Thursday, August 14, 2008

What Makes a Good Mother?

River and I have spent the past week visiting family. Together with all of the time spent getting to know the little guy and the loving attention poured upon him, has come advice for me. I should breastfeed for two years, I should breastfeed for no longer than a year, I should start weaning now, I should feed him a solid breakfast, he must be teething and in pain and I should buy Orajel, I should feed him French fries and ice cream, I should use disposable diapers, I should be able to breastfeed and take care of all the baby chores, I should buy him a pacifier.

When I called my husband one evening and told him about all the advice I was receiving I said I knew the comments were provided out of love for River, but that the undertone seemed to be that I’m doing things incorrectly. To my surprise, he said he felt the same way when he wants to try something new with River, as though he’s criticizing my ability to mother.

“You aren’t very self-confident in your ability to mother,” he said.

I acknowledged he was correct.

Upon thinking about it though, I do feel confident I’m a good mother now – better than I thought I’d be. River is happy, healthy and strong. He seems intelligent, he smiles all the time, he doesn’t lack for anything, I think he feels secure and loved.

To me, what makes a good mother is someone who loves and supports her child, who does things in his best interest, who gives him opportunities to learn, explore and grow up healthy and who provides a secure and loving environment.

I think I am doing all of the above and I’m happy that I have a close and loving relationship with my baby.

When I tend to feel less confident is when my mothering is being examined and judged publicly. Then I feel I may not be living up to standards. I feel I don’t spend enough on fancy baby accessories, that my stroller (obtained for free on freecycle) is not cool enough, that I’m too dedicated to providing him with homemade food, that I’m silly for teaching him to go potty so early, that I’m crazy to take him with me all over the world, that it’s weird to speak to him in Spanish when I’m not a native speaker, that I should want to spend all day with him, that I should be able to work without feeling guilty, that I shouldn’t separate his vaccines, that I shouldn’t get him vaccinated at all, that I should be more discreet about breastfeeding, especially as he is getting bigger.

Whenever these feelings arise, I tell myself that such issues aren’t important to me, nor are they important to River’s ability to grow up to be a happy child and a contented adult. Sometimes these ideas are stated out loud, other times I just feel them insinuated. I spent some time defending my decisions verbally. But I spend a lot more time defending them to myself whenever I feel that people are questioning them.

This I know is wasted energy. I should take pride in the fact that things have gone well so far and continue on the path I’ve taken until now, ready to change course if something proves ineffective. However, all that defending to myself and to others plants seeds of doubts within me.

Perhaps the decisions I’ve made will really backfire. Perhaps as he gets older, River will resent rather than appreciate the control I’ve exerted over his food choices and his language acquisition. Perhaps he’ll prefer to follow the consumer trends rather than having a mother who is always questioning, evaluating, analyzing. Maybe, what scares me most, is that the decisions I make will somehow transform our close and loving relationship to the conflict and lack of respect that marked my relationship with my mother.

My mother did a good job caring for me as an infant. But she was anxious and high-strung and I imagine I must have felt that negative energy. So far, I’ve usually found myself pretty calm and loving with River. So maybe I’m not going to be the same as her. Maybe my child won’t hate me. I can feel guilty about wanting time to myself, about not wanting to be a full-time mom, about finding breastfeeding very time-consuming and questioning its value when time is taken into account, about not being as anal about safety as some other mothers while also recognizing that overall, I do a pretty good job.

Yes, it takes a community to raise a child and the input of others is valuable. But while they can impact him through their direct interactions with him, I will be a mother to him in the way that feels right for the two of us. And I don’t need to feel guilty about that, no matter who is questioning it.

1 comment:

Lainey Wright said...

...and I for one am NOT questioning a THING you are doing. In fact, I admire every last choice you are making, especially the choice to be so utterly honest with yourself about your feelings along the way, whether they be feelings of guilt or pride. I teared up when I read this bare naked statement of self-doubt. Who knows what time with bring and how River will respond to your tender care. But in the meantime, you are very clearly doing the very best you know how and you are thoughtful about every last choice, which is more than any growing child can ask for in a mother. I hope you are able to dim the voices of doubt that are echoing in the back of your mind and replace them with a few soothing, loving, kind voices of encouragement.