wear his soiled shirt. He didn’t care. But the Good Mother did. A Good Mother wouldn’t let her son wear a dirty shirt to school! And a Good Mother would’ve noticed the stains before she left the house, she hissed. I shooed the voice away, but she popped back up when we arrived at my son’s school and I saw the sign for the school potluck, which happens to be tonight. I had forgotten all about it, and I have no idea what to bring.

A Good Mother would have a casserole, the voice whispered. Apparently, the Good Mother voice comes from 1955.

I am curious about whether dads have a Good Father voice. I often hear people saying, “Scott is such a great dad.” My husband is a great father. He is affectionate and fun, and he spends a lot of time with our kids. He bathes them and changes diapers and takes them out for ice cream and tries to soothe them when they’re sad. But it occurs to me that we set the bar much lower for fathers than we do for mothers.

Because all those great things that my husband does, I do, too. I smother my kids in hugs and kisses. I say, “I love you,” with my words and my actions throughout the day. I take them to the beach with their friends and keep them reasonably clean and reasonably well fed. I read their favorite books to them over and over again until the words feel like they’re melting my brain. And still, the Good Mother voice pops up to remind me that it’s just not good enough.

One of the hardest things for me about being a mom is that I make about 107 little decisions every day, and most of the time, I am totally winging it. Unlike work at a paid job, I don’t get regular feedback on how I’m doing.

So I think that as moms, we need to tell each other, “You are such a good mom.” And we need to really hear it when our friends or family says it to us. We all parent differently. We parent from our personalities and from our wounds. From our heads and our hearts. We parent from our unconscious family patterns and from tips on books and blogs. And it is never perfect because we are human and messy, and our kids are human and messy.

Maybe someday I’ll know what to bring to the school potluck and be more caught up on my laundry. But maybe not. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad mother if I don’t do those things. And it doesn’t mean I’m a good mother if I do.

Honestly, the Good Mother— the one in my head— is not much fun. She doesn’t laugh when her son makes a joke about boogers. She is so busy baking casseroles and folding underwear that she misses out on dance parties in the living room.

When I quiet the Good Mother down, which requires a good deal of mental duct tape, here is what I think makes me a good mom: My kids know they’re loved. They are growing. They trust me. I keep them safe. And they go cuckoo with delight when I pick them up from daycare.

And maybe, just maybe, by cozying up to my imperfections, my laundry list of weaknesses, I can teach them that they don’t have to be perfect, either.

I’m a good mother. Say it with me, even if your kid is wearing a yogurt shirt today like mine is. Say it if you have no idea what’s for dinner. Say it after you raise your voice because your kid won’t get in her freaking car seat. Say it out loud to yourself. Say it to your friends or your wife or your own mother.

Keep saying it, even on the hardest days—especially on the hardest days.

You’re a good mother.


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Ed: Bryonie Wise


About Lynn Shattuck

Lynn Shattuck lives in Portland, Maine with her husband and two young children. She blogs about parenting, imperfection, spirit and truth telling—you can connect with her through her website or find her on Facebook.


86 Responses to “The Good Mother.”

  1. lynnola says:

    Good question, but I think we have to make that room!

  2. lynnola says:

    Good point, Sharon. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. lynnola says:

    Yes, well said, CrunchyCake!

  4. lynnola says:

    Sorry for your struggles, Michel!

  5. lynnola says:

    Good point, Liz. It IS feedback, but a very different kind!

  6. lynnola says:

    Thanks, Jackie! I always felt guilty about nursing & surfing, but now that we're done with nursing, I don't regret it. We are hard enough on ourselves as it is.

  7. lynnola says:

    Good reminder, and for me, hard to embody.

  8. lynnola says:

    Oh my goodness, soooo many tantrums on my part when my son didn't get in his car seat. : ) You are so not alone!

  9. lynnola says:

    Thanks, Kelli!

  10. sk says:

    Couldn’t have stumbled upon this at a better time as I sit up alone at 3:30 a.m. trying to “clean” the house before the cleaning lady comes tomorrow morning. I look around my house every day and feel like I don’t measure up. “If I had just put one more thing back in its place or if I just gotten up a little earlier and not nursed my son to sleep in the morning so I could snooze an extra few minutes…” Did I mention that I still co-sleep and nurse at 18 months? Did I feed my child enough today, did he watch too much T.V. today, yaada, yaada, yaada. Sometimes it gives me chest pains, that voice when it takes over. Especially I don’t fit into either category. Im a first time stay at home mom who hates it but knows my son needs me more than anyone else. The daily sacrifices I have put forth for him tell me everyday that it better be enough. But at the end of the day when I have no energy to play or feed him and hand him over to my husband, I feel guilty still because it’s my job to do all of this and more. Wrong. I guess if I did have more people in my life telling me I’m a good mom more often it would help. And if they do, they need to say it more. Good luck to all moms and dads in these utmost difficult times of parenting where we’re stretched in every way possible but then we stretch ourselves a little even more.

  11. lynnola says:

    Hang in there, sk. Hardest job in the world.

  12. Tiffany says:

    I really, really needed to read this today. Thank you.

