Mother worry

This week I discovered why every client I’ve ever had cries when I tell her she’s a good mother. There’s something about motherhood that taps into a deep-seated fear that we are not good enough. The truth is, everyone reading this blog right now is a caring and involved parent, so why is it that we all think we might be doing something wrong?

There’s something about our culture, and I’m guessing it has to do with media, that perpetuates the idea that there must be something wrong. But is there really? Maybe the very idea that there’s something wrong is the problem.  What if we could all see ourselves as the wonderful parents we really are – even in the moment when the pediatrician tells us our child is not developing properly, or in the moment when our friends don’t like the way we discipline, or how about when we read a scary article online about the dangers of modern life.

I once heard a description of motherhood that it was like having your heart walking around outside of your body. Now I finally understand what they meant. My own anxiety about being a good mom has surfaced this week through several disturbing dreams. In one, I had to rescue my infant from a hot car where she was locked inside. In another, I realized I had inadvertently let her slip under the water as we were taking a bath. Luckily, when I pulled her out of the water, I realized she had been holding her breath. What these dreams tell me is that even though I usually feel secure and confident about my parenting, a part of me fears that I could create irreparable damage to my child. And although I know this is a common fear that all parents experience, that knowledge doesn’t make it any less terrifying.

The truth is our children will face circumstances that may be difficult or painful and that we actually can’t control. So even in the moments when we’re being the absolutely best parents we can be, our kids can still get hurt or sick. I think that is the most unsettling part of being a parent. And ultimately we have to accept that we live in an imperfect world and we’re all just doing the best we can.

So how can we develop a stronger core belief that we are good parents even in the midst of the uncertainties of life?

Let’s start by acknowledging the moments when we’re at our best. Right now think of three of your favorite moments with your kids in the past week. Maybe there was a sweet snuggle, or a moment when you read that bedtime story for the third time in a row, or a time when you turned a potential power struggle into a fun game. Grab a notebook and write down these important reminders of the moments when you were the parent you wanted to be. And when fears arise, take a deep breath, remember that you and your child are safe, and put your attention on something you enjoy and appreciate about the now.

After all, it’s never really the things we worry about that end up happening anyway. And when all else fails, call your own mom (or a supportive friend) and let her tell you what a great parent you are.


@ Tricia, I agree that there's a way our worry encourages us to try our best and yes, kids are random number generators and being with them can be maddening. I just would like to see parents celebrating their wins even half as much as they ruminate on doing the "wrong" thing. I loved reading "I think I'm an awesome mom" Thanks for that!

@ Dana, Yep, we're the adults and it's never a child's responsibility to reassure us. I really enjoyed reading your comment. I could sense how challenging it must have been for you to see yourself absent in his book. But I also sense that there's some place deep inside you where you know that you and Sky are connected, even if it doesn't look the way you thought it would/should. This post is so heartfelt and real, it's obvious that you deeply love your son and I'm so grateful that you've shared your process with us here. Thank you.

Dana Renault
Dana Renault

Want to share a little story here. My first son Sky, 7, has two households, with stepparents and two toddler brothers. We are all close and open, and it is really a "best case scenario" if ever I could imagine one, in terms of the human relationships in particular. Yet I carry burdensome weight and fear that I am not a good mother to Sky -- we have a hard time "clicking" in the way he does with his father, or in the way he adores his stepfather. The other night at the Open House at his little school, he shared the book he has made, "All About Me" -- the one I spent two hours gathering photos from throughout his gypsy-like life for. The final book had about ten pages and ten photos -- none of them of me! Nowhere was his mother mentioned! I could not believe it, and sat with my feelings of sadness, hurt... what do I feel? I kept asking myself. Walking to the car, I did tell Sky how I felt, and he claims I was included in a drawing (did I miss this?), though I was (by mistake) left out of the caption. This is sounding like a bunch of drama -- but here is where i went with it....

It seems my experience of mothering can never be reliant on "what i get back" -- i need to continue to give in ways that feel true to my heart and being, and never have it be about my children reassuring me of my OK-ness. As I sat with the feelings in bed that night, I actually felt a release, a relief. I was released from any sense that Sky needed to assure me that I was a god mother. I did not have it that night, and might never get it. Somehow it keeps me ultra honest, ultra clear with what and how I give. I must give for its own sake. I wonder if anyone can relate to this experience?

Tricia Mitchell
Tricia Mitchell

I think the truth is that parents are sometimes NOT good enough, and that represents a narcissistic injury that we all have to work to come to terms with. Parenting well is the most crazy, unrealistically demanding job ever. You try things, yet it's often hard to tell what's "working." Kids may or may not listen/respond. And all the things you try are the things you're aware of. Often what comes up is something you never would have imagined.

I think I'm an awesome mom. But I also know that my two kids are random number generators. I attempt to keep them safe, but they not only have trouble heeding my advice, they also do totally random, strange, and dangerous things. I work very hard to surrender about the things that are out of my control, AND caring for children is, at times, maddening.

You (or lots of people, really) can say that parents just need to "let go." But the truth is that it is MY name that will be in the newspaper if some awful thing happens, and it's ME who will be writing the checks to pay for the ER (or air ambulance, in my case) bill months/years after the weird, unforeseeable incident.