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The Bad Mother

Bad Mother

I used to be a very “good” mother, by my standards.  Once upon a time, I did all of my work while the twins napped or when they were at their grandparent’s house.  When they were awake, we were playing, and when they went to bed at night, I made them baby food.  And all was well.

They grew up and started to go to school, and I did all of my work while they were in kindergarten, pausing at 3 pm so I could be at the pick up door the moment they stepped from the classroom.  They aged into homework, and I helped them with math while I cooked dinner.  And all was well.

They switched to middle school and I decided to pick up more hours.  A lot more hours.  Why not?  I enjoyed the work and they didn’t really need me for homework anymore.  We were going to have to pay for college in a few years, and there was that retirement thing to worry about.  But now the work happened while they were at school and after dinner and on weekends.  It happened when they wanted me to hang out or take them to the pool.

And suddenly, just like that, I no longer felt like a “good” mother.  It’s funny how you snatch that status from yourself so quickly.  I slid into badness, and it erased and replaced everything that came before it.  Or I would think to myself, “You were a good mother, and now you suck.”

To be clear, while there is teenage-appropriate whining about my time being stretched thin, and general grumbling when I won’t drop everything to bake a batch of cookies, there is no one in my world who describes me as a bad mother except myself.  It’s my own little, judgmental moniker.  Everyone else is a good mother.  I am a terrible mother and a distracted wife and a long list of negative adjectives attached to various life stations including sister, daughter, and friend.  Everyone else has better work-life balance, better boundaries, better methods for getting things done.

The point is not for you to jump to my self-esteem’s aid and say, “But Melissa, I think you’re a good mother.”  First and foremost, your opinion about me (“you” being everyone who is not me) is not as important to me as my opinion about me.  But secondly, I’ve been thinking about that old version of blogging; where you put it all out there and admitted your foibles.  That version of blogging that made us feel less alone.  We have lost that side of things; now the Instagrammable life rises to the top and it’s all we notice.  We think that’s normal.

So no contradictions of my feelings, please, though I will take company on my blog front porch.  Sit down if you also suspect that you are not doing sections of your life particularly well at this moment.  Me too.


1 Coffeegrl { 09.12.17 at 7:25 am }

It’s a no win situation of course. I hear you. On the flip side, I have been out of the work force for almost 9 years now. And for a while I felt like a good mother for doing all those things like taking the kids to toddler gym and making home cooked meals and being there for them all the time. But as they’re getting older (elementary school) and need me less while they’re at school, I’m feeling like a bad mother because I’m not doing the paid work that I really enjoyed. I’m feeling bad because I’m not a role model for my girls – showing them that we can be successful professionals. But there are lots of factors that went into the series of decisions resulting in my current status and on some days I know I’m doing the right thing for my kids, but there are plenty of days lately that I struggle with my current status and I envy the professional satisfaction of many of the women I know.

2 Delenn { 09.12.17 at 7:25 am }

I feel like am a good mother, generally…but. I do regret the space of time when my son was 4 -7 years old…because that was when I really was dealing with infertility and all treatments, etc. I feel like I was so depressed and so obsessed that I was not fully there for him. And right now, he is 18 and we are at a stage where we are a bit distant from one another…he confides in dad more. Also, I regret having to take on the role of disciplinarian so much….I used to be more fun! (I am trying to recapture that a bit.)

I think there are always times in parenting where we feel we may be off our game…but we get right back up. 🙂

3 Elizabeth { 09.12.17 at 7:32 am }

Practicing self-compassion has given me perspective of this same issue – anybody else doing/not doing, saying/not saying, feeling/not feeling whatever I currently am, I wouldn’t judge a fraction as harshly as I judge myself. Imagining that I am my own best friend helps me be more compassionate towards myself, and helps to change the inner monologue from “you suck” to “I love you and I get why you feel this way.” Which helps me reflect on and evaluate my situation and decisions within that more clearly. Yesterday I spent hours web-surfing pointlessly, but then I decided that maybe what I needed yesterday was a veg-out day while the kids were at school (and I still did the housework and kid stuff) so I could approach today with more purpose and energy.

4 Jodi { 09.12.17 at 7:33 am }

I think this is a bit of a slippery slope. Am I a bad mother because I work full time and am not home after school? Are dads bad parents? What makes a good and bad parent? Personally, I think children need independence and that comes from doing more on their own.

But, I’m pretty sure I’m a terrible mother 98% of the time, so you should probably ignore me anyway.

