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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

cave mommas are good enough


JCK at Motherscribe gave us an excellent post about excessive mommy-guilt yesterday.

She tells us about a mom we all recognize, one who throws a splendid birthday party for her little girl but worries that an earlier "snappy" moment ruined her child's special day. JCK asks when we mommies are gonna start cutting ourselves some slack.

Jen at Rants & Raves replies that guilt in moderation can be a good thing. It serves as a vestige of "the enormity of the job" of being in charge of a little person's life. It helps steer us in the right direction.

Here are two additional thoughts on this mommy-guilt stuff: Think caves and "good enough."

First, the caves. It helps me to remember that we 21st century moms are decendants of cave dwellers. By this I refer to the fact that the first mothers raised their children in caves. On dirt floors. Wearing lice infested wooly mammoth jackets. With dinosaur bones used as paddle boards. No central heating or AC or indoor plumbing. And no, no antibacterial soaps or disinfectant wipes or toilet paper, even.

Those kids raised in caves? They survived. And hundreds of thousands of generations later decendants of cave kids grew up to have children of their own who grew up to become mommies like us who compare parenting notes over the internets.

And if those kids raised in caves can survive, so can our kids raised in framed stucco houses with sculpted landscapes survive crabby mommy moments.

Second: Think of these three words: Good Enough Mothering. It's a term coined by psychiatrist D.W. Winnicott.

I don't pretend to understand most of Winnicott's psychoanalytic (mumbo-jumbo) writings. I'm a cognitive behavioral psychologist, afterall.

But I've read a good enough amount of parenting books in which good enough mothering is used as a reference point. I have used this reference point in teaching parenting classes. And I have developed my own personal understanding that guides me toward a better appreciation for that which I provide my kids.

I love my kids, to the point where it nearly hurts. I feed them three meals a day, provide shelter for them, referee their squabbles, wipe their tears, make them do their homework (sometimes all in one sittting) and yes, I lose my cool every now and then. Spit nails and breathe fire, even.

I don't advocate angry outbursts, but hey, I'm a work in progress, I have my limits, and I'm trying. Really hard.

I think its fairly accurate to guesstimate that for every lousy mommy moment, I have provided one hundred nurturing ones. And that's good enough to raise up a healthy kid.

So good enough mothering has become my personal mommy mantra, my self soothing, self-calming, stop-guilt-in-it's-tracks meditation phrase. On those days when I fear I am a lousy mom because I didn't talk my kids through a hurt feeling or a missed opportunity. On those days when I lose my temper and look more like Joan Crawford than Carol Brady. Because continual second-guessing and wearing-my-guilt-on-my-sleeves drains me of the now moments I need to be as good of a parent as I can be.

So it is, on those days, that I remember that kids are sturdy and resilient by design. They are genetically endowed with the ability to thrive despite emotional nicks and scrapes. They know they are loved even when they learn the hard way that mommy has a boiling point and brother, you'd better step lightly on those mornings when she was up blogging way past her bedtime. And it's that love as a constant that raises up good enough kids.

Cave momma illustration by Peggy Maceo. Can be found here.

27 comments:

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

You are singing my song. And the best thing about good-enough mothering? The kids actually turn out better.

Vodka Mom said...

kids are resilient. If only their mothers were.

Melissa said...

Ok, your little comment header is pretty funny in the context of this post.

I've been trying to do that more lately, especially since the guys are getting older (grades 3 and 5). I'm still a mama bear, but they need to be able to live outside the cave at some point.

apathy lounge said...

Mommy has a boiling point. Yes, my kids got that memo a long time ago.

Mrs. G. said...

I practice good enough mothering with a healthy dose of benign neglect.

Heather said...

Thanks, I needed that. It's the Christmas season and I feel like I'm living the first chapter of I Don't Know How She Does It. So I decree that there shall be no 3 am decorating of gingerbread men and bourbon balls in cute little tins for teachers this year and I shall be none the lesser a mother! A-ha!

onebrick said...

Wow. I really needed to read this today. I am struggling through my teenage daughter's ADD issues at school and feeling like a complete failure at the moment.

Jen said...

