“[insert female name] and [insert male name] sitting in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage.”
While quite young, I learned this often recited playground ditty. Most of the time it was said by rote but it reinforced the stereotypical female roles of the time. In a high school research paper, my daughter explained this socialization:
It is a traditionally held belief that love and marriage are inseparable from having children. Pronatalism is the practice in Western society which promotes childbearing and glorifies parenthood. Bearing children is viewed as integral to a woman’s well-being (Agrillo and Nelini).
Motherhood is idealized and romanticized (and dare I say, idolized!?). I believe this is a huge disservice to women who are childless or who choose to be childfree. It suggests a woman’s worth is based on her ability to bear children. I believe this is a huge disservice to women who choose to become mothers because it nearly equates motherhood with sainthood.
As if this indoctrination isn’t enough, there are the expectations we place on ourselves! At least, I did! I am a perfectionist. I am my own worst enemy. I admit I wanted to be a SuperMom! In this pursuit, I also chose to work part-time to experience the “best” of both worlds. Retrospectively, I am certain that decision only added to my stress as I tried to balance both a personal and professional life.
I wish my new-mommy-self had been familiar with the philosophy of the “good enough” mother. Donald Winnicott, a British psychoanalyst coined the term in the 1950’s while studying the interactions of mothers and their infants. He believed mothers did not need to be perfectly attuned to the needs of their child but just “ordinarily devoted” or “good enough”. He explained such a mother strives to protect her child from overwhelming extremes of discomfort or distress.
“Good enough” goes beyond mediocrity. It involves making rational choices when faced with challenges and then striving for improvement. It does not include the compulsive behavior that results when driven toward an illusion of perfection.
I’ve been a mother for nearly 22 years now and I still doubt myself some days. In those moments before sleep when I’m ruminating, I worry…
Did I enable my children? Overprotect them? Criticize instead of encourage them? Try to control them? Expect too much of them? Expect too little of them?
The honest answer is yes, on all accounts, at one time or another. I failed them more than once. I probably also fail myself and continue to do so when I berate myself for not having been more or having done more.
The concept of the “good enough” mother should be a liberating one!
“Being enough [is] going to have to be an inside job.”~Anne Lamott
I have been an “ordinarily devoted mother”. Now, I need to own it and breathe it into my very being. It is my new mantra, “I am and was a good enough mother.”