5 Christine { 09.12.17 at 7:36 am }

My son is very disappointed because I did not replenish the juice boxes before today and he will have to drink water with his lunch. I am a terrible mother right now.

6 a { 09.12.17 at 7:53 am }

My kid is always on me to “do something with her.”. I am a terrible mother because I often say no. I should say yes more often…

(It’s not that I don’t do anything with her – it’s just not on her terms.)

7 Heather { 09.12.17 at 8:29 am }

Uh, yes. I am always my own worst critic (as I think most people are). It’s a fine line that I walk as a parent. I uttered these words to my 10 year old when she had a friend over the other day: I’m not your entertainment director. There are lots of things you guys can do, pick one.
Lol, I don’t think she was happy with me but they found something to do. As my kids get older the term “good mom” comes into my head less and less. I’m a good mom, my kids are good kids, we have a good life. Sometimes life just feels hard and unfair.

8 Lauren { 09.12.17 at 8:56 am }

I think we all feel like awful mothers at times. As a self employed working mom. the office never closes. It’s really difficult to set boundaries. My kids have become more independent because I work and travel. It breaks my heart sometimes, especially because one has special needs. At the end of the day, they know how much I love, support and value them. I do my best, and I’m ok with it.

9 Jessica McFadden { 09.12.17 at 9:00 am }

I feel exactly like this. Exactly. Thanks for putting the conflict into words.

10 chickenpig { 09.12.17 at 9:13 am }

Unlike you, I have NEVER felt like I was a good mother. My twins were always home, they never napped at the same time, my house was a wreck, I was a wreck. Then they turned three, I had another child, the best behaved baby in the world….and for a little bit I finally thought “Yeah, I can rock this mom thing.” Now the twins are in middle school and NOTHING makes them happy. This morning one of them was whining about how our house is too old and we need to move. Now I would give anything for those simple days when breastfeeding them both, getting them both clean, getting all the laundry put away, and taking a shower was all it took to feel like I was doing a good job. *sigh*

11 Arnebya { 09.12.17 at 9:28 am }

Sometimes, I try to hide the phone, shut the computer, if I hear one of them coming. I don’t want to be “caught” still on the phone where they left me an hour ago. Even if I’m just reading a book that I thought I was downloading to my Nook but somehow it made its way to my phone — especially if I don’t immediately put it down when they appear. Or when I lose interest in the constancy of their voices telling me about their day, asking questions, wondering aloud, SO MUCH TALKING WEREN’T YOU JUST HERE TALKING ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE, and my eyes drift back to whatever else I was doing. We’re in the college applications stage and man do I feel bad about all the scholarship deadlines we’ve missed — that the bad mother missed.

12 Noemi { 09.12.17 at 9:33 am }

I’m with Chickenpig. I never felt like a good mother. Or at least not good enough. I didn’t breast feed my kids long enough, or make them baby food for long enough (never did that for my second), i didn’t wear them enough, I didn’t leave my job to be with them, so they had to go to daycare (why even have kids if you’re going to let someone else raise them?!) I totally failed by all the “natural” and “attachment” parenting standards that I originally held myself up to. I always felt I was failing at motherhood.

Now the feeling that I’m a bad mother is not so prevalent but it’s still there: I don’t cook for them enough. I don’t make them sit down for family dinner most nights. I pick them up after 5pm. My house isn’t neat or clean enough. I yell at them too much. I leave them in someone else’s care on the weekends so I can have some me time.

The fact that you thought you were a good mother for so long is amazing! I think that is awesome, and I hope you get back there again, because I don’t think most women hang out in that, “yeah, I’m a good mother” mentality for so long. if you’re only just getting there when they hit middle school, you’re winning at this “good mother” thing.

13 Noemi { 09.12.17 at 9:34 am }

Oh, and I’m always on my phone too much. Was when they were babies and still am now.

14 Ashley { 09.12.17 at 9:38 am }

As a single parent I feel I’m the walking definition of a bad mom. Not only do I work full-time outside of the home, but I do other things that takes me away from my kids, like volunteer with a local dog rescue and sleep. I’ve been told I have too many kids (I have three), I’ve been told I don’t take care of myself (I spend too much time with my kids), and I’ve recently been told I’m not a good fit for my daughter who has some behavioral issues. I feel judged all. the. time. And, sadly, I internalize most of it and tell myself I’m an awful mother for lots and lots of reasons. I recently read a meme on Facebook about all the things mothers are expected to do and monitor (it’s a lengthy list) and it really jived with me. It also made me see how crazy the societal expectations are for parents and mothers specifically. So, I’m a bad mom, but my kids seem ok with it and we are all doing the best we can do, so maybe it’s ok being a bad mom….

