I find it a paradox of praise when people called me a ‘good mom’ for what they have seen of me on social media. I feel both flattered and self-conscious. But as I think about the qualities of a good mom, both what it is and isn’t, I have come to learn about the importance of being attuned.
A few months ago my husband and I high-fived each other and sang our family song, ‘we’re the three best friends that anyone could have …,’ before collapsing on the couch in self-satisfied exhaustion. We patted ourselves on the back for hosting an epic four-year-old birthday party. Okay, maybe not epic, but creative and DIY and fun for kids and parents alike.
I posted several photos from my daughter’s birthday to social media, which garnered the usual friends and family “likes.” Part of me appreciated the validation that my social media world agreed with the hilarity of my four-year-old daughter requesting an ambulance-themed birthday party. But I also received several comments to the effect of, ‘you’re such a good mom!’ Initially I felt flattered, but then self-conscious, pensive, and ultimately kind of defensive. For example:
- Blowing up surgical gloves into balloons and decorating baby dolls with bandaids does not make you a ‘good mom.’
- Baked goods in the shape of ambulances and cookies frosted to look like pills do not make you a ‘good mom.’
- Staying up late to transform a wagon and a cardboard box into an ambulance with a siren and flashing lights does not make you a ‘good mom.’
Sure, our daughter loved her birthday party, and we helped her to feel extra special on the day we set aside to celebrate her in a major way. But it wasn’t because of the shape of the cake. Or the decor. Or even the presents.
Since then I have thought a lot about the notion of what makes a ‘good mom.’ As far as I can tell, they come in all shapes, sizes, and flavors. ‘Good moms’ have natural births with midwives, C-sections at the hospital, or adopt their baby from another country. They breastfeed, bottle feed, use a spoon, or practice baby-led weaning. They are employed full or part-time or not at all. They have one kid, two kids, three kids, or more. They are married, single, gay, or dating around. They have PhDs, GEDs and college degrees. They feed their kids home-cooked meals, frozen food, and grass-fed-gluten-free-garden-grown veggies. They allow twenty minutes of PBS programming per day, stream the Disney Channel all weekend long, or entirely restrict screen time. They are Free Rangers, Helicopter Parents, Yoga Moms, Snowplow Parents, Earth Mamas, Pinterest Perfectionists, Tiger Moms, and Lighthouse Parents.
The thing is, ‘bad moms’ can also do or be all of these things. So just what is a ‘good mom’ anyway? One who loves her children, of course, but love alone does not a good mama make. We ALL love our kids. We ALL want the best for our kids. We ALL hope for our kids to grow into healthy, happy, productive adults. A good mama not only wants these things for her children, but she provides them to the best of her ability.
So here is my list for a ‘good mom:’
- She expresses and practices unconditional love
- She is patient
- She is open, supportive, and accepting
- She is intuitive
- She is honest
- She provides warmth and comfort, but also protection
- She respects her children and herself
- She provides structure but is flexible
- She is dynamic, willing to change and grow
- She keeps perspective and has a sense of humor
- She is a teacher, a healer, an enforcer, a counselor, and a protector
- She is all of these things, but not all of these things all of the time
- But most of all, a ‘good mom’ is attuned
By dictionary definition, to attune is to bring into harmony, to make aware or responsive. Being emotionally attune in parenting is, most simply, recognizing and responding to your child’s individual needs at any given moment. It is when we match the energy of another person, when we share and join in his or her experience. It is not necessarily verbal. It requires paying attention to others and to ourselves; prioritizing the wellness not just of the child, but ours, as well. It takes understanding and insight into a child’s growing ability, and his or her changing needs. When harnessed, being attuned enriches our relationships, and reflects a sense of true connection.
My Internet friends weren’t wrong in calling me a ‘good mom,’ but I don’t want to be judged by what they see on Instagram, Facebook, or even my personal blog. Being a ‘good mom’ isn’t about any particular parenting style, trend, or singular choice, but about truly paying attention, attuning to our children’s individual and dynamic needs.