Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Desparately Seeking Validation

How do you know when your doing a good job as a mother? Do your children tell you? Will your husband let you know? Are there clues and/or other signals from passerbys, in-laws or the like that let you know when your meeting expectations?

During my 13 year career, no matter what position I held, from Manager to HR Generalist, I always knew when my performance was a needs improvement, meeting expectation or outstanding. Job responsibilities were clearly laid out, feedback was free-flowing and continuous and there were some very concrete measurements that let me know whether or not my work was valued, i.e. a paycheck every week and a merit increase once a year.

Not so obvious as a mother. Throughout the day, I'm constantly surveying my environment and the people in it, my actions, thoughts and emotions for clues on whether or not I am doing a good job.

A couple of weeks ago, while driving home from a family outing, I asked my husband whether or not he thought I was a good mom? My husband who is usually quick, well-thought out and all-knowing of the right thing to say...was stumped. After a long pause and a 15 second mental scan he said " should ask your children." At first it sounded like a good idea but then I remembered, that my 8 month old couldn't talk and my 5 year old tends to be a bit temperamental, usually accessing whether things are good or bad based on if they go her way or not. So, I was back at square one, but also wondering what did my husband think? Why couldn't he answer the question? I guess, I expected him to say, "you are a great mother" but he didn't, so now I'm wondering why didn't he? Does he question my ability as a mother as much as I do? What does a good mother look like to him?

Am I a good mother if I:

- keep an immaculately clean home.
- make sure that my children eat the healthiest organic products on the market.
- make sure that I use all green products - only natural ingredients - hold the dyes and fragrances please!
- make only wholesome homecooked meals each day served at the exact same time in the exact same order.
- maintain a tight routine of daily activities.
- attend every PTA meeting, parent workshop, outside festival, school trip, museum, and zoo.
- bake cookies and teach my daughter to bake pies.
- not cringe at my daughter's meltdowns during play dates.
- organize every play date and play date activity for my 5 year old and participate in mommy and me classes or reading with mommy at our local library once a week.
-didn't love paper plates, plastic serveware and juice boxes (100% juice of course) because they eliminated the need to do dishes.
-sing the alphabet, read The Very Hunger Caterpillar 5 times in a row, make animal sounds and funny faces no matter who's looking and laughing.
-make up words that are not a part of the English language but rhyme because they make my kids laugh.
-didn't have as many secret meltdowns as my 5 year old and her best friend combined.
-didn't envy my husband because he goes to bed before me every night and can enjoy his meals at restaurants because I'm on bathroom and diaper duty; or can always eat his food while it's hot and never eats the scraps off of the kids plates because of a lack of time.
-could remain completely engaged while my 5 year old recited every last detail of who used what color crayon to color what, who didn't color in the line during class, and all of the kids who were moved from green to red on the class' behavior chart, while attending to my 8 month old who is rolling around during a diaper change or wailing at the top of his lungs to be picked up, answering my husband's question about what's for dinner, or where one of his (fill-in blank here) misplaced items is, at the same time, making the mental note to take the dog out who is long overdue for a walk and circling like she's about to go in the house.

Well...are those the things that a good mom does?

On our way from school yesterday, my daughter described a new game that she learned to play at school called Mother and Daughter and it was her turn to be the mother. She describe in great detail what she did and why she was a nice mother to her daughter. It was really funny and cute but sadly, I also listened intently for any of my mommy behaviors that might help in my self-evaluation. She talked about going out to fun places, doing hair, dressing in pretty dresses and sharing. Was that my daughter's ideal of a good mommy? Definitely things that I do but isn't there more? Is that what she's extracted from the last 5 years together? What about the love, the discipline, the routine, the band-aids, late night bathroom trips, the morals and values we try to impart, or the care while sick, or the countless books we read, or the homework help?????

I read that children often act out what they see and experience, so I'll ask the question do you know when your a good mom? Is it something you feel and know like love, or are there more tangible measures?


  1. For me being a good mom is about listening.....listening and looking. It's aabout being there for Mai physically, mentally, spirtually and emotionally. It's about knowing that the values that I have instilled in her will take shape in a different way, than they have taken shape in me. It's knowing that I am always going to be there for her when she needs me. It's about building a relationship with her that only we can share, it's knowing that she can come to me to share good news, as well as, bad. It's understanding that she will not see things the way that I do and accepting that even though they are different, they are still valid. Being a good mom is like love.Like love it has it's peaks and it's valleys. It's the climb.....

  2. Have you heard of the phrase, "good-enough mother"? I'm trying to remember the psychologist who coined the phrase. But basically the theory goes, no one can possibly be a "perfect" mother all the time and from what this psychologist's research suggests is that what matters is that you are good enough most of the time. Somehow it makes me feel better when I'm having doubts.
    Most of the time, I know I'm a good mother but I also know that I make mistakes all the time! I've had more melt-downs recently than I care to think about too! There's so much more I'd like to respond to but my eyes are blurry with exhaustion! : )
    P.S. You are an AMAZING mother!

  3. Oh yeah, the psychologist is Winnicott!

  4. It sounds like your a great mom to me. A mother that actually takes a moment to reflect on whether or not she is a good mother is an excellent mother! Taking time to think about all that you do for your children to make there lives better makes you a great momma. Holding down the fort and involving your children in educational activites is also a confimation. This probably isn't surprising, but many parents would rather a tv educate their children instead of taking a few minutes just to sit and read, sing and make up funny stories to their child. Active learning is a must. Keep up the good work.

  5. I applaud you for all that you are involved in with your child because anyone who bakes pies with their five yr old deserves an award!

    Kids don't give the feedback you want them to...they're kids! My son said to me that I am a good mom because I take care of him...end of story! There was nothing specific in his answer. So all we could strive to do is our absolute best...and it's like Lauren said, they may not always agree with us but what we do is still valid.
    Keep being there for your children.

  6. Thanks everyone.

    After writing this, I decided to follow my husband's advice and ask my daughter what she thought of me and she replied: "You're a good mom." When I asked why, she shrugged her shoulders and said "I don't know, you just are."

    As for Grant, I think I'll have to live with the smile and the cheap laughs he gives me when I make funny faces at him.

  7. You sound like a great mom to me! I'm reading a really good book on how to be an "intentional" mother. The author says that what you do in the early years will be payed back during their teen and adult years. I hope that's true!

  8. Yes your a great mommy!
    For me validation comes from seeing my boys hit milestones I worked on with them. When he does well in school, when the babysitter gives a good report, or when another family member has something positive to say. Their behavior and actions when I'm not in their presence says a lot to me also. There is only but so much we can do as parents eventually they will have their own personality we can only give them the love guidance and support to do the right thing. The fact that you stop and check yourself proves your a great parent! Keep up the great work! Your husband will soon admit it also ;)