15 kate { 09.12.17 at 9:44 am }

I think the twin thing has always made me feel satisfied with “good enough”. By which I mean that some days I’m “good mom” and some days I’m “terrible mom”, but it’s all okay, because dammit, I’m momming it two at a time and they both have their basic needs met.

Anytime I fall down a trap of “I’m A Terrible Mom”, I just remember there are truly terrible parents out there who won’t or can’t or don’t care to meet the basic needs of their kids, parents who actively try to harm their children, who work to make their lives worse. And then I don’t feel bad for forcing my kid to go to the free after school violin class instead of letting him take expensive private lessons.

I make decisions that my fellow mom friends don’t make, allow things they don’t allow, which has always been a combination of my personal laid back parenting style and the overwhelming nature of two-at-once. And that, I think, has come around to me being okay with declining to be “super mom” all the time.

16 Working mom of 2 { 09.12.17 at 9:53 am }

Yeah. Sometimes I think our kids are fine doing the after school program and other times I think they’re just sucking it up. I was home with one yesterday (sick) and the other was SO happy to be picked up right after school. Problem is there aren’t jobs in my field that let you work less than full time and get off at 2 pm. So I have a lot of guilt about that.

17 Sharon { 09.12.17 at 10:36 am }

While I love my children very much, I have long thought of myself as a mediocre mother. Which has come as an unpleasant surprise after working so hard to become a mother: I thought the role was one at which I would excel.

I think it’s because, like most everything else in my life, my expectations were unrealistically high. I am working on not letting perfect be the enemy of good and focusing on the things I do well and on improving the things I can.

18 omdg { 09.12.17 at 10:40 am }

Huh. I feel like you just told me that I am a bad mother. I am still in residency, so I work 70 hours per week on average. I have picked up my daughter from school or camp literally twice in the last five months. I often bring work home because I have to study so I don’t end up being a terrible doctor. AND I want to do research, which is the ultimate in narcissism because it requires even more at-home work when my daughter is specifically asking to play with me, and it will reduce my take home pay while increasing my hours, job uncertainty, and stress. But I honestly love what I do, so… And somehow, my husband doesn’t have to feel bad about any of this, and he has a demanding job and takes care of a lot of the home chores that I don’t have time to do. So in sum: husband = saint, me = selfish horrible mother bitch.

19 Alex Block { 09.12.17 at 12:04 pm }

I have these kinds of thoughts a lot. When I do, I remind myself that my mother did not play with me past toddlerhood. She opened the door and sent me to play outside all day, or told me to go entertain myself in the house. It seemed normal. She was a grownup, so she had grownup things to do. I think her general feeling was that all she owed me during the day was lunch. Yeah, sometimes I was bored. Still turned out okay, though.

20 Jill A. { 09.12.17 at 12:31 pm }

I knew I was not a good mother. What kind of mother “lets” her infant die? It is the ultimate definition of “bad parenting.” I gave up on being a good Mom and decided to be the best mother I could be. I am and was that. Sometimes, my best was awesome. Other times, I was just glad no one called CPS (child protective services) on me. I did my best, even when my best was not very good. My two kids are grown up now, out of college, with families of their own and they are both people that manage their lives well. So, I think it all worked out okay.

21 Cristy { 09.12.17 at 1:04 pm }

I completely hear you on this as I feel I also fit the “bad” mom definition. I work all the time and feel like I’m failing on all fronts. It’s weird because so many tell me how amazing they think I’m doing, but at the end of the day it doesn’t resonate as it doesn’t fit the definition I have in my head of myself and my roles.

22 Beth { 09.12.17 at 1:19 pm }

Oh I’m definitely a bad mom lately. This weekend was the peak of bad-ness (not a word, I know). My 6 year old is highly sensitive, prone to anxiety and just finished an intense and difficult first week of school. She was a bear all weekend which, intellectually, I understand is her coping – she’s physically and emotionally drained and we are a safe place for her to land (and be a jerk). But after parenting alone for two full days while my husband did some much needed home repairs, I lost my patience Sunday night and ended up yelling at her. I felt horrendously guilty and apologized later. We talked through how we had both failed and what we could have done differently. But I’m still feeling awful. What kind of mother yells at her emotionally unstable child? I’m supposed to be her soft place to land but I broke after only two days.

