Am I a successful mom?
Redefining the goals and the job
Sunday, April 24, 2005
Essays from moms I always knew I would love being a mom. I knew I would love my kids. I knew I would love being with them, coming home to them and waking up to them—especially after 7 a.m.
But what I didn’t know was how much I would miss the feedback I received in my former, more traditional career.
We get rewards as parents—such as beautiful smiles and sticky hugs—but we don’t get much feedback. And when we do, it is all too often about the bad.
I too often define my day’s success by the tasks I have completed. I deliver the kids to soccer, piano and preschool. I mop the floors. I pay the bills.
But is this what motherhood is really all about—successfully mundane days? Have I given up my work and free time to become the person who efficiently cleans, cooks and chauffeurs?
True, these tasks are important, but do they reflect what matters most to me? Shouldn’t I define my success by the experiences I share with my children? Do I provide loving and supportive discipline throughout the day? Am I warm and patient? Do I spend enough time exercising, reading or playing together with my kids?
And if those are the things that matter, why do I—and many other moms—have so much trouble thinking about it that way?
Part of the problem is that there isn’t much time for thinking. Period.
“I spend the whole day just taking care of my kids, and you don’t have time to reflect,” says Hinsdale mom Kris Dailey, who has three kids under 5: Michael, 4, Olivia, 3, and Ella, 18 months.
Jodi Brubaker, mom of Charlie, 3, and Jack, 5, agrees: “Lot’s of times you don’t have time to think. You are just doing. [Reflecting] takes a concentrated effort.”
There is too little time. And too much societal pressure. It’s hard to find a way to feel good about your workday when your 2-year-old bursts into a tantrum on the floor of the grocery store.
“With mothers, there is this sort of cultural pressure that how their children behave, or even what they look like, reflects on their competence as a mom,” says Aaron Ebata, associate professor and family life specialist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
It makes sense. After all, parenting is our job—if we are doing the job well, our children will reflect that work, right? Nope, people—even little people—are not neat. They have good days and bad days. Often, they make mistakes. It’s how they learn.
“We expect the best all the time and notice when they don’t do it instead of when they do,” says Lake Zurich resident Pam Bruggeman, mom of Reed, 14, Chase, 11, Sydney, 7.
It’s not easy. But then, neither is motherhood. There are no blueprints for success, and you receive little acknowledgment for your work. Even when you are doing a great job and your kids are thriving, your children’s accomplishments are, of course, their own.
But I’ve decided that I owe it to myself and to my kids to set goals and take the time to reflect on my work. It sounds easy: “Go ahead, reflect.” But I know it isn’t.
“There is no structure to parenting,” Ebata says. “It is something that you need to initiate for yourself. The important thing to remember is that it takes a conscious effort.”
So here are some simple ways for you and for me to begin:
Schedule. Set aside time to reflect. Mark it on your calendar. Honor the date and don’t give it up.
Write. Record your thoughts. Journal. When you journal, Ebata suggests thinking about three questions:
• What makes parenting worthwhile?
• Are there any positive changes that have happened to you as a result of parenting?
• Are there any specific moments, situations or incidents that made you feel successful as a parent?
Set goals. Take these positive recollections and build on them. Develop an image of the parent you aspire to be and let it serve as your job description. This lets you identify when you meet your goals.
Focus on you. Focus on the things you control. Although we can’t control our kids’ behavior, we can control the environment we establish for them and our responses to them.
Build a supportive home environment. This is a great place to start. For kindergarten teacher Annie Dwyer, mother of 18-month-old Jack, creating a supportive home is what she is most proud of. “As a teacher, I always thought it was so important to create a safe environment that was child centered, that [students] could explore and learn from the things that interested them, so we’ve tried to make our home this type of environment,” she says.
Take concrete steps. Ebata suggests thinking of the things we can control that support our interactions: “There are more concrete things that you can keep track of, such as time. One thing that works well is to focus in on structured activities or rituals that support the best you can be as a parent.”
Keep it going. After you take the time to recognize your parenting successes, don’t let that feeling slip away. Make a little time each week to reflect.
Abbie Paul, mother of Ethan, 3, has this idea down. “There are three goals that I have at the end of each day to keep my priorities in order—that Ethan is happy, healthy and safe.”
Taking a look at where you are going and what you are accomplishing may enable you to recognize that your kids are learning, they are developing and you are a big part of that. What a tremendous gift to have that type of job satisfaction.
Tracy Frizzell is a writer living in Hinsdale with her husband, Brian, and daughters, Elena, 6, and Jenna, 3.