Motherhood has been revered by all cultures throughout the ages. It was and still is seen as the epitome of womanhood. An outdated notion perhaps, but one which still permeates our subconscious, no matter how liberated we become. But away from the debate of whether a woman can only find true fulfilment through motherhood or whether this is just a myth perpetuated by centuries of female conditioning (an argument for another day, perhaps), mothers still berate themselves because they don’t feel they are the ideal mothers they desperately want to be. What exactly is a good mother?
Perhaps all this over-analysing of what has been women’s primary role since the dawn of time, is simply our way of creating yet another first world problem. After all, women have been rearing children without questioning their abilities for millennia. Still, hands up all those who have never questioned themselves or doubted their capability as mothers? I would hazard a guess that there would be very few of us who never did. It is the kind of reassurance that we need to hear because motherhood is an ongoing learning curve and one in which gauging results is practically impossible.
So, what has led to this relatively new insecurity in an age-old role? As increasing numbers of mothers work, and the traditional function of the woman within the home is being blurred, people are questioning, (unfairly, I might add) what makes a good mother. There are theories of childcare, criticisms of women who leave the home, criticisms of women who stay there, of women who care too much and women who don’t care enough. Raising the next generation properly, remains one of society’s greatest preoccupations, but how do mothers in a rapidly evolving, modern scenario cope with this extraordinary responsibility?
Among all the criticism and blame, we can sometimes forget that loving a child is the first and most important thing a mother can do, going way beyond her choice of parenting style. Sadly, I see women blaming and belittling themselves (I should know, I was one of them) and each other for not being perfect. When I became a mother for the first time, high powered career women were the exception, not the norm. They were in unchartered territory, breaking glass ceilings and redefining family life. The husbands or partners were either their career equal or perhaps their support.
Today, it is rare that a woman has not had some sort of career. Women in their twenties or thirties, and rightly so, expect to be mothers and also part of the workforce. This is indeed a balance that requires careful management; not just in ensuring that both career/job and child get the attention they deserve. To attain this balance, the basic needs of the mother need to be met as well. Careers, relationships and babies will grow and flourish when loved and nurtured. The same goes for mothers. It is very easy to forget that the wellbeing of a child depends to a great extent on the wellbeing of the mother. Unhappiness, depression or just plain boredom are not conducive to great parenting.
Of course, a major cause of guilt surrounds the issue of going out to work and whether the working mother is damaging her children in any way. But must it always be this way? How do we decide what makes a good mother? The question is complex and far-reaching, influenced by ever changing trends in childcare. Moreover, becoming a mother is a lifestyle choice and perhaps this is why there is so much pressure to get it right. Motherhood brings with it a formidable amount of responsibility and this may be the reason why the debates on child-rearing are fierce.
For example, for every new mother who believes in feeding on demand and co-sleeping, there is another who believes just as intensely in the opposite. Chances are that both will raise normal, happy children. Interestingly, it is mothers themselves who often stand divided. Egged on by an ever more intrusive media, mothers put themselves into opposing factions; breast versus bottle, co-sleeping versus sleep training, full-time parenting against career and the disparaging of opposing views continues.
Once upon a time, mothers had far less choice. Traditional methods of childcare were adopted from one generation to the next with little thought to alternative methods; new mothers simply got on with it, whether they worked or not (working mothers are not a modern phenomenon after all). Too much choice can be far from liberating; making the perfect choice for your child can become the number one source of anxiety for any new mother. It doesn’t help that parenting is one of the issues on which total strangers feel at liberty to offer an opinion. New mothers have to justify themselves as to why they’re bottle-feeding, breast-feeding, giving baby a dummy, a teething ring, feeding them X or Y. Why is this? Why is it that where a new mother is concerned, everyone and his dog thinks they’re an expert and knows better than her? So, is there such a thing as a good mother? I believe that there in no one size fits all formula to be a good mother to your children. Each mother should be able to trust her instinct, choose whatever parenting method feels right for her family and circumstances and do away with unwarranted opinions, which at the end of the day will only make her feel insecure and anxious. And as any mother will tell you, a woman who is frazzled and highly strung does not a good mother make… So, trust your gut feeling and the rest will all fall beautifully into place, because at the end of the day, mother knows best!