And Then I Stepped in Gum . . .

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

What Is a Good Mom, Anyway?

[Note: This is not an abandoned blog. Really. I've just been a little busy the last few weeks. We are moving to New York (not back to Long Island, to Orange County) this summer, and are in the midst of all the stressful things that entails. But it's a sad, sad thing when your own browser doesn't recognize and fill in your blog's URL when you start to go there. Thus, I resolve to try to post more.]

This weekend I flew to Williamsburg, VA, to have a "moms' weekend out" with two of my friends and former NASA co-workers. Our kids are all young -- mine are 6 and 2; Kathy's is 3, and Jackie's are 5 and 2. It was a pretty big deal to get away from the demands of mommyhood, and so we primarily hung out and talked (and talked and talked) about . . . our kids.

Yes, that's the irony of parenthood. All the "experts" tell us that when we go out on a "date" with our spouses, we shouldn't talk about the kids. But 95% of my life is spent being a mom, and the other 5% is spent on sleep. For four out of the last six years, I was breastfeeding. My children wake me up every morning. Even when I'm working, my kids are on the edge of my consciousness, especially if they're acting up while Dave is trying to keep them under control, and I'm trying to ignore them so I can just finish this chapter! So how on earth am I supposed to not talk about them?

We did, however, do a fair amount of meta-mommying -- that is, we talked about the struggles of parenting, about how we often feel like we're not doing the right things, about how we worry about the long-term effects of our decisions, about how our kids drive us crazy sometimes. On my last airplane leg home on Sunday, I mentioned what I'd been doing to the stranger in the seat next to me -- a 37-year-old Navy guy who was married with no kids -- and he asked me, "So are you a good mom?"


Isn't that the question.

To be honest, I was flummoxed. I don't know.

I breastfed each child for about two years. Does that make me a good mom?
My kids have been known to watch more than their RDA of television. Does that make me a bad mom?
It's always educational television. Does that ameliorate it?
I give my time to be a Girl Scout leader for my daughter's Daisy troop. Good mom?
I prepare for the troop meetings at the last minute and sometimes lose patience with the small herd of 6-year-old girls. Bad mom?
I ask Katie about her day at school every single day. Good mom?
She hardly ever gives any details. Bad mom?
I'm being lax about potty training and letting Ian go when he wants to, rather than a) being helpful and encouraging or 2) being stressed out and pushing. Is that reading his signals or being lazy? Good or bad?
I love my kids more than I can imagine. Good mom?

I think I have good days and bad days. I know I'm probably overly critical of myself most of the time. My mom has told me she thinks I'm a good mom, which is reassuring because I think in the final assessment, she's a very good mom. Sure we had our moments -- 8th and 9th grade come to mind -- but she raised three independent, critically thinking kids to adulthood and we all still talk to her and come to visit. I think my kids think I'm a good mom, too. But that doesn't stop me from judging myself and obsessing over all the things I could be doing better.

One of the most illuminating moments of the weekend was when my two friends commiserated that they feel like they've done their children a disservice by playing with them too much. They feel like the kids don't know how to play on their own without being entertained. My first reaction was that I felt guilty and left out -- I don't think it can ever be said that I've played with my kids too much. I'm better at the mom-maintenance stuff -- keeping the house running, making sure lunch is packed, keeping the kids to a schedule -- than I am at creative play. And that's something I find lacking in my mom-ness. And then it occurred to me that here we all were, attacking the problem of entertaining our children from two diametrically opposed positions -- and feeling equally guilty that we weren't doing the "right" thing. Obviously, there is no "right" thing here.

Why are we so harsh on ourselves? What is the standard we're holding ourselves to, and who created it? Did our moms conduct such self-scrutiny, or were they happy to just get through the day?

I don't have the answers. I do know that getting together with other friends/moms granted me a tiny bit of perspective. On Monday, I jumped into all the chores I've been slacking on lately, like dishes and laundry.

Of course, by today, I'm crabby and back to slacking. So I can't win. All I know is, I'd better find myself some good mommy friends in New York. Perspective is something that's needed more often than once every two years.