23 katherinea12 { 09.12.17 at 1:25 pm }

Well, I will pull up a chair and join you on that front porch. I was set to rock things this morning since we had some back-to-back appointments. I got everything we needed, including toys and snacks. I arrived to the appointments on time. Then…my two year old lost her shoe somewhere along the way. No idea where. No idea why she took the shoe off in the first place. Have made calls to all the places we were this morning and no luck. A good mother would take a deep breath and recognize that little kids lose stuff, calmly retrace steps, let it go if needed, and realize this is very small stuff in the grand scheme of things. Also, a good mother would have noticed the shoe come off in the first place. And I am…unreasonably irritated by the loss of this shoe. They weren’t cheap shoes. They’re the ones the 2 year old wears nearly every day. They’re the ones that are best for her walking. And I have no time to go buy a replacement pair this week (but will most likely need to make time somewhere). The shoe is the issue today, but there is a revolving door of *stuff* that makes me feel like a terrible mother most days – ranging from too distracted to too much screen time to saying ‘no’ to doing something fun because the laundry just HAS to be done at some point and we’re all out of clean clothing. Similarly, I definitely am not rocking being a wife right now. Some days, I just have to keep reminding myself that I am truly doing the best I can…

24 Ana { 09.12.17 at 2:14 pm }

This porch is getting crowded…oh well, I’ll squeeze in. Oh hell yes, absolutely. I feel like I never will get the right balance between parenting and…everything else. I keep swinging from one side to the other—right now I’m trying to figure out when in the absolute hell I am supposed to supervise and help with homework and the interventions recommended by our therapist in the middle of working 50 hours a week and trying to have some semblance of a life for myself. I just can’t see it all happening. But I’m feeling energized at work, and reveling in the little bit of social life I am developing, and I think I’ll just have to deal with the “bad mom” guilt until I feel ready to swing the other way.

25 June { 09.12.17 at 2:31 pm }

Wow. I am a little speechless. These are the same thoughts running through my mind. Honestly, I hadn’t realized anyone had that split between managing work and baby years v. work and older kid years. I wonder that about myself all the time — I used to be a good mom, what happened? I had set age 10 (my kid’s age) as the goal for me to get myself all straightened out. Turns out, I am slipping backwards, not improving.

Thank you for posting.

26 jjiraffe { 09.12.17 at 2:42 pm }

There was a great bit in Ayelet Waldman’s book “Bad Mother” about our expectations of mothers: “The Good Mother remembers to serve fruit at breakfast, is always cheerful and never yells, manages not to project her own neuroses and inadequacies onto her children, is an active and beloved community volunteer; she remembers to make playdates, her children’s clothes fit, she does art projects with them and enjoys all their games. And she is never to tired for sex.”

Meanwhile a good father is “present” and “shows up.”

27 ANDMom { 09.12.17 at 4:56 pm }

I was such a “good” mom that my 5 year old is now being dragged into school kicking and screaming and throwing fits during the day because he just wants to be home with me.

I’m going to join you on the “bad mom” front porch. I’ll bring brownies.

28 torthuil { 09.12.17 at 8:29 pm }

I don’t think I’m a bad mother, but I have days when I’m stretched too thin (like all this week). I work full time and I don’t know if it’s the best decision, but it seems to be going ok for now. I guess I’m nuanced so I see advantages and disadvantages to everything so I dont easily characterize things as good or bad. Anyway I think at their age it’s good for your kids to see you being more independent of them. They need to become more independent too.

29 Wendy { 09.12.17 at 9:39 pm }

Oh, the years that I felt like a bad mother… can’t count that high. But I had to work and I worked hard. I tried to be there for everything I could – which was most, but distractions and nights and after school and meetings and… now they’re gone. The good news is that now that they’re adults (18, 20, 22) we can talk about all that and they think that I was a good mother and still am although I still text them back when they need something and sometimes say I’m on a call, can it please wait (though sometimes I place the order or scan their passports or whatever!) and when they come home for more than a weekend, I can’t always give full attention… but in the scheme of things, they think I’m there more than not. I didn’t miss much of the big stuff. I hope. I agree with some comments that it’s great for kids to know that their parents have other important things to prioritize (and that moms can have gratifying work) but it’s all a little of a balancing act. Kids are resilient and love and support and perspective matter… Right?