But, I don't want to be "good enough"! I want to be DAMN GOOD. Though, there are times I feel like a cavewoman. (No makeup, no shower, haven't shaved my legs in days, so tired I can only grunt in acknowledgement)

phd in yogurtry said...

melissa -- you mean the "tell me about your mother..." right? haha. I didn't notice that!

mrs g -- benign neglect is a great concept too and a valuable parenting tool. helicopter parents could stand a dose of understanding this.

heather -- I loved that book. Good reference too.

one brick -- we know you're not a complete failure, I mean your daughter still has a pulse, right? on a serious note, sorry you (and she) are struggling.

jen -- your wish can come true. In my book, good enough IS damn good. See how this works?

Margo said...

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz teaches something along these sames lines. The fourth agreement is "Do Your Best" which sounds kind of aggressively perfect at first, but is meant to be understood as doing your best at any given time which accepts and allows for normal ups and downs covering bad days, illness, and what we call mistakes. And I agree with Jenn that often the kids turn out better. They seem to be better equipped to take responsibility for things, and not blame everything on mom and everybody else. It's like kids learn to blame mom if she's in the mode of always blaming herself.

Jesi Langdale said...

I love this blog. So happy I found it. Now, I don't have kids, but, just coming out of being a teenager, I totally get this.

Becca said...

thank you, I so needed to hear that today

phd in yogurtry said...

margo -- I read the Agreements several years ago and I had forgotten the "Do Your Best" part. Thanks for the reminder and validation from a published source.

jesi -- thanks for visiting and glad you like what you see.

becca -- you're welcome. its a message that I, personally, cannot hear often enough.

therapydoc said...

If you have to think about it, you're good enough.

blognut said...

Can you send me this post about once a week? Better yet, I'll print it and pin it to my shirt as soon as I finish baking those last-minute teacher gift cookies tonight.

Coffeegrl said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog and thanks SO much for this message. With an infant (soon to be a toddler) I'm still coming out of the haze of sleepless nights and the feeling that this little person is utterly dependent on me and will be (!) for life. I know they get more independent at some point and I won't need to be "on" all the time and can be good enough. How wonderful!

Jesi Langdale said...

thanks for the good feelin' comment on my blog! i don't think very many people at all actually read it haha. so, you went to college for psychology? i am wanting to major in psych. any tips?

Eudea-Mamia said...

I try to remember that since I CARE if I'm good enough, I AM good enough.

Though, when your almost 3-year-old looks at you and says "no screamin' Mama" when I give him that look, it's difficult not to feel a twinge.

I'm trying! I'm trying!!

Em

Mary Alice said...

ummmmmmm....this is me nodding vigerously.

e.beck.artist said...

not to mention: being that over striving mom is just too exhausting to pull off for long!

every once in a while some fabulousness is ok, every once in a while, horrid is ok .... but a nice steady run of the mill average is what i work for ....

that said, i'm pushing up hill trying to get back to average ...

Nora Bee said...

I love that painting.

Reluctant Blogger said...

Oh yes, definitely. I have my moments when I panic about being a "rubbish" mother but they are fleeting (and horrid).

I think it helps to have quite a few children - you become more philosophical about it all. In the olden days women would have so many children they didn't have time to fuss about all the things we do, or worry about this and that.

It is hard to avoid "tryiing too hard" but I don't think those who take mothering too seriously actually do their children a lot of favours in life. Children tend to benefit from quite a bit of "benign neglect" I think - just time to explore and play without adult intervention.

Madge said...

sometimes i feel like it's harder on me than it is on them -- cuz i'm taking myself to seriously and expecting to much of myself so much of the time.

JCK said...

Loved this post! And especially the image of the cave mommas.

Thanks for expanding on the discussion. I always enjoy your perspective.

Jocelyn said...

Totally. I want all magazines to publish this as an article.

Even TIME and NEWSWEEK.

And RUNNER'S WORLD.

blognut said...

Just came back to read this again because I was a bad mom yesterday and I needed a little support!

Cheri @ Blog This Mom! said...

Wow. I'm gobsmacked. I think about the cave thing all. of. the. time. And I remind my daughter of it too. "You shouldn't complain about not having such-and such. You don't have it so bad. You know, there are some children in the world who still live in caves."

That's what you meant, right?