I'm Not a Good Mom

When I was pregnant, I never got tired of hearing people telling me, “You’re going to be such a Good Mom.” I found this reassuring because I was scared of what was to come. How much was my life about to change? How would I tap into the endless patience and selflessness required for motherhood? I had never even changed a diaper before. Could I really do this?

As soon as my baby was born, though, being called a Good Mom felt like a punch in the gut. It made me feel like I was walking a fine line between good and bad. If I do this, I’m a Good Mom. If I do that, I’m a Bad Mom. I had no idea what I was doing, I hadn’t slept, and my hormones were completely shifting. I felt like I was failing. My milk didn’t come in. We landed in the ER three days after she was born. I couldn’t withstand the pain of breastfeeding, despite more determination and problem-solving than I’ve mustered for anything before. I felt like a Bad Mom. 

All the little choices in the beginning—breastfeeding, bottles, pacifiers, sleep training, cloth diapers, sleeping arrangements, going back to work, childcare, the list goes on—felt like some kind of a formula adding up points for this and deducting points for that, and spitting out a calculated score on the Good Mom barometer. (Meanwhile, if my husband did any little thing, he was a Good Dad.)

One day months later, a colleague at work said to me, “Oh, I bet you’re such a Good Mom.” 

I heard myself say back to her: “I’m not a good mom or a bad mom. I am the mom that I am.

It took months and months, but that’s it—I am the mom that I am. There’s no other mom I can be. I’m learning. I try my best. I listen to my intuition. I don’t always get it “right.” There is no right. There is what works today, and that will change by tomorrow. Because it always keeps changing. 

What I’ve come to realize is that becoming a mother is not just about who I am to my little girl. Of course, how I show up to her and what I bring to that relationship is important, but it’s only about half of the motherhood equation for me. 

The other half of being a mom is how I mother myself through all of this change and challenges and joys and heartbreak and uncertainty.

Berating myself every day for being Good or Bad doesn’t serve anyone. Carrying around immense amounts of guilt about everything I am or am not doing doesn’t serve anyone. I was so hard on myself at first. In many ways, I still am. But loving, motherly mentors reminded me over and over and over again to be gentle with myself and to cultivate self-compassion

I’ve learned to access a gentler voice inside myself. I can close my eyes and hold myself in my lap just like I hold my daughter. I look down at myself with warmth and love and say, “Look at you, trying your best, and always growing. You are a dear. It is hard. You feel like you’re failing, but you’re right where you need to be. You are enough. I love you.”

When I mess up, I take a breath and think about what I would say to my little girl if she were facing the same situation. Gradually, I’m choosing to offer myself that same kindness and compassion every day.