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.