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Challenge: It's Good To Be Bad

Feeling guilty that you are a bad mother? Forget about perfection!

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One of the biggest pieces of motherhood advice I have for new and expecting moms (and experienced mothers too) is to forget about what you think motherhood should be like, how you think you should feel, how you think you should act, and what you think you should do.

In other words, this motherhood advice is about railing against idealistic (and largely mythical) expectations and beliefs about motherhood. In the academic literature, there has been a lot written about the cultural ideals of motherhood, and the impossibly high expectations placed on women about how they ought to “feel” and “act” and “be” as mothers.

We all know what that ideal is, because we’ve all judged ourselves at some point against it: it’s that image of the happily self-sacrificing, eternally fulfilled, do-it-all-yourself, implement-all-the-latest-expert-advice, super mom.

The problem is that this image promotes a set of cultural beliefs that are highly idealistic, largely unattainable, and also scientifically questionable. In other words, it’s not really real. It’s also not what “real life” good parenting is even about.

Furthermore, there’s a lot of research showing that an internalization of these ideals and beliefs can be a major risk factor for emotional distress and depression (including postpartum depression).

It’s important to remember that an ideology is simply a belief system. It is like a lens that filters (and also distorts) our understanding and experience of things. Ideology is also “a powerful tool for keeping people in their place”.


What does this all mean? It means that our ideological construction of what “good mothers” do and feel is not something that is based in any kind of scientific fact or other form of truth. It also means that it’s something that we can fight against, oppose, challenge, disbelieve.

The bottom line motherhood advice is this:

  • Do not waste time judging yourself against that image of the happily self-sacrificing, eternally fulfilled, do-it-all-yourself, implement-all-the-latest-expert-advice, super mom. It’s self-defeating, impractical, and ultimately not very useful for helping one to be a good parent.
  • The other part of this piece of motherhood advice is to expect ups and downs, and to expect things not to be perfect. In fact, don’t even try for things to be perfect. Just try to be a good you, and try to stay thoughtful, engaged, and committed in your parenting - you will lead through example. At the end of the day, the best motherhood advice a person can give is simply to be thoughtful, engaged and intentional about your parenting, and to strive to be the best example you can for your children. That’s about it - nothing more, nothing less.

Indeed, in the research that was done over the years, the researchers who learned that moms who actively challenge this “mythical ideal” of motherhood - who don’t worry about trying to be the “perfect parent” (there’s no such thing anyway), but who just aim to be engaged, thoughtful, and committed in their parenting - these women tend to feel very good about themselves as mothers.

They don’t struggle with the guilt that some moms feel for not living up to certain ideals, and they don’t get bogged down worrying about what they “should” or “shouldn’t” do/feel as a mom. They just concentrate on their family and themselves, and shut out all that other noise.

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