In the last year, I have heard people tell me more than a few times that I am good mother. It’s nice to hear it sometimes, a compliment from someone as they watch me struggle through the wilderness of motherhood. But sometimes I wonder, how do they really know? How do they know, looking from the outside, that I am good mother? I know my friends wonder similar things about themselves. Or at least I think they do, based on their recollections of moments that may indicate they think they have failed as a mother. Yelled too much. Lost their temper. Their patience.
But that gets me thinking, what happens when our definition of ourselves as a mother is framed only in two oppositions. The Good or the Bad. Especially when so many women I know seem to measure themselves and others mostly in the negative space of the bad. They remember every misstep. And they see each others mistakes too plainly. How many times have I heard one mother disparage another? How many times have I been the one doing the disparaging? Facebook feeds and twitter posts ready to tell us what is wrong with some other kid’s mother. And every time we hear those stories, a little piece of it is internalized. Don’t yell. Don’t let your kids be self centered by sparing them discipline. Don’t feed your kids crappy food. Don’t be so controlling. Don’t let your kids play outside unattended. Don’t hover over them. What happens when so much of what we see is framed by the negative space? Can we see the opposite, the light, or the good in us? We are so much more than our ‘bad days’ and our lost tempers. And if we only focus on the negative, whether it be how we failed to meet our own expectations, or whether we are trying avoid being some definition of bad, are we missing what is possible?
I once had a conversation with a friend of mine from nursing school who was complaining about a fourteen year old mom on her labor and delivery ward. A similar complaint that I heard re-echoed a few weeks ago from another nurse. A few weeks ago, this nurse told me she was so angry that the fourteen year old’s mother was happy when the baby was born. My heart broke for that girl in the moment she said that. She saw it all framed in the negative. No one wants to see teen pregnancy, right? I know first hand how teen pregnancy is not the best life choice. I also know first hand what it feels like to have the gift of a child that no one sees as a gift, because I was so young.
I told my friend, in both situations, what good is it that we are angry at those young girls? What good does it do for them to shake our heads disappointed at the young mothers everywhere we see them? At bus stops, in grocery store lines, or in labor and delivery rooms. What if instead, we treated them like they were capable of doing amazing and fantastic things. That they, were going to shape the future generation, and instead of being disappointed, we embraced them and hoped great things for them? What would they be capable of then? Because no matter what we think, they are mothers of future generations and it is an amazing opportunity.
That example is just a piece of my idea that possibility in motherhood should have more weight in motherhood than the lack a mother may have. When I think of myself as a mother, I can’t fit myself in the framework of good or bad. I have messed up. Big mistakes, things I regret. I have said things I can’t unsay, made choices I can’t undo, and through them all, I have loved my children in my flawed way. Is my success measured by their success? I don’t know, but after 18 years of parenting I am inclined to say no. They will have successes and mess up too. Life is more complex than raising a child from 0-18. Our kids have so many more years with us, and us with them. Our relationships are dynamic and hold so much potential.
When I think of myself as a mother, I also think of how much I have changed over the years. 18 years of parenting so far is an incredibly long time. To think that the mother you are to your one year old is the mother you are permanently, is ridiculous. I used to be afraid that I would not be as close to my oldest as I am to my youngest because of the time she spent at her Dad’s. I never imagined that I would struggle as I have to find activities to share with my youngest. She has so many differences than I do, and I could have anticipated it. Not only do you change over time, so does your child. Motherhood isn’t static and every moment is chance to rethink what is possible. As a mother, I have learned to adjust my behavior and ideas of what is possible to sustain the relationships I have with my kids. Because of that, I look at all mothers completely different. Unlabeled and amazing in their own way.