The Good Enough Mom
By Leslie Vernick
Mother’s day is right around the corner, so I wanted to share with you what I’ve learned about being a good enough mother.
Many of us picture a good mom as supermom. We think that our kids will do better and love us more if we do everything for them. We’re always there for them. And we sacrifice our own needs to help them and make sure there are plenty of pillows around when they fall down. But in the end, that approach cripples your child. It teaches her that she cannot be the owner of her own life because you don’t trust that she is capable of managing without you or your help.
The basic job of a good enough mother is to help your children NOT to need you when they grow up. Sure we all want a great relationship with our kids, but that relationship must mature into a more mutual and reciprocal one or it’s not healthy.
Below are essential life lessons you must teach your child (besides teaching them to know and love God).
Please do not beat yourself up if you see you fall short. This may be an opportunity for you to see parenting in a whole new way. But you won’t learn if you are upset with yourself that you didn’t know these things or do them before.
Life Lesson One: Your child must learn/experience that he/she is unconditionally loved. Unconditional love creates a secure base from which the rest of life’s lessons are absorbed. That does not mean that anything goes in terms of bad behavior, but it means that no matter how poorly your child behaves, he or she knows Mom loves me. (If this is hard for you, fill yourself up with God’s unconditional love for you).
Life Lesson Two: Every child needs to learn how to name and express his/her own emotions appropriately. For example when a child is whining, put words to their whine, “I see you are tired, or hungry, or crabby.” Doing this helps your child develop a vocabulary to express what’s going on inside of his/her body.
Life Lesson Three: Every child needs to learn how to manage and control his/her emotions, especially the more volatile or negative emotions. As a mother, validate and name your child’s emotions as well as the boundaries or limitations of expressing them. “I know you’re tired (or hungry or mad) but you cannot hit mommy.”
We live in a “feeling” dominated culture but without self-control, indulging those feelings with no boundaries will wreak havoc over one’s life and cause one to become “corrupt” or “deformed” as a person.
Life Lesson Four: Children need to understand reality and its limits. For example, “not everyone comes in first place or gets a trophy.” Sometimes we lie to our kids inflating his/her abilities or talents (you can do anything you want to do) because we want them to gain self-esteem and self-confidence. But that ultimately backfires when they come up against reality (life).
Genuine self-esteem isn’t built by false reality. Confidence in one’s ability is built by learning to do something well. Confidence is also achieved by knowing you can LEARN to do something if you need to, even if you don’t know how to do it yet.
Help your children “accept” reality rather than resist it. They will become happier rather than always feeling sullen and angry that “reality” doesn’t bend to what he/she wants it to.
Life Lesson Five: Children need to learn how to take responsibility for themselves. Being a good mom does not mean you over function and do everything for your child. You must give your child age appropriate responsibilities so that they learn how to NOT need you anymore in order to become a fully functioning adult. For example, don’t do his science project when he has procrastinated. Let your child experience the consequences of reality, a bad grade.
Life Lesson Six: Children need to learn how to identify the lies they believe and learn to think truthfully. Children will naturally lie to themselves just as adults do. Therefore a good mom corrects her child’s thinking with the truth, as appropriate to the situation and his/her age. For example, your child cries, “I’m just stupid” because she’s having problems with her math homework. You don’t do her homework for her, but you say, “Math can be difficult and it takes more effort and concentration to learn harder things. You can learn this math but it takes work. You’re not stupid.”
Parenting is hard work. I wish I would have understood these things better when I was raising children. Don’t beat yourself up, but stop knocking yourself out trying to be the hero of your child’s story. It’s much more empowering for your child to become the hero (problem solver) of his or her own life.