"Am I a 'good mom'?" I've asked myself more times than I can count.
"Would a good mom really [insert here: have a messy house, not pack her kid's lunch, yell at her children, take a vacation without her kids, etc]?" The questions have assailed me ever since I first became a mother nine years ago.
But in the near-decade I have been parenting, I have slowly realized that there is a difference between how our culture characterizes a "good mother," and what I deeply believe to be true about what it means to be a mother and a human.
Our outdated parenting culture is clear. It defines a "good mother" as a woman who always puts her children first. A person with endless streams of patience. A woman who cooks organic, homemade food—but also makes sure to stay on budget. A woman who might have a job, but would *never* prioritize work over her children. A superhuman creature who sacrifices sleep, and her sanity to meet her child's every need, 24/7, 365, without a village. A person who can add pandemic homeschooling to her to-do list, while also keeping her job and paying the bills. A woman who is willing to completely sacrifice herself. But also would never "let herself go."
This version of a "good mother" is suffocating women. It's driving them to burnout. And it is a holdout of an outdated patriarchal worldview that sets an impossible standard for women and makes them feel like they're failing even when they're working harder than they've ever worked in their lives. Mothers expect the impossible from themselves, and then feel crushed when they can't reach an unrealistic standard.
You see, this version of a "good mother" isn't even human.
Mothers are complete, whole, individual people, with needs, strengths, weaknesses and struggles.
Mothers may act heroically and face daily challenges with enormous tenacity and bravery. But they are not superhuman.
That's why I related so hard to author Glennon Doyle (who I recently interviewed on the Motherly Podcast) and NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro exchange this week:
Doyle wrote that it's so important to be a "bad parent" because if we embrace our imperfections, our kids can release themselves from the pressure to be perfect.
I put "bad parent" in quotes because accepting the full humanity of mothers can never be bad. It's our culture that wants us to think that is "bad." Mothers are humans who get upset, reach their limits, need help and require time to themselves. That is NOT a bad thing. (And to be clear, we're not talking about abuse or neglect, which are almost always a sign that a parent needs serious help and that their children need protection.)
But if we embrace what our culture so often calls 'bad'—putting ourselves first, having identities outside of motherhood, not pretending we are perfect—we free ourselves and others to live out a motherhood that is whole and healthy.
If we declare that we cannot sacrifice ourselves at the altar of motherhood martyrdom, we can liberate ourselves—and our children's generation—from oppressive and outdated cultural norms.
Imagine a world where our daughters have realistic views of whole womanhood and motherhood.
Imagine a world where our sons are free to showcase all sides of their humanity and to show up as equal partners.
Imagine a world where we stop thinking it's 'bad' to be an imperfect parent and instead revel in the meaningful, transformative, glorious journey that is raising children and healing ourselves.
There's nothing 'bad' about that.