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. Sandra says:

    I’m not a mother but this piece was so insightful. Thank you for sharing and I think everyone knows being a parent is one of the hardest jobs in the world, so I’m glad you know where you stand. You don’t sound like a bad mother 😛

  2. Ellen says:

    It is important to let other moms know what a good job they are doing – you are correct that lack of feed-back makes the job hard, especially since we won't know if we succeeded as moms for decades! Once while I was watching my children in their Tae Kwan Do class, one of the blackbelt instructors walked over and congratulated me on my three fine children and complimented me as a mother. I was stunned, and then wept. How seldom we mothers get positive feedback from other adults!

  3. Cris says:

    Thank you, we all need to ignore that cruel 'good Mother' voice, it's pointless. x

  4. Ann says:

    You are a healthy, loving Mom and I am, too!!! Thank you for sharing your conscious awareness and reminding me how important it is to be present and authentic with children (and everyone else as well!)…. 🙂

  5. Erica says:

    Yay! I love this 🙂 I could've written every word!

  6. lynnola says:

    Thank you Sandra! Glad you enjoyed it.

  7. lynnola says:

    That is awesome that the instructor complimented you. Those words mean so much!

  8. lynnola says:

    Thank you Ann. Being present and authentic is a daily challenge for me, like so many other aspects of parenting!

  9. lynnola says:

    Thanks Erica! Take good care.

  10. Louisa says:

    We never had baby monitors,, and sometimes I never had extra clothes for my son when he had a diaper blow out…. I did what I did,,, spanking,,, yup.,,, and yes I yelled too,,,, I am Portuguese,,, it comes natural to me,,, was i a bad mother?,,,, nope,,, was I a good mother?,, took my years to finally accept and not blame myself for some of the things I did,,,, could I have done better?, you bet I could!,, ,my son is 28 yrs old,,,,I continue to pray for direction in his life,,, I pray the LORD continues to protect him,, and that one day he will know who GOD really is,,, AMEN!

  11. Cathy says:

    thanx Louisa, I am a Mom like….spanked, yelled amd said the WRONG things but I did the best I knew how. I have some regrets but there is no book on parenting.

  12. Mike J says:

    As just one dad, I _do_ have a similar, but slightly different, voice. My voice is constantly telling me what an awful father I am. When I'm at work it is telling me that if I was a better father I would have spent more time with them in the morning. That I would pick them up early from daycare. That I would find a way to eat lunch with them (without the daycare complaining about upsetting their day). That I should be doing more relevant things with my career to make the world a better place for them. And on and on and on. But that is really nothing compared to the sheer terror my "voice" screams at me when I am with my two daughters. Which actions/words are the ones that are going to turn them into spoiled self-entitled brats? Which ones will "break them" and not let them grow up into vibrant, self-confident, good people. In one regard I am blessed in that materially my family has very few unmet needs/wants. But doesn't that just mean that it is that much more critical that I help them to be the best persons they can be… and don't do anything to screw them up too badly?
    Now, don't get me wrong. I can assure you there are plenty of dads out there with the emotional attachment of a squirrel when it comes to their children. But, I think "the voice" that you hear (and this is how I have learned to get along with my "voice") is just all of us loving our children unconditionally. We all know that a clean shirt would be best. But sometimes it just doesn't happen. We don't set limits on what we would do for our kids. But time does. Our bank accounts do. Our own health will, eventually, if we don't take care of ourselves too. I also think of "the voice" as a coach or mentor. It isn't there to be my friend. (In reality it is just me wanting the best for my kids.) If I woke up one day and my voice was gone? Then I'd be really worried. (At least for the foreseeable future.)
    I really hope you know that there's another voice in your head too, though. It is the one that duct tapes the "self doubt" one down every so often. We tend not to hear that voice as much. But, if you do listen for it; at the park, at nap time, as you're passing out at night from exhaustion. You'll notice that it is sweet and powerful and glorious. Make sure to listen to that voice too and let it build you up and reaffirm you. Drink it in and accept it. Just because you don't hear it as often doesn't mean it isn't telling you the truth.

    Have a great day!

  13. lynnola says:

    I think we do the best we can at most given moments. Best wishes to you and your son!

  14. lynnola says:

    Dear Mike,

    Wow! Thank you for your thoughtful, articulate and lovely comment. It is great to hear about the voice you have as a father. And I know that terrified voice all too well, the one that questions each and every decision, of which there are many.

    And yes, thank goodness, I hear that other voice too. It is whispery but I DO hear it. The one telling me that my kids trust me. That every so often, I know just what to do. I'd like it to be a louder voice, but I am very grateful it's there. My very best to you!

  15. Denise says:

    Just when I'm doubting my ability to be that "good mother" someone shared this post with me. Thank you for the reminder.