  13. Annie says:

    Beautiful & touching! Thank you so much for sharing your heart with the world. It makes me appreciate all the love and devotion my own mother has brought into my own life. And it is so helpful to turn down that 'not good enough' voice and turn up that ' I am a child of God, therefore I am perfect, therefore I am whole' voice so that it gets a little louder & louder each time. You are good enough. <3

    I wanted to also add the photo credit: Bekah Stewart from
    She's a great mom like you. 🙂

  14. JP Edwards says:

    I truly believe those kinds of thoughts are initiated by the adversary. He knows how to get at mothers and any thoughts that does not uplift and inspire is not of God… I wonder what God would have said instead. Like, 'you are such a good mother to check on your baby. You are such an observant mother to notice that the monitor is off.' we are so used to hearing the adversary we can't hear our Heavenly parents cheering us on and encouraging us.
    Every time we hear the negative, we need to stop and say no! That is a lie! And replace whatever the negative is with the encouragement God would give…. It takes a little time, but if we allow ourselves to accept those voices, we will pass them along to our children, only they will be louder and even more demeaning to them… It's time to stop letting our minds and hearts be bombarded and poisoned with the lies.

  15. Swati says:

    thanks for such thoughtful words…I have a 1 yr old daughter and this good mother voice often troubles me but slowly I have started ignoring her and concentrate more on the thing which bring joy to my daughter!

  16. Sandra Gutierrez says:

    I’m a mom and a teacher and I have a voice for both. “A good teacher would have …” It is exhausting. But being a mom has made me a better teacher. When speaking to parents who show up for their kid’s parent/teacher conferences, I try to always lead with positive attributes of the child and credit the parent with a job well done. I’ve had many moms break down crying at such a simple gesture. Moms, dads, teachers, people who work in the fields of public service don’t hear thank you often enough.

  17. Wade Hisle says:

    Excellent article. Do what you need to do to do whats best for YOU AND YOUR CHILD. Not what someone else things you may or may not need to be doing. Women need to quit tearing each other down when you don't do it my way, or the way the experts say. If it's not a matter of safety, life or death, you do what you need to do to get through the day. Period. OH YEAH, I'm a daddy too, and we have the same voice. I guess we just don't talk about things like that so much. I depend on my best buddy for advice on multiple things as he's been a dad longer than me, but at the end of the day, I have to be at peace with the decisions I make for my children. We all do. And that requires a lot of prayer, thought, mistakes, and the occasional advice from those more experienced than we. Will we always get it right? No. Plain and simple, no. And you know what, that's OKAY!!!! When we stop making mistakes, we will no longer have to worry about that whole pesky autonomic breathing thing too… Comparing what we do, and how we do it to others will get us no where quick. Enjoy your children! Each day, no matter the trials, mistakes, unfair comments and comparisons, that are made, and you are informed of, is a BLESSING from the Almighty! You're not alone… Promise.

  18. lynnola says:

    Glad you found it, Tiffany!

  19. lynnola says:

    Thank you, Annie! Love your counter-voices.

  20. I love this article, my Good Mother voice is so powerful, I often wonder if she has OCD?!

  21. LHarris says:

    this was a great article. thanks for sharing. the transition into motherhood is already a challenge without the mom-guilt from yourself or others. this was a great reminder to believe in your God-given mom talents and just breathe!

  22. Howard Abraham says:

    Instead of lowering the bars for mothers I suggest raising the bar for dads and approach the situation with some teamwork.

  23. lynnola says:

    Thanks Danielle!

  24. lynnola says:

    Great perspective, Swati!

  25. lynnola says:

    What a great service, Sandra, that you compliment the parents. Thank you!

  26. lynnola says:

    Thank you, Wade, for the dad's perspective. I loved your comment. My very best to you.

  27. lynnola says:

    Good point, Hannah! I think mine does!

  28. Tandalayo says:

    You can't stop loving your's impossible. I was told by a judge that I can't see my daughter for 5 years..unless she changes the court order. I never did her any harm…and still love her as I always have. I keep busy..have work I love …hobbies..a wonderful boyfriend…but I still miss her. I don't know what I did to deserve this. I loved her with all my being from her birth. I just wait, and hope that one day she will be as happy as I am now…and will contact me. She actually had me incarcerated for 8 months for just trying to see her, speak to her…tell her I am here for her. So you see … being a mom doesn't always turn out well. But, we just can't seem to stop matter what a judge says….

  29. Amy says:

    Wow, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on parenting. It is so easy to focus on the stuff we don't do right instead of all the wonderful amazing things we do as parents. Thanks for the timely reminder that no one is perfect, but it is the effort that matter.

  30. lynnola says:

    Thanks Amy! Sometimes a perspective shift is the best thing ever! 🙂

  31. Melody says:

    I loved your story. I was never able to have children and that was all I ever wanted. I have young friends with toddlers and nursing babies and I CANNOT imagine how they do it. Honestly sometimes I think God knew what he was doing when I didn't have babies. I bet you are an amazing mother green shirt day or yogurt shirt day. Turn down that voice and tell that "Good Mother" voice and remind yourself you are a great mother. Thank you for being real and transparent, you are helping so many.. Just know that by the comments.

  32. Melody says:

    I loved your story. I was never able to have children and that was all I ever wanted. I have young friends with toddlers and nursing babies and I CANNOT imagine how they do it. Honestly sometimes I think God knew what he was doing when I didn't have babies. I bet you are an amazing mother green shirt day or yogurt shirt day. Turn down that voice and tell that "Good Mother" voice and remind yourself you are a great mother. Thank you for being real and transparent, you are helping so many.. Just know that by the comments.

  33. lynnola says:

    Oh, thank you so much Melody! I'm sorry you weren't able to have children. My best to you.

  34. Jeanine says:

    I actually cried after I read this! As a working mother of 3, I couldn't relate more!