What is a great mother? Is she a great cook? Does she work outside the home? Volunteer at the school bake sale? Is she calm and unflappable? Does she spend hours devising great craft and educational activities for her cherished brood? Is she strict or easy? Stern or warm?
Jane Caro wrote this week of the departing Prime Minister. In her article she argues that women in high places have the problem of being held to a standard that it far too black and white. You’re either incredible or terrible. If you make mistakes, they are held against you harder, longer and your gender is included in the misstep. I wonder if it is a little the same for mothers. The image of the bumbling, slightly inept father not getting his parenting quite right is endearing, funny, perhaps even expected. After all, it’s not the natural role. Is it? But we mothers are supposed to get it right all the time. If we lose our nut in the supermarket it’s shocking. If we can’t be bothered changing the grubby clothes and wiping the sticky face before we go out it’s neglectful. If we don’t volunteer at school it’s a real shame. If we completely drop the ball well….we must be in need of a diagnosis and some medication.
I can be very mediocre at parenting and I can be really good at it. I’m good at teaching behaviour change. I’m good at conflict resolution. I’m good at meal planning. I’m good at helping my children learn to be kind, share and love one another. I’m good at loving them. I am bad at craft, imaginary play, handing tantrums, not yelling, being involved at school and energetic parenting. I can’t think what it is that makes me a good mother, but I know I am. Perhaps it is the simple fact that I love to watch their little faces just to see the minute changes in expression as they think, discover and feel. Perhaps it is that I see into their souls and no matter what dreadful thing they might get up to, I will always know they are pure gold at their core.
We mothers are, like the fathers, good, bad and a million shades in between. We win, we lose, we surrender. I’m yet to meet a mother who doesn’t love her child. Even if that love is buried under brokenness, it is still there. Even if she doesn’t get it right, the love is still there. Even if she looks to the world like the worst mother you could imagine, the love is still there. Even if she’s numb and feels nothing, the love is there. Are we great? I don’t know. What makes us great is defined by far more than just our parenting prowess. I for one want to be much more than a mother. There are lots of great things about me, a few of them have to do with parenting. To quote a woman I admire, my motherhood doesn’t explain everything about me, nor does it explain nothing. It explains some things.