    Wow Mike! Thank you, too. I couldn't have said it better myself. 🙂

  16. Nelda Allen says:

    I have 3 grown kids that I love dearly…. I always was an over doing thinks when it can to them I have what I call a mothers gut feeling…. I always taught them every thing that would be good for them and pleasing to God . Yes always keep "EVER THING that they would need in any kind of way; extra close, snacks , water, jackets if it turn cool & so on I always would wind up needing something I I had packed in a suit case not diaper bag because it wouldn't fit every into one but I also have the diaper bag so I may have been an over doer but I always had what I need and extra's. I also have 4 grand children now and I did them the same way. Now it is just myself & my husband I still when we plan a trip he say I take too much. There again it winds up him needing what extra's that I have packed……LOL Then I tell him see you did need that……… LOL so I guess by now you have figured out that I am old school……. Thank God I am…….;-)……. So with saying this you can always bring it back it if you don't use it but you can't make it appear if you don't have it………..LOL……….. aka……….Gramma. (y)

  17. Lee says:

    I absolutely had that voice; sometimes it spoke in my mother's voice, sometimes in my grandmother's voice. Sometimes it just seemed like the announcer at a sports event. I finally realized it was nothing real, and worthy only of mockery and scorn. I tried saying out loud, and it got funnier instead of more desperate, especially once the kids could talk, or my husband would join in. We'd elaborate on what a GOOD mother would do until we were laughing too hard to speak. The good mother is a figment. Lean into where you are.

  18. lynnola says:

    Lee, that is a fabulous idea. I love the idea of talking back to the voice. Thank you for your wise, lovely comment.

  19. Sue says:

    Wow, this really hits home. With all the social media websites out there, sometimes (more times than not) I think "wow, why doess that family out having fun while I'm home and my kids are watching TV" – they do more than us, they have more fun than us, they make more money than us to do more things, that mom cooks better than me (and puts pictures up of her 5 course meal) and her kids eat and LOVE vegetables…All that nonsense. It's a great reminder that we all have that voice. Thank you for your article.

  20. Suz says:

    I still have that voice – a Good Mother would know whether to send her ex-daughter-in-law a Christmas card, a Good Mother would have visited her 29yo son in grad school already, a Good Mother wouldn't text her 26yo so often, a Good Mother would have mailed off a blender to the 23yo son, etc. etc. I continue to make peace with that voice and I don't think she is my friend. When I first went to work fulltime and the babysitter taught my 6 month old son to say "bye bye" and to reach up his hands for "so big" I thought, a Good Mother would have taught him these things, good thing he has the babysitter in his life. Fortunately, since then I have realized that I am a good mother for these three boys/men. And not knowing everything is not a bad thing. And wanting to do my best for our sons is a good thing. I had to (and continue to) follow my heart in parenting each of our sons – and that is a very good thing.

  21. Sarah says:

    Oh, how the tears flow when I read this. My daughter and unborn son are my life. This really hit the spot. I think I will give mt mother a call. LOVE.

  22. Amena says:

    Thanks so much for writing this, it really struck a chord!

  23. Jeanene says:

    LOVE. Thank you for sharing this…it is SO hard. Even though I have *done* this before(I have four older kids) that "good mother" is still flapping her gums at me. I will be re reading this often…and reminding the mom's around me of the truth found here!

  24. lynnola says:

    Thanks, Sue! I agree, the social media sites ensure that we're usually just seeing the highlights of everyone else's life, while we know all too well the hardest parts of our own.

  25. lynnola says:

    Thanks for your comment, Suz. Glad you know you're a good mom!

  26. lynnola says:

    Oh, thank you Sarah!

  27. lynnola says:

    Thanks, Amena. Glad you related!

  28. lynnola says:

    Thanks, Jeanene! She can be relentless, that Good Mother voice! Hang in there.

  29. Emily says:

    LOVE THIS!!!! Let's all have a group hug!

  30. Christine Bennett says:

    I am a granny now and when I look back I know my generation had similar pressures but not as extreme. I don’t know why but young moms need to be kind to each other and ignore those who tell them to do it all. That includes the little voice in their head.

  31. michelle says:

    thank you, that made my very hard day seem a bit easier! x

  32. Neena says:

    Thank you so much for this! My Good Mother voice too often colours my experiences and keeps me from being fully in the moment with my kids. Now I have a kind but firm way to shut her up!

  33. lynnola says:

    Yay for group hugs! 🙂

  34. lynnola says:

    Love your thoughts, Christine!

  35. lynnola says:

    Aw, thank you Michelle!

  36. lynnola says:

    Thanks, Neena!

  37. Yael says:

    Yes! I struggle with this too– wanting to live up to these ridiculous internalized standards that constitute the "good mother." But trying to meet these standards will only make me less patient, less present and less understanding. It's tough. How do you make room to be imperfect?

