Every day I and many other mothers I know ask ourselves the same question 175 times: “Am I a good mom or am I a bad mom?”
Luckily, Good mom/Bad mom has become tongue-in-cheek. The movie Bad Moms and the most recent Bad Moms Christmas made us laugh at ourselves. Make a mistake, it’s a #momfail. We let our friends know about our #momfail so they can tell us why we don’t, in fact, suck at motherhood in general. No, we are not automatically a Bad Mom if we mess up.
But I am going to go out on a limb redefine the terms Good Mom and Bad Mom. I will do this all Balanced Breastfeeding style. Cool thing is, this idea works in a lot of ways.
“GOOD MOMS BREASTFEED.”
If you choose to breastfeed, as 82% of women initially do in the United States, you are agreeing with that statement. Good moms want to breastfeed and good moms will sacrifice just about everything to make breastfeeding work. Right?
I don’t happen to think that good moms breastfeed. I think it is a good choice to take a serious look at breastfeeding during your pregnancy because breastmilk is an excellent first choice food for your baby to consume. Or as breastmilk and lactation researcher Kate Hinde calls it, “the first milk human mammals were designed to consume.”
I don’t think it is a good idea for every woman to initiate breastfeeding and I don’t think it is a good idea for some women to continue breastfeeding. The breastfeeding drop off rate from birth to six months shouldn’t be quite as steep as it currently is in our country, but I do believe that there should be a fair drop off in numbers by the six-month point.
Because, honestly, sometimes breastfeeding doesn’t work. And, contrary to what is floating around the Internet, it isn’t your fault if breastfeeding didn’t work for you.
However, the fallout from breastfeeding if it “doesn’t go your way” is downright dangerous. There is a higher risk that if breastfeeding “doesn’t go your way,” you will develop a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder. And I am not talking about the women who quit. I am talking about the women who suffer. There are plenty of amazing and resilient women out there who deem that breastfeeding “isn’t for them” and confidently go about their lives becoming phenomenal mothers. My sister-in-law Jenny is a perfect example of that.
But we probably all know at least one woman who suffers in pain, who experiences mood or anxiety disorders, or perhaps who has a mindset that if anything doesn’t meet her expectations, she will feel as if she failed. She will feel like a Bad Mom. Not a #momfail that she posts on Instagram, knowing that hers is a minor, forgettable lapse that she can joke about with her friends. A real, deep, painful, and potentially shameful and scarring failure.
Perhaps it is another in a long line of failures. This breastfeeding failure may very well be yet another check in her “I suck at life” column. Breastfeeding didn’t work. She is starting out motherhood as a Bad Mom and she will always be a Bad Mom.
I don’t happen to think that good moms breastfeed.
Being a Good Mom is not a destination, it is a journey (that’s one of those clichés to live by). Therefore, you never really arrive at a stopping point as far as I can see. Some days, you will grade yourself a Good Mom or a Mostly Good Mom. Other nights you will lay your head on the pillow, grading yourself with a solid D, only to be awoken 45 minutes later, wondering how you might ever raise your grade with the constant sleep deprivation and mental exhaustion issue you have going on.
And even if you do award yourself the ever-elusive Good Mom Award, it doesn’t last. It is like Groundhog Day. You have to prove it all over again tomorrow.
But what if being a Good Mom meant that you could say, “I learned something today”?
And what if the title “Bad Mom” was reserved for letting your baby sleep on her belly before she can roll?
Or not having your car seat checked for safety?
Or feeding your toddler soda?
Or smacking your kid across the face in anger? (We all wanted to and didn’t do it. That goes under the “Good Mom” category.)
Or telling your kid to STFU? (See above.)
Or letting your teenagers and her friends “drink in your home so you know they are safe”?
Like, you know, the real Bad Mom shit.
Or being a bad mom could mean “I wasn’t kind to myself today.” You said mean things about the single most important member of your family—yourself. The rock, the life force, the pulse.
Good Mom: Can say, “I learned something today. Tomorrow I am ready to do it all again because it all goes too quickly.”
Bad Mom: Does things that are unsafe, overly selfish, abusive, or out of control. This is a mom who needs to seek the help of a professional.
By the way, if throughout the process of redefining these terms, you find yourself saying, “This is because I suck” or “This is proof that I suck” or “I’m going to turn into my horrible mother/father/sister,” you’ve got some personal work to do. No shame. We all have our shit. New parenthood tends to boil those issues up to the surface right fast. Once you can catch your breath from having a new baby, get ye to therapy!
Note: A lot of these ideas about being a Good Mom go back to the concept of having a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset. For example, I have never called Lucy a “good girl,” but rather I say that she “did a good job.” It is a critical distinction to make, in my opinion, and one that allows room for her to grow as a person even (especially) after making a bad choice. Likewise, maybe instead of embodying the “Good Mom/Bad Mom” labels, we should be thinking of ourselves as women developing into our roles as mothers—a lifelong journey with plenty of opportunities for growth.