I was at a retreat centre some years ago when I came across pre-schoolers laughing and having fun with one another. In that moment, I felt a surge of emotions as I remembered my own daughter in her kindergarten uniform 22 years ago. I found myself questioning – have I been a good mother to her and her sister, especially when they were younger? This same question has lingered at the back of my mind for some time.
When I first conceived, I made up my mind to be a “good mother”. I began to conjure up what being a “good mother” would mean. A “good mother” devotes her life (not just time) to her children; her children are her priority. She is also someone who would strive relentlessly and tirelessly for her child to ensure their success, both in the present and the future. Doing well in school is thus very important. She would strive to provide whatever resources needed to achieve that, often not counting the cost both she and her child have to pay. As a result, she would push her child very hard to excel.
For many years, I did just that. I did what I could to be the best mother. I left my job in the I.T. sector and did what many mothers had done traditionally in the past so as to devote all my time and attention to my children. I became a “tiger mom”. I set very high expectations for my child. I was uptight and anxious about her performance. I believe if I did not push her, I would be wasting her talent, and I would not do justice to her God-given potential. To achieve that, I had to be strict and harsh. I was often anxious. As anxiety built up, I became harsher. Besides my concern for her performance academically, I was concerned with her behaviour. I measured my success and failure by how she presented herself in the public space – performance and “good behaviour”; her accomplishment is also my success.
A Turning Point
However, there came a turning point. I remember that was when she became a teenager. I witnessed her pain for the first time as she tried very hard to fight back her tears. I set very high expectations for her, thinking it would help “motivate” her to work harder and perform better. Instead, my high expectations led her to resent learning. I felt like a failure because my daughter could not reach my expectations. That was when I realised that my version of a “good mother” was not working – it brought pain, resentment, and unhappiness into my child’s childhood, instead of joy, self-motivation and happiness.
Thinking back, it must have been stifling for her. Both of us suffered when I tried too hard. Striving to be a “perfect” mother brought me a lot of stress, disappointment, self-blame and a sense of guilt. I felt tired and worn out. At the same time, I did not enjoy my motherhood which I thought I would; I felt short-changed as I thought I had thrown away a large part of my life (career) to become a full-time mother. After my epiphany, I decided to move away from trying to be a “good” to be a “good enough” mother. Below is B.L.E.S.S., my humble suggestions for what it means to be a “good enough” mother.
Suggestion #1: Be Empathic (be humane)
“Good enough” mothers support their children by giving full attention and offering empathy. Like us adults, our children have limitations and challenges. They also have other needs besides studies. They need rest, recreation, friends, fun, and others. Our children need us to support them.
Suggestion #2: Less is More
“Good enough” mothers avoid micromanaging and know when to let go. They set realistic and attainable goals which are age-appropriate. Children need space that is safe to discover, learn and practise their skills in problem-solving. “Good enough” mothers do not get overly involved by telling them what to do at every step. Support may come in the form of monitoring and encouraging children in their goal achievement. Children would likely need help, but “good enough” mothers are careful not to be too quick to provide solutions so as to “protect” our children from mistakes or failure. Making mistakes is not the end; learning to correct one’s mistakes is a crucial skill to nurture.
Suggestion #3: Enjoy your child, regardless of age. Enjoy motherhood!
“Good enough” mothers enjoy their children. They spend intentional enjoyable and fun time with them. Spending time is not limited to coaching them on their homework. Introduce as much laughter and fun in your relationship with your child. Conversation with your child should not centre only around the daily functions of your lives; there should be conversations on things that matter to the child and conversations that connect with the child emotionally.
Suggestion #4: Self-care – Mothers, you matter! Take care of yourself!
“Good enough” mothers readily show care and love for themselves. Caring and loving oneself shows that we respect ourselves, our bodies and our mental health. “Good enough” mothers make time to have their own recreation, rest, and chill out with their friends. In doing so, they demonstrate that loving and caring for themselves is an essential aspect of life; life is not all about achieving targets and performing at work. We are also teaching our children that we have the responsibility to maintain a healthy body and strong mind on our own.
Suggestion #5: Slow down.
“Good enough” mothers go slow and do not rush. Regardless of the challenge, whether it is a problem to solve, a crisis that is happening or an emotional outburst to deal with, “Good enough” mothers would not be rash. They choose to stay calm so as to have a clear mind to tackle the tricky situation. They are also not so easily overwhelmed by anxiety and stress, hence having better control over their emotions.
So to the question, have I been “good enough” to my kids, my answer is: Yes! I am a “good enough” mother; not perfect, but just “good enough”. “Good enough” mothers are mothers who attend to their children’s needs at their developmental pace, supporting them while giving them space to grow emotionally healthy and independently. Just as there are no perfectly behaved children, there are no perfect mothers. If we manage our own expectations and put aside our anxieties about their achievement, we can learn to enjoy and treasure this short period of childhood with our children more.
Written by: Lily Ching, Parent Coach, Fei Yue Community Services