What Would a Good Mother Do?

“I ask myself, ‘What would a good mother do in this situation?’” confesses 44-year-old Sandra, mother of two middle-schoolers. Her question took me back to the time when we discovered my daughter Kate had vision problems.

She was a high school sophomore and I felt that we had finally gotten to the root of her issues with reading. A feeling of relief washed over me. I felt the calm permeate every cell of my body in one of those rare parenting moments of utter relaxation and I breathed-in deeply to savor it— for what must have been at least 10 seconds.  Then my brain kicked-into gear and chastised me:

“Why didn’t I figure this out sooner? Why didn’t I push harder for answers when she was younger? Mothers like Mary Akjor would have been all over this. She was on top of her everything about her kids’ school. She would never have let it go this far.”

As I work with clients like Sandra, I realize how many of us say these kinds of things to ourselves. Often we worry, “What am I doing wrong as a parent? Why isn’t my child shaping-up? If I were a better parent, my child would be excelling in school (or sports… or music… or socially). “

Except parents like Mary and Bill Akjor don’t beat themselves up with thoughts like these. They just smile smugly and say, “Of course our Susie is perfect. That’s the way we raised her. You know, we’re really very conscientious parents--unlike the rest of you who don’t seem to have a clue.” Well they don’t actually say it out loud, but you can tell that’s what they’re thinking.

So you can imagine my shock when Mary called me one day and said, “Christine, we just discovered that Brian [Susie’s little brother] has a problem with the way his eyes focus. I’m so angry that this wasn’t picked up sooner – he’s in high school now and this could have been dealt with years ago.” I hung up the phone and thought, “maybe I wasn’t such a bad mother after all.” I mean, if Mary Akjor, conscientious-mother-of-the-century, didn’t figure it out sooner, maybe I wasn’t as negligent as I thought.

For me, Mary was the “good mother” that Sandra referred to when she asked, “What would a good mother do?” And on this issue, Mary hadn’t done any better than I had. Phew.

It turns out that I was doing just fine by the “good mother” standard – not because I was doing anything particularly well, but simply because I was loving my kids. “You see,” Dr. Arnie Kerzner explained to a group of us (at a teen parenting workshop), “the research shows you don’t have to be a perfect parent. You don’t even have to be a great parent. For your kid to do well in life, all you have to do is be a ‘good enough parent.’”

Once again, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I knew I wasn’t a perfect parent and I worried that I wasn’t a great parent, but I knew in my heart that I was a “good enough parent” and that’s all my girls needed. What a relief.

So now, I urge parents like Sandra to ask not what a good parent would do, but instead ask, “Am I a good enough parent?” It's a much easier standard to meet-- and it's the one that really matters.

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