The Myth of the Good Mother

Is good mothering a myth? Some say yes and others say no, and to complicate things even more, we all have our own notion of what defines a “good mother.” Whether a mother works, stays home, is strict or lax in terms of discipline has an impact on the children. Is parenting a matter of style or is it what we teach our children as we model our everyday lives for them?

While some mothers teach us well in terms of relational manners, discipline, and goal setting, I believe there is one major characteristic that defines how a mother shapes the lives of her children.

We tend to overlook one thing in this information age and that is, it is essential to model health for your children. Here, we’re talking about a healthy way of life in how we view ourselves, healthy choices in relationships, and healthy choices in how we conduct our own lives. That is what a child ultimately learns from mothers, and fathers too for that matter.

Example of modeling behavior:

Stella’s mother was passive in a controlling and abusive relationship. She stayed in the relationship making the best of it without outward complaint.

Stella is angry with the home situation and vows that she will never live with a man that treats her badly, but she has been taught by parental modeling that its OK to be pushed around physically and emotionally. This type of modeling goes beyond the intellectual process and settles somewhere deep within the emotional realm. Stella has not learned healthy boundaries.

Without knowing how this modeled behavior latched onto her psyche, she may be puzzled by her own behavior. Stella grows to adulthood knowing the difference between abuse and being treated well, but often (though not always) she will gravitate toward an abusive relationship, because its familiar in her emotional makeup and is rooted in what she has absorbed in life.

She may become the controlling spouse or she may revert to the passive role. It’s very difficult to separate feelings and emotions from intellect when you don’t understand that a conflict exists within. The same patterns exist for men. Passive men are often caught in the same dysfunctional cycle and look for a strong woman to rescue them and take care of them. The cycle is repetitive.

Healthy emotional boundaries are taught in the home by modeling behavior. Love and connection with children is part of the equation. Children can forgive a lot, if they are loved and have a sense of security in the home.

Rarely, if ever, do parents speak of boundaries in an understandable way to children. Rather, we show by our actions how we choose to be treated by other people. To the extent that we understand our own boundaries is our ability to teach our children through modeling healthy choices. Emotional boundaries intersect every avenue of our personal and our work lives.

Some styles of parenting as in the example above lead to the unhealthy choices that children make. When we set our own healthy boundaries, children tend to pick up and absorb the same.

In answer to the good mothering myth, we are good mothers when we model healthy boundaries for our children; the same is true for fathers. Children see what we live, more than what we say or demand.