Her kids always sleep through the night; she always has dinner on the table; she “gets her body back” two months after labor; she never gets tired (ha!); and never feels like she’s running on empty (which is totally possible, if "never" means "usually.") Does this sound like a standard of motherhood you'd like to acheive?
Think about it: No woman is that mother. The myth that the woman described above is our ultimate symbol of “Good Motherhood” chips away at women’s self-esteem and maternal confidence when no one can live up to that ideal.
For Avital Norman Nathman, editor of The Good Mother Myth (Seal Press), a collection of 35 essays published last month, this vision of the “good” mother is a serious problem. Nathman and her book's contributors tackle that problem in a way that's both honest and refreshing.
Here are some key takeaways from the book:
Mamas need to stick together (and they do)
While it may seem like the moms at the playground will judge you for having an epidural, hiring a babysitter, or bottle-feeding, Nathman says that few mothers actually battle over which is better: being a working mother or a stay-at-home mother, breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, natural births or epidurals. Instead, these “mommy wars” are exaggerated by the media, says Nathman.
Sure, we may have strong opinions about what’s best for our families, but we’re more concerned about getting through the day without dropping the ball than we are about lobbing grenades at other mothers. (Let's get real, who has time to judge?)
So, do what you need to do for your family, and don’t worry about what other mothers think. Chances are, they’re just trying to get by, too.
Don’t compare yourself to the moms on TV
Motherhood isn’t all postnatal yoga and crafting. It’s stressful, hectic, and scary. But you wouldn’t know that based on the common stereotype: trendy moms, effortlessly balancing their careers and families, all while looking perky and energetic.
The Good Mother Myth pulls back the curtain on real motherhood for real women dealing with real issues. It talks about the fear of failure that’s pervasive among mothers from all walks of life. It celebrates the wide variations of mothers, no matter their profession or sexual orientation. It tells the stories that make this universal experience far more textured, intricate and beautifully complicated than the "perfect" mothers portrayed on TV. They’re not white, upper-middle-class, or trendy, and they’re very, very good mothers.
Embrace your imperfections
Ready for a confession? My babies rarely slept through the night and when they did, I still looked sleep deprived and disheveled. And while I feed my family dinner, I’m not above take-out pizza three nights in a row, if that’s what it takes to get through the week. Spotless house? That’s funny. I’ve always been a working mom, which means I’ve missed school activities, and I don’t volunteer for the PTA. I’m not crafty, trendy or hipster. Some years, I’m even overweight. Do I make it to every soccer game? Well, I do my best, though “every game” is a bit ambitious. As for a happy and adventurous sex life? When your kids are little, you catch as you can, and hope to heck nobody hears you. That’s about the best most of us can do (don’t worry, it will get better as your kids get older).
But am I a good mother? Oh hell yes— one of the best. And honey, you will be, too.
Related: The New Mom's Survival Guide