30 old grandmother { 09.12.17 at 11:02 pm }

Eldest is 47 yrs old. I still feel like a failure at mothering. I did my best. I still do. Both my children are now parents (12 yr old and 6 yr old). Both work full time, which I also did. Both parent differently from I did and differently from each other……but they have built on what I did and I built on my parent’s behaviors. I see them both as much better parents than I was. I think I did a better job than I give myself credit for having done and doing today as a supportive grandmother. None of us are perfect. We ought to not measure ourselves against perfection standards. We try hard and that is all we should ask of ourselves.

31 Mali { 09.13.17 at 1:30 am }

I disagree that the blogging world has changed. Maybe where you are, and where you are at, there is less need for the brutal honesty and confession side of blogging in those very tough years – in the infertility community those are the years of fear and desperation and hope, and in the childless community, those are the years immediately before and after the decision and/or realisation that there will be no children. There is still honesty there, pain and self-blame and the presentation of our experience, as flawed as it may be. The fact that some of us have had the time to move on from that is I think a good thing. Though, like you, every now and then I need to say what is hard, and what I fear. And that’s important too. It’s important that we can think it, it’s important that we have a safe space to say it, and it’s important because others get to see nothing is perfect.

We’re all flawed, and we are all (well, most of us) tough on ourselves too. Just try not to be too tough, even when you’re trying to figure things out. As I am doing very much at the moment too, though obviously not in the parenting sphere. You’re not alone. I hear you.

32 Emily { 09.13.17 at 12:54 pm }

It seems like the truth is kept from us when we have kids. We think that when our children are babies, they will need more of our time, but I’ve learned the reverse is true: we are busier as they get older. I worked 45+ hours per week when my children were babies, and have since continued to work less and less. Now that my children are 10 and 12, I am averaging 30 to 35 hours per week, and I keep wondering when I may just go part time. Not only am I busier with running them to extracurricular activities and being available for much more intense homework, but they are much more willing to open up about their day right after school, and I want to keep encouraging that. I’ve always hoped to retire around 50 or 55, so if I do go part-time, that will just be the beginning of the phase-out of my professional life. That’s fine with me – I daydream about the volunteering and hobbies I can do once the kids are out of the house in eight more years!

33 Lindz { 09.13.17 at 4:42 pm }

Eldest started at a school that expects 25 hours of parent volunteer time over the course of the school year… not horrible if you plan out an hour a week plus one 8 hour field trip day. I started today. Last night i remembers that I had to do online volunteer training first… so I did. It included the nugget that we shouldn’t bring siblings with when volunteering. Well, 2 year old definitely came with and didn’t disturb many people with her desire to color or glue things while I copied papers and cut out little cards on the paper cutter. Fast forward an hour and I’m picking Eldest up from school an hour early because it’s early dismissal day and I have a meeting at work during the time her bus would be dropping her off. So both kids get to go to my meeting! (Yay electronic baby sitters! Cue more mom guilt.) After the meeting, when I’m grouchy about having my day all disrupted and not being able to concentrate on the meeting because, of course, we needed a bathroom break in the middle, Eldest decides to stop listening and younger needs a nap. We get home and Eldest gets all up in my space (for undisclosed reasons) and I grump at her. Cue the waterworks… “I feel like you don’t want me…”. She’s six. I’m not looking forward to the teen years. Sign me up for a chair (are there beverages? I think I might need more than the 1/2 price Sonic drink I picked up on the way home.)

34 Lori Lavender Luz { 09.15.17 at 10:17 am }

I hear you. I don’t measure up to my own expectations in so many ways, too.

Lovely evening out here on your front porch. Have any of those cookies you mentioned?

35 Turia { 09.15.17 at 4:23 pm }

Word. I just went back to work mostly full-time last week, which means my not-quite 15 month old is with a nanny, and I am feeling like a pretty shit mother at the moment, largely because I spent this year at home with E (juggling him with Q) so feel guilty P is not getting the same.

Mind you, I often felt like I wasn’t doing a great job when I was home as I am not as patient as I would like to be, I get bored playing with my kids, I need a lot of alone time (and E always wanted to just be with me), and I hate messes so it turns out I hate baking with kids are doing art projects, both things I had internalized as things a “good” mother does.

I am realizing how important it is to me that I am able to be there at the end of the school day, so need to think about my options as paid work is also important to me.

There is no right balance and I think we need to recognize that part of our job is to gradually become less available so they have the chance to separate from us and become independent. But what that looks like is different for every family.

36 JustHeather { 09.18.17 at 4:56 am }

I’m right there on the porch with you. I’ve been struggling for quite some time with whether I’m a good mom or not. Friends and people I know tell me I am good, but there is so much I feel bad and guilty about.

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