What it Really Takes to be a Great Mom: Thoughts for Mother’s Day0
The other day I typed in the words, “What are the ideal character traits of a mother?” into a search engine anyone glued to a screen for at least twenty minutes a day uses frequently. Many of the responses were what one would expect. The words patient, loving, and consistent popped up everywhere. Several words not as frequently mentioned, however, packed less considered–but powerful– meaning. Words like forbearance, long-suffering, perseverance, and composure gave me pause. One comment that particularly struck me came from someone who identified herself as BabyOsMommy on the website Mothering.com. BabyOsMommy said that the most important character trait in a mother is, “The realization that she is not the most important person in the world and the willingness to follow that realization to its logical conclusion.” BabyOsMommy eloquently communicates her thoughts on the sacrifice a mother needs to make to be a good mother in this statement. With Mother’s Day approaching, I thought it was worth exploring this idea further.
There is no doubt that self-sacrifice is a positive trait in a mother, but the concept begs the question, “How much-self sacrifice is good for our children?” At a certain point, self-sacrifice can circle back on us causing us to model something that perhaps we should not be so excited about modeling. There is a new awareness of the importance of rest and recharging in regards to ones work and the real need for people to rest to be better at their jobs. Why should mothering be any different?
I also found the word “forbearance” troubling. Forbearance means: patient, self control, restraint and tolerance. Merriam’s Dictionary explains that the word is often used in the context of “refraining from the enforcement of something (such as a debt, right, or obligation.) When I think of what I hope to accomplish as a mother, I know that I am eager to raise confident children who do not shy away from taking credit for something they have accomplished. It is the flip side of the coin regarding owning and taking responsibility for one’s mistakes. I see the ability to do both of these things as necessary skills for survival in a competitive world. Do I want to self-sacrifice to the point of denying myself certain rights or debts? If I am constantly sacrificing my own needs, will I really be modeling something positive for my child?
Self-sacrifice can also circle back to bite us when we fall into the trap of living only for our children. Much of the trauma and loss experienced by mothers facing empty nests after years of raising children is that they have lost a taste for what makes them tick as individuals. They have given everything to the work of raising children and, as with any workaholic, other areas suffer and do not get needed nourishment.
The opposite of a self-sacrificing mother is clearly not an alternative. Much has been written about narcissistic parenting. The newspapers are full of devastatingly sad stories about mothers who do not have the strength to put their own needs second to the demands of their children. Richard Ross’ recent photo and interview series in Mother Jones titled “Girls In Justice” pointed a number of fingers as to why young girls end up in prison. Poor mothering seemed the most cruel.
Like all things, good parenting is about finding balance and moderation. Yes, it is important to sacrifice as a mother, but not to excess. Yes, it is important to think of your own needs, but not to excess.
On Mother’s Day this year, take a moment to let forbearance go for a day. Allow yourself the pleasure of actually enjoying the recognition and honor that your little ones will be excited to bestow upon you. Call that debt! You are not being selfish in taking this moment. You are showing your children that it is OK to be recognized and rewarded for what you do.
Yes, motherhood takes forbearance and sacrifice, but it takes much more. Being a mother in today’s world requires following ones instincts and developing the ability to recognize when something feels out of whack. It requires the strength to make adjustments to keep everyone in the parent-child continuum healthy. We now know that rest and recognition create more efficient and better workers. Motherhood is no different. Best of all, our children will learn to take care of themselves by watching us take care of ourselves.