I became a mother in my twenties, when everything was new and I had all the right answers. I would feed my kids only organic food, let them express their emotions and their creativity, keep them away from all harm and negativity. I certainly did my best, but being the perfect mother turns out to be an impossible task.
Too late I read about the concept of the “good enough mother.” Apparently, according to the founders of modern day psychology, a too perfect, or a too neglectful mother may be bad for children, but the “good enough mother” does the least harm. How come? Because there is no such thing as a perfect world and everyone is made up of strengths and weaknesses no matter what their mother was like. Being “good enough” means you are probably not too fussy, not too bossy, not too anything, and yes, I can buy into that.
As a working mother, I spent most of my working life thinking about home. I must go home, what time am I going home, how are things at home, should I be in the home? I literally never went for a drink after work. Why? I worked with lots of other mothers who were also running out the door at the end of the day, and we were all too busy arranging pick ups from school or shopping for the dinner.
I avoided long hours, overtime, trips away, too much responsibility, anything that would draw me too far away from my kids. I tried to fit work around home and not the other way around. I got used to a dwindling social life and hanging out with lads climbing trees and swimming out of their depth.
Did anyone notice, the dribbles on my shoulder? That instead of going to the coffee room at break time, I was running out to the car-park to feed my baby? That instead of knocking back wine at art exhibition openings, I was hoping to get away with turning up with three kids in tow, and ducking out before they dismantled the joint.
The lifeline for mothers were the other mothers. The mothers who tell it like it is. Who strain at the leash for escape and a cup of coffee without the kids. Women who you can pour your heart out to when you feel like crap and you feel trapped. At different times through the whole cycle, they quietly ease the isolation.
Motherhood can be the loneliest role in the world. You wake up at 4 in the morning, worrying about where and how they are, no matter what age they are. You are anxious about their quirks, wondering, did they get that from me? You learn how love hurts when you see them off to their first day at school or their exciting trip to work in Australia.
But the craic! The way they pick up swear words before grammer. How they insist on taking risks and living their lives to the full in spite of how shy or scared you might be. How they giggle at nothing and make silly jokes about everything. Because of them I swam with Fungie the dolphin, broke my ribs falling off a banana boat, went on fairground rides with my arms around them and my eyes closed, danced in night clubs in Berlin. I even used the precise bad language written in the script I was handed without blinking for an acting part in one of their videos.
I spent some time with a young mother recently and it reminded me of the pressure to be the perfect, to know all the correct way to do things, to follow the rules to creating “good children.” For what it’s worth I said, why not excel in the art of the white lie? Tell them all, “of course the baby sleeps through the night, is toilet trained, eats everything, never cries….” Give yourself space to figure all this out over time. You are getting to know a new person, making a new relationship that will last a lifetime. There are no rules for that, just follow your own heart, be “good enough.”
And how can you help? Button your lip, smile and support. Never give advice unless it’s asked for. Badger your politicians to fund better childcare, more playgrounds and absolutely brilliant schools. Support young men to become equal parents like with the introduction of the new paternity leave.
But above all, love bomb our “good enough mothers” and let them know how well they manage it all. When mothers thrive, their children shine, their families are happy, and the future benefits most of all….