One thing I often hear from my clients is ‘I’m a bad mother’, or ‘I feel like a bad mother’. Why are so many women feeling this way? Commonly, the reasons behind these thoughts are things like:
‘I yelled at my children’
‘I couldn’t settle my baby’
‘I forgot to pick up my child from kindy’
‘I made my child cry’
‘I couldn’t listen to them fighting or whinging a moment longer’
‘My baby settled for my friend/mother, but not me’
‘I don’t enjoy spending time with my baby/children’
‘This is too hard- I can’t cope with it’.
‘I couldn’t work out what was wrong with my baby’
Motherhood is challenging, at times overwhelming, and hard. You can feel powerless or inadequate. You can feel frustrated. Guilty. You can be pushed to your limit. And know that this is part of #mumlife, along with the better times. Struggling with parenting is not a measure of how good a mother you are. It is also unhelpful to judge yourself in black and white, or all or nothing terms: i.e., good mother/bad mother; perfect mother/failing mother. This omits all the shades of grey in between being a ‘good mother’ and a ‘bad mother’: because people, and their skills, don’t always fit into one of two tiny boxes. Saying this, it is sometimes worth exploring exactly what makes a good vs bad mother, because often people feel like they are a bad mother, without actually being one.
What determines if someone makes a bad mother? It’s pretty common for people to define a bad mother as someone who intentionally hurts or abuses their children, and consistently neglects their needs. If this is what a bad mother looks like, then ask yourself: do you meet the criteria for a bad mother? And if not, then how could you actually be a bad mother? It’s important to realise that feeling like you’re failing or not doing good enough are feelings, and not evidence that you are a bad mother. These feelings are often clues that there are very high standards (and maybe unrealistically high) regarding how you’d like to parent. It is entirely possible that these high standards might be the problem, rather than your parenting. Becoming aware of the beliefs, standards, and values that inform your parenting and other behaviours creates choice and the opportunity to do things differently, if this is the goal. Or you may just need to cut yourself some slack: nobody is perfect, and this includes mothers. You do the best you can, and it doesn’t need to be perfect. It’s also worth remembering that you are learning all the time how to mother and manage new issues as they arise through your child’s development, and learning often involves mistakes or changes in direction.
So mama: remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can, and that feeling like a bad mother doesn’t actually make you one. Caring whether you are a bad mother or not demonstrates that you care, which is actually a sign of a good mother.