Obviously, a great mom loves her kids, takes care of their basic physical and emotional needs, and spends quality time with them. But what are the subtler, less obvious ways to become a great mom?
1. Stay true to yourself. You don’t have to give up your own passions and interests once you become a mom. It’s important that you find time for what YOU love to do. Reading, writing, exercising – make these a priority and find a way to incorporate those into your routine. Easier said than done, I know, but you should at least aim to keep doing what you love, even if you don’t get to do it as often as before. If you take care of your own needs, you will be happier and will function better as a mom.
2. Don’t be a martyr. The kids didn’t ask for it, they don’t need it, and they certainly don’t need to pay the price that comes with being mothered by a martyr. Need some time alone? Let the kids watch TV for an hour and go read a book. Feel like you haven’t had adult interaction in ages? Leave them with Dad for the evening and make plans to have dinner with a friend. Getting to the point where you are utterly exhausted is not good for you or for your kids.
3. Don’t try to be perfect. This is true for life in general, and is a major personal goal of mine, regardless of motherhood. Striving for perfection is always a bad idea, because life is messy and unpredictable and full of surprises. Trying to create perfection, or to maintain complete control, is simply impossible and should never be your goal. Once you become a mom, life is messier and crazier than ever before, so it’s more important than ever to let go of that perfectionism. You need to accept that the house will sometimes be untidy, that once in a while dinner will be takeout, and that the kids will sometimes have to entertain themselves while you recharge and regroup.
4. Ditch the guilt. Guilt seems to be one of the most common side effects of motherhood. A friend once told me that she feels guilt every single day. I too am often guilty of feeling guilty. But I am working on it: guilt is unhelpful and a terrible waste of time and energy. Once you make a decision, whether a major one like staying at home vs. going back to work, or a small one like allowing the kids to play a computer game while you have some time for yourself, try to avoid second-guessing yourself. You are doing the best that you can. No one is perfect, and you are not expected to be a perfect mom or to never make mistakes. As long as you love them and provide their basic needs, your kids will turn out fine. Really.
5. Be Patient. Raising kids is hard work. Kids are noisy, messy and incredibly demanding. Yes, you will lose your patience once in a while. I do. But for the most part, try to take a deep breath and see them for the small, helpless people that they are. I am not a patient person by nature, but motherhood has taught me to be more patient than I ever thought I could possibly be.
6. Listen to your children. REALLY listen. This is a tough one for me, but I keep trying. We tend to assume that we know more than our kids do, which is true to some extent of course, so we don’t really bother to listen. In addition, we often act as problem-solvers, dishing immediate advice, when all they need is for us to listen to them. A couple of months ago, my 8 years old told me about problems she was having with friends at school. I immediately offered a solution, and it was obvious she was disappointed. She wasn’t looking for a solution. She simply wanted me to listen.
7. Be their mom, not their friend. Set limits. In a way, it was easy for previous generations. Parents were parents. Kids were kids. Families were patriarchal. Everyone listened and obeyed to the father. Now, families are democratic. We negotiate, talk things over, and listen to each other. We make important decisions together. This is great, but kids still need us to be their parents and set clear limits. We should listen to them and respect them – but we are not their peers. When I was a pre-teen, I used to snap at my mom, “I’m not going to be your friend anymore!” She would look at me calmly and respond, “Well, you are NOT my friend. You are my daughter”. It used to drive me crazy, but she was right. Our job is to be our kids’ mothers – not their friends.
8. Teach them simplicity. You will do them a big – a HUGE – favor, if you teach them at a young age to avoid associating happiness with the accumulation of material possessions. The younger they are, the more likely they are to listen to you, so start early. My kids are 6 and 8, and I often feel that now is the time to instill my values in them, before they are teens (or pre-teens) and peer pressure takes over. When it’s time to declutter, I allow my daughters to be part of the process, and we talk about how we don’t need all that STUFF. We never go shopping as a fun outing. They know that shopping is a necessary evil, something that you do when you really NEED something. Instead of buying books, we borrow books at the library. We reuse as much as we can. Together, we take pride in living in a clean, airy, uncluttered home.
9. Don’t push them too hard. I was raised as an overachiever, and I can testify from my own experience that overachieving does NOT lead to happiness. I do want my kids to be successful. I want them to reach their full potential and to be financially secure. But I am trying not to push them too hard and to maintain a relatively relaxed approach to success at school and to after-school enrichment activities.
10. Teach them self-esteem. I am borrowing this one from Leo’s list, because it is so important. In fact, I agree with Leo that high self-esteem is the single most important gift that a parent can give their kids. A person with a high self-esteem values herself and will not get into, or stay in, an abusive relationship. A person with high self-esteem is more likely to be happy and to reach her full potential. How do you teach your kids self-esteem? Exactly the way Leo said: by showing them that you value them, by spending time with them, and by talking with them and listening to them.
11. Teach them to be self-reliant. Another one that I struggle with every day. It’s very tempting to help your children in a way that robs them of the opportunity to help themselves. At every developmental stage your child reaches, she can do things by herself. If you do them for her, you are not really helping her, but rather holding her back. Gently teach her independence and let her do what she can do, and what is appropriate for her to do, by herself. The sense of accomplishment that comes with being independent is immensely important for a child. Good parents work themselves out of the picture – slowly. As much as I like to feel needed, I try to let my kids be as independent and self-sufficient as they possibly can. Ever so slowly, I am working myself out of the picture.
12. Laugh and have fun! When you’re a mom, it’s easy to become so absorbed in the logistics of taking care of your kids – what Leo refers to as the “mom stuff” – that you forget to relax and have fun. But kids are fun. They give you a wonderful opportunity to be a child all over again, and to do things that you never thought you would do as an adult (jumping in puddles is so much fun!) and see the world through their innocent, curious eyes. Haven’t noticed interesting insects and colorful butterflies in several years? You are going to start noticing them again once you have kids.
Whether you’re a parent or not, how many hats are YOU wearing? Do you have any tips for doing it all and keeping your sanity? Do you ever feel guilty because you are not giving 100% to any single aspect of your life?