In which I ask a lot of questions

Is there such a thing as a bad mother?

If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably say, “Sure, there are tons of bad mothers. What are you? Crazy?”

Then let me ask you this: Do you personally know any bad mothers?

Again, if you’re like me, this question will take a little longer to answer. You’ll pause for a moment as you run over the list of maternal figures in your life: relations, acquaintances, and close friends. Think of all the moms you know who parent totally differently from you—overboard strict, overboard lenient, overboard with a busy life, overboard with a backwoods, countrified existence. Any bad mothers in the lot? Hmmm?

After I thought about this questions for a handful of seconds, I came up with one bad mother, just one, the mom of one of our foster daughters. There were a few other mothers that I lingered over, but then I realized that even those mothers, the mothers of some high-risk kids, did not fall into the category of bad mothers.

What’s my point? It’s this: So much is written about The Best Way To Parent, and while it’s helpful much of the time and each theory has merit, none of it is The Answer.

You know how I know this? Because of you and you and you. You are, very likely (on most days, anyway), a thoughtful, kind, well-mannered, hard-working, creative, generous individual. And I will bet my favorite pair of jeans, my stash of chocolate, and my laptop computer that our mothers were not all functioning from the same parenting model. (It would be a little eerie if they were—like the families in The Giver.)

Attachment parenting, love and logic parenting, unconditional parenting, and authoritative parenting are all just different methods, tools to help us cope. So when I read a parenting book that espouses the perfect way to do things, I get a little uncomfortable, rather like I have an emotional wedgie. Let’s pick that wedgie, shall we?

Take, for example, unconditional parenting. The proponent of this method say that you shouldn’t parent with rewards and punishments, and they give good reasons, really good reasons that make a lot of sense and that I would be totally foolish and insensitive to disagree with, but—hold the load, people! I was raised with punishments and rewards, as were most of my peers, and we seem to be functioning just fine. (I think.)

Not that I am a proponent of punishments and rewards. And not that I don’t punish and reward my kids. And, for that matter, not that I don’t fall into the trap of fixating on the best way to do things, because I do. Not that I know anything, okay?

All of us parent in different ways. We all strive to better ourselves, and some of us strive harder than others. And some of us have been given more (brains, money, support networks, mental health) than others to work with.

The bottom line is this: We are all human, parents and children alike, and life happens, regardless of how we parent or have been parented. We are not the be-all and end-all, and while that is a scary thought for those of us that have had smooth sailing so far (cross your fingers and knock on wood), it is a reassuring thought (but still scary, too) for those of us who have plunged into the Deep Dark Valley of Parental Woe.

About that Deep Dark Valley? I’ve been there and it is somewhat akin to the Dreaded Fire Swamp in The Princess Bride. It is a rank spooky woods filled with cobwebs, fire pits, and Rodents of Unusual Sizes, and the method for arriving in the valley, a head-over-heels free fall, describes the out-of-control feeling precisely. Except those of us who tumble into the Deep Dark Valley are worse off than Buttercup and Westley because, first of all, we aren’t as glamorous as they are (at least I’m not), and second, when we get dirty and bunged up and scared, we are just dirty and bunged up and scared—and there is no make-up crew to clean us up afterwards.

I’m not saying that all parents fall into Fire Swamps, heaven forbid. I’m just saying that we all have that chance, regardless of the decisions we’ve made and the methods and beliefs we adhere to.

But back to parenting styles. (Not that I ever really left them, but still, I did get a little lost there, mucking around in that Deep Dark Valley for a couple paragraphs.) Saying that I don’t think any one theory holds all the answers does not mean that I think everything goes. Because everything doesn’t go. We have all experienced less-than-stellar parenting (on this bet I’ll wager my Kitchen Aid mixer, my best potted fern, and my favorite necklace), and the repercussions haven’t been the prettiest. All we can hope for, really, is that the good will outweigh the bad.

So what’s a mom to do? I’m not really sure, but I have some ideas.

1. Take care of yourself. Do the things you want to do.

2. Re-order your wants so that your children’s well-being is at the top of the list.

3. But you must still be at the top of the list, too, because this is your list.

4. Now, put your children above your wants.

5. But because the well-being of your children is dependent upon your well-being, you are still at the top of the list. See?

6. Forget this list because it doesn’t make any sense.

As you can see from the above exercise in futility, I don’t think parenting comes in a neat, tidy, methodical package, authoritarian, unconditional, or otherwise. Sorry. Don’t look to me for answers. You won’t find any here.

If you do dare to question me further, I’ll probably tell you that there aren’t any answers. I guess that is an answer in and of itself. Though on second thought, and I hate to do this to you, it is probably the wrong one.

Anyway. Now that I’ve totally disgraced myself, I’ll call it quits. Good night.

About One Year Ago: Cinnamon Flop


  • Anonymous

    Hee, hee. When Walmart first emerged, I couldn't remember its name and called it "that place where people are always smacking their kids around." Something in the piped-in music?

  • Anonymous

    I've been mulling over your question for a day now, forming a much lengthier and even more analytical answer…but decided to shorten it drastically. (Aren't you glad?) 🙂

    Since your readers don't all come from the same background, of course some will disagree, but I think "good" parents recognize that the eternal souls of their children give their parenting a long-term purpose. Ultimately, "good" or "bad" (at least for believers)will be determined by whether we have prepared them spiritually or whether we've started them out with a spiritual deficit. With our ultimately *spiritual* goal in mind, we have the freedom to hold up the various parenting styles to its light and determine their longterm effectiveness in reaching that goal.

    Thank you for bringing up hard questions that require thought. You've reminded me again to be aware of my goals and how my day-to-day actions do or don't reflect them. *Sigh* I am so grateful for God's grace. If it were completely up to me, I'd surely make a mess of things!

    I, too, had a good laugh at Amy's comment…

  • It's me ...Mavis

    Amy's comment made me laugh…

    Parenting is hard… and honestly… some days… you just have to lock yourself in the bathroom until the muscle relaxer kicks in.

  • Michelle @ Give a Girl a Fig

    Yes. I agree. With all of it. And the list? If you're making it based on all you've read and the differing approaches…then you're right, there, too! I just do what I can each day, for each kid, in ways that they each understand. I do my best, most days…and some days, I have to go to them and apologize. And there's nothing wrong with that….xoxoxo

  • Unknown

    Hey, I'm still waiting for the manual to arrive. Until then, I'm operating on the Happy Mama=more patient Mama theory and do a lot of (but not all of) what I want to do. All good intentions get cast aside when I'm sick though, as I've been for the last 2.5 days…

  • You Can Call Me Jane

    Whenever I think of how parenting is hard, I think about God and how hard we must be to parent. We make the same mistakes over and over and over and over again- big mistakes, stupid little mistakes, etc. Yet He still loves us, redirects us, still listens to us, still wants the best for us, is always there for us even when we might not think He is. And, even though He's a perfect Parent, look at us! Even with perfect parenting, we are far from perfect. How can we expect our kids to get even close?

    I think we all search for ways in which we can be a better parent or, dare I say, we search for ways to make parenting easier (for us). It seems to me, we should be looking toward the perfect Parent instead of at each other for answers (support and camaraderie, yes).

    Oh, and I think praying and striving for the fruit of the spirit can't hurt, either (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control).

    I'm in need of ALL of those every day when it comes to my kids.

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