  38. Sharon says:

    I have raised 3 children and I can tell you that some days are really difficult, but it is not the praise from other adults that makes it worth while. It is the blessings that come from the children themselves. When they look up you and smile just because you are there. When they hold your hand because they want to. When you are there to give them praise for some small battle they have won. Sometimes it comes from watching them sleep, so trusting that you will keep them safe and secure. As they age, these small blessings may come fewer, but when they are grown, you can start all over with grandchildren. Look for the blessings…

  39. CrunchyCake says:

    Thank you so much for this. It's absolutely how I feel. I worry that the lunch I packed her will seem lame or that she/I will be judged because her pants look a little on the small side or that she has some yogurt from this morning's breakfast on her mouth…but at the end of the day, what makes me think that maybe, JUST MAYBE I'm a good mom is that my children are safe, secure, healthy, and happy. And if other good moms get their children to that same destination by a different path that's filled with ornate bento box lunches and designer clothes, good for them – they should be proud too. But my path is the one that's working for my kids and I owe it to myself to be proud of us.

  40. Michel says:

    As a single father, I had that voice too and make thousand decision a minutes when with my kids, still we worry more about the essential : safety, health, love and values, … so the stain on the shirt might not be a show stopper for us, however the balanced meal is important. maybe that my divorce that triggers a new style of parenting to make sure I do all in my power to be the best parent my kids could ever have. yes at time we wonder if we do enough for them, but I also learn that we need to take care of ourselves which in fact is more difficult to do : that is my "good dad" voice now:
    take care of yourself such that your kids can enjoy more of the healthy happy you" …

    (and still it is not enough for the family court which has removed any access to my kids )

  41. Melissa says:

    You know, I am pretty sure this is the voice my husband hears!! 🙂 Your comment was great.

  42. Liz says:

    This comment, "I don’t get regular feedback on how I’m doing," is just not true! Your kids give you feedback all the time! If they smile, laugh, play, snuggle, and get a long reasonably well, much of the time (not even most of the time!) with peers and other adults, you are right on track! If they show even more positive behavior than that, you are doing fantastic! If they are sad, uncomfortable, very quiet for long periods of time, don't interact with anyone (not in relation to any aspect of autism), lash out, act out, or worse, then there is loads of feedback. My second child was challenging and I found my self doing a lot more than just raising my voice to get him in the car seat – things I will always regret – but your article helped me heal some of my guilt, especially now that he is 13 and I have the most wonderful feedback of all – a very sociable, fun and enjoyable, respectful, interesting, and loving kid.

  43. motherseer says:

    Good article, except — don't surf the internet when you're nursing. Not unless your child is sick & you're looking up whether these symptoms require a trip to the emergency room if you don't have health insurance (if you do, call your doctor's help line). Nursing time blows by so fast, and your child is developing attachment skills by looking into your eyes while nursing. This will be one of countless times as a parent you'll need to mindfully choose what's best for your child instead of being on autopilot. You'll have the rest of your life to mindlessly surf the internet. Give your full attention to your baby – it makes a difference, and it's a blip of time and it's gone forever. My kids are 19 and 14. I wish with all my heart I could get one day of their babyhood back to spend it with them.

  44. April says:

    Where's the duct tape! I so needed this right at the moment it arrived.

  45. BeWise says:

    I think being a good mother is just being you; stop putting so much pressure on yourself….why do we make this so much about ourselves?

  46. Jenna says:

    I friend posted this on FB. Thank you for writing what so many other moms feel but are afraid to admit. And thank you for letting me know that there are other moms out there who lose their cool when their children won’t get in their car seats!

  47. Danielle says:

    I am still crying even though I finished reading this a few minutes ago. In a world where we (especially moms) hear and see all the time what “perfection” is (often, but not always from our non-parent friends/family members, etc.) it is soooooo hard to tell yourself (and fully believe!!!) that you ARE a good mom. This article put a small squash on what you refer to as “the good mother voice” for me so – THANK YOU!!!! I like what another comment said – you said what we are so often afraid to admit as moms; and when our friends/family members tell us we are good moms, we (or at least I) often brush those comments often. No more!!! Thank you for a very encouraging and moving post! 🙂

  48. Kelli says:

    I hope I never, ever forget this article. Thank you!

  49. Jackie says:

    Wrong. You don't need to stare into your child's eyes every time you nurse him/her. Cut the author a little slack. It's all about balance.
    Even if you were as mindful as possible and stared at your child all day throughout their entire baby-hood, you would still wish that you could have one more day with them as a baby. Do you know why? Because they aren't babies anymore and the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Mother's of babies are exhausted, they don't sleep full nights, they're covered in baby bodily fluids and they are constantly hearing "the good mother" voice telling them to be perfect. Mothers of newborns have SO much to do, and nursing requires long chunks of time. If a young mother can catch a few minutes of internet time while the baby is nursing, good for her!