Please join me in a campaign I am starting in praise of parents. Let me tell you why. In last week’s post I told a story about a Dad I saw on the bus with two boys and a baby, and how impressed I was with the way he handled them. It made me think about the fact that more often it is mothers who tell me about being noticed, or noticing other mothers and children, when the children are misbehaving, or calling attention to themselves in ways that embarrass mom.
Almost everyone has a story about a child acting up, screaming, or becoming unruly on the bus or in the supermarket. On line at the bank or post-office is another favorite place for children to take off in their own directions. And almost every mother has been subjected to the withering looks of others, or loud, critical remarks. People generally seem to think it perfectly acceptable to instruct mothers on how they should be raising their children. Mothers are vulnerable because they already feel that their children’s behavior is a reflection on them.
There was a time historically when life was organized around a clear division of labor: men went out to work and women stayed home to care for the children. That was not the way it always was, but when it happened, the focus of women’s lives became raising children – the right way! This was helped along by psychoanalytic theory and emerging child development research.
As a professional, I have long been troubled by the critical attitudes toward mothers in particular that are an ongoing legacy of the theories and practices of my own field. Although the profession has matured and changed, the scrutiny of mothers’ behavior as the cause of their children’s problems is still part of the fall-out of an earlier period. Old attitudes die hard. And I have long had the idea that many people still have some unresolved resentments toward their own mothers which can lead to resentment of mothers as a whole.
The phrase and concept of “good enough mothering”, comes from an esteemed psychoanalyst, D.W. Winnicott, who played an influential part in early thinking about mothers and child development. He reproached his colleagues for setting impossible standards of perfection for mothers in the way they interact with their children.
The idea behind the “good enough mother” was to get those theoretical thinkers thinking about real mothers in a real world, not some hypothetical image of a mother who was always going to do exactly the “right” thing for her child. To think about what a real mother could and would do, rather than picture some idealized image of what she should do. This was an important contribution that Winnicott made.
The problem is that a real mother in the real world of the 1950’s is not the real mother of today. Women today have learned how to be whole people, with motherhood only one part of who they are. And hopefully we have learned that some of the older ideas about raising children don’t relate to real children, or to the real world we currently live in either. The idea of the “good enough mother” of today needs some rethinking, which is what I have been trying to do – with your help – in writing this blog.
I think the most important thing today’s mothers need is confidence in their mothering abilities. Many mothers who had been working at demanding jobs before having children have told me that the most difficult thing about mothering is the worry that you are not doing something right – that maybe you have done it the wrong way. “At work you got praised, got a raise, got a promotion. You knew when your work was good. Not with children”, was the way one mother put it.
She said it like it is. Mothers don’t get raises or promotions for mothering. Children don’t give you much positive feedback. Mothers get plenty of criticism, but are rarely praised. So I would like to start a campaign in praise of parents: a “Praise A Parent” campaign. Will you join me? If during the next month you see a parent-child interaction you like anywhere – street, bus, or supermarket – offer praise. Post your stories on my Facebook Fan Page and spread the word. Tell me about it and I’ll write about it. Let’s see how many parents we can get praising other parents.
Together, let’s try to change some of the negative attitudes about mothers and mothering in others, most importantly in mothers’ feelings about themselves. The impact could be parents who feel a little less worried about being judged, and instead feel confident and good about themselves. Let’s give mothers the positive feedback they need and deserve that will help them have confidence in their parenting skills.
Let “Praise A Parent” help mothers know that “good enough mothering” means good mothers and good mothering.
8 thoughts on “Praise A Parent Campaign”
Too bad the most important job in the world has the lowest ($$) pay. Being a caregiver for a child. Our society does not give that job enough… respect? honor? dignity?
What’s the word I am looking for?…?
I think the word is value. We don’t really value children or the work,
responsibility, care and skill that goes into raising and educating them. So
the people who do that work are not valued. You are right about it being
the most important job in the world. As a society we pay lip service to
that idea but don’t support it in a tangible way. Good comment. Thank you
In a message dated 7/18/2011 5:38:49 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
One of my best moments as a parent was when I took my boys to breakfast at 7 am (after having been up since 4 with both because of a fire in the neighborhood) and our waitress told me as we neared the end, “I can tell you are a great mom.” So glad you’re doing this campaign! We all need those moments along the way.
Thanks for this story. I like it. Can you tell me what you think it was
she noticed in particular that told her you are a great mom? These are the
moments we all need. Let’s create more of them.
In a message dated 7/18/2011 9:43:04 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
Good luck with this campaign. As a mother I have learned to tune out all bystanders when we are having our unexemplary moment in public places. I think mothers just have to press on out of inner conviction and accept the reality that they aren’t going to be praised or reassured. Not to say it wouldn’t be nice! Let me contribute.
We go to a public pool in the neighborhood and most of the time adult-child interactions are painful to watch. But on occasion I see a parent who speaks in a friendly, respectful tone, explains to the child, e.g., when they have to leave and why, and gives regular updates as to how much time is left. Though they are in charge, they aren’t heavy-handed. They do not resort to bribes, threats, etc. When I witness this I feel like complimenting the parent but since I don’t know them I say nothing. Thanks for giving me this opportunity to praise them, though they may never read this.
I like the observation you have selected for praise. I agree that most mothers are “pressing on out of inner conviction”
In a message dated 8/2/2011 3:42:29 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time, writes:
–to finish my comment, it helps to reinforce the kind of behavior you describe. Sometimes it may feel intrusive to say something to someone we don’t know, but I think the appreciation of an observer is itself appreciated’. Thanks for offering your observation. I hope some of those mothers do read it.
In a message dated 8/2/2011 3:42:29 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time, writes: