Mothering is a verb (well, it’s a gerund, the noun form of a verb)—action is required. Good mothering, then, most certainly requires the most difficult of actions, like self-sacrifice and forgiveness.
Yet anyone can be a mother. Just have a baby, and you’ve joined the ranks. But to be a good mother takes skill and perseverance. It’s not a matter of right and wrong or of who’s judging what’s “good” and what’s not good. Good mothering is a matter of doing the best you can, regardless of circumstance, personality, or family history.
The catch is that excuses are not redeemable. Life with kids is hard, and, frankly, having kids limits our ability to do everything we want—and sometimes need—to do. Our choices in life diminish, and our freedoms are restricted. That is, all of this is the case in the world of good mothering, emphasis on good, where we accept that life is permanently changed (for better or for worse) with the entrance of children.
But in spite of the changes and the challenges that ensue, we, at some point, will need to take responsibility for our own actions and words. The excuses—even the good ones—that we use to justify our choice to be less than our best are no longer acceptable. (They weren’t acceptable in the first place, but when we’re ready to get real with ourselves and to face our life with honesty and courage, then we have to lay down those excuses and reject their empty value in our life.)
What we can do, though (instead of lamenting about how excuses are unacceptable), is transform the excuses, to which we once held so tightly, into explanations of why we are the way we are so that we can better understand why we do what we do. It is only then that we can start making some measurable kind progress on our lives, specifically in our work as mothers, because now we are proceeding with truth and humility. Already the task of achieving good mothering status looms large, doesn’t it?
Well, it’s a relief to know that the skills needed to carry out good mothering can be learned and developed. The hard part, as it always remains, is being willing to learn and develop—and then to actually do what it takes to learn and develop.
This is a reflective account of my journey on the good mothering train, with all of its twists and turns and lumps and bumps. I am a mother of two boys who are two years old and two months old. I have a lot left to learn about good mothering (especially of lively sons), but I feel that the hurdles I’ve cleared (after much work and practice) up until this point are worth sharing about. Being a mom isn’t easy, but reading the words of someone else who understands makes it a little easier.
This writing is also included in Loved: Writings on Motherhood and Caregiving, a collection of reflective and expository writings by Tiffany Tyndall.