Posted in:Good Mother

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When people asked my great grandmother how she raised eight children without losing her sanity, she’d say, “With one blind eye and one deaf ear.” For me, this pearl of wisdom means not only that I can let my kids get away with occasional misbehavior if it’s not hurting anyone, but I also have permission to ignore them now and then. And I do ignore my kids sometimes, freely and without fear of judgment. What was harder for me to ignore when I first became a mom were all the Supermoms out there, who seemed to be parading their accomplishment capes and brandishing their lassos of superiority in my plain sight.

We all know Supermom. She’s that mom in the subway with freshly washed hair, not a single cheerio stuck to her butt. She’s in line at the bank with four kids in tow, all dressed in matching outfits. Her kids say please and thank you, and I’m quite sure none of them are stick beads up their noses either.

When I first became a mom, a good mother was Supermom, a woman selflessly devoted to raising children, having a career, and keeping a home. It was an ideal that I could neither reach nor discard. I used to feel like Supermom was doing those perfect things on purpose just to showcase her superiority. How dare she?! I felt her white-hot judgment all over me and my unwashed hair, my children’s mismatched clothes and bead-accessorized noses.

Then one day I was reading The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, and I came across this line:

“Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman… It was easy to know them, fluttering about with extended protective wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood. They were women who idolized their children… and esteemed it as holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels.”

–Kate Chopin, The Awakening (1899)[1]

Even though Chopin’s novel was written over one hundred years ago, she managed to express my exact feelings about the Supermoms around me. I realized then that the Supermom was not a new phenomenon, and she only had control over me inasmuch as I gave it to her. I had placed Chopin’s mother-woman up on her pedestal when I buried my self-doubt and hostility rather than acknowledging them as acceptable parts of a loving whole.

In The Myths of Motherhood: How culture reinvents the good mother, psychologist Shari L. Thurer says, “there is a glaring need to restore the mother her own presence, to understand that she is a person, not merely an object for her child, to recognize her subjectivity.”[2] This recognition was the gift my great grandmother had given me, the permission to be my own person outside the position as mother of my children.

Battle Hymn of the Good Enough Mother

With the help of therapy, I finally allowed myself to be vulnerable with my fellow mom friends; they in turn opened about about their own anxieties. To my surprise, when I finally plucked up the courage to confess my insecurity to friends, I became more powerful. I welcomed the dawn of a new age, the era of the good enough mother. When I learned I wasn’t alone, I felt more powerful at having put Supermom in her place. She might have been better (or maybe she wasn’t), but I was good enough.

Indeed, Thurer says, “The nervousness parents feel about their inadequacy will dissipate when decent people are encouraged to mother in their own decent way,” which was just what my friends did for me.  By breaking “the conspiracy of silence,” we–the good enough mothers–experienced the triumphs of motherhood together and helped each other through the trials.[3] I am doing my best to craft an honest community from genuine respect and non-judgment that buoys my confidence and increases our shared influence.

[1] Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. New York: Bantam Dell, 1981. Print. (originally published in 1899 by Herbert S. Stone & Co.)

[2] Thurer, Shari L. The Myths of Motherhood: How culture reinvents the good mother. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994. Print.

[3] The phrase “good enough mother” was first used by pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott in his book, The Child, the Family, and the Outside World (Middlesex 1973), p. 11.

Justine is a writer, a birth doula, and a minimalist mom living in Massachusetts. She writes about the intersection of food and family at The Lone Home Ranger.

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