How to be a good mom: what you don't have to do

I recently read a post that described how to be a mom in 2019. “Make sure your children’s academic, emotional, psychological, mental, spiritual, physical, nutritional and social needs are met,” while being careful, “not to overstimulate, underestimate, improperly medicate, helicopter, or neglect them,” while maintaining, “a screen-free, processed foods-free, plastic-free, body-positive, socially-conscious, egalitarian (yet authoritative), nurturing, while fostering an ethos of independence, gentle, but not overly permissive, pesticide-free, two-story, multilingual home, preferably on a cul-de-sac, with an earth-first backyard.” Oh yeah, “And don’t forget the coconut oil!”

You laugh? Me too. Or maybe you just roll your eyes. But as a mom, you and I both know this actually isn’t that far off from the noise that chatters at us constantly. These are the expectations of how to be a good mom. Whether you hear it from another mom on the play ground or at the school pick up line. Maybe it’s just hollering at you through social media. Regardless of the channel, the message is received loud and clear: “That there is so much to do. And you’re not doing enough. Whatever it is you ARE doing, it certainly isn’t getting done right.” Am I right?

A recent conversation with my 15-year old daughter, Addie (who has Down Syndrome), put it all into perspective for me. I share her point of view with the hopes that you will be freed from the trap of unrealistic to-dos on your Mom List. Maybe it will take a little air out of your ever-present, ever-ballooning “mom-guilt.” Maybe you don’t HAVE to have unlimited financial resources to provide for their true needs. And maybe (just maybe) you’ll realize that the one-of-a-kind ingredients of a good mom are already inside of you. Maybe it’s simpler than we think.

We don’t talk about Down Syndrome much in our home. There are five more humans living in our space. Everyone wants their own moments to shine. Each has a story to tell and a schedule to be lived. I’ve also never been much for labels that try to communicate a limiting belief. So Addie’s Down Syndrome diagnosis doesn’t define her. It’s just one of the beautiful parts that make her who she is. However, this past weekend we were stopped by someone who noticed Addie. They were admiring her abilities and asked to snap a quick pic of the two of us. Recently a friend of theirs had a child born with Down Syndrome and they thought Addie’s life would encourage them. Of course, we snapped the pic and off we went.

Later that day Addie over heard me retell the story of our “photo op” experience to my husband. She interjected, “Yep! And I’m proud.” “Proud of what, Addie?” I inquired. “That I have Down Syndrome,” she said. “And you are too, Mom. But YOU are FREAKIN’ proud!” “Yes. Yes, Addie, I am.”

I have four kids. But Addie was my first. The pressure to get it all right and be a good mom is intense when you first begin. Then the curve ball of a little “extra chromosome” brought me overwhelmingly to my knees. But you don’t have to have a child with Down Syndrome, or any other “special” diagnosis, to feel this way. There is so much information, so many opinions and philosophies on the right way to “mom” that we can’t help but feel less than more than we’d care to admit. I think research and resources and all things community are good for us moms. I’ve learned from them and grown in them. But here is what my kid was saying, and maybe yours is too:

Love me.

Unconditionally. Not because of what I can do or what I can’t. Applaud my character, the who of me, over my performance, or the what of who I am. A child with some different abilities has given me this perspective. Sitting in all of her “cant’s” didn’t bring anyone joy, nor move any of us forward. So early on, we celebrated the “can’s.” That is where we set our focus. I’ve taken the “Can Viewpoint” with all of my kids. Now, rightly or wrongly, they have confidence sometimes beyond their abilities, but it’s made for some unexpected internal and external wins. I can’t always provide the perfect environment. I’m not always on time. I miss events due to travel schedules, and I often run out of groceries and fail to have the laundry done. But love them, unconditionally? THAT I can do. And that one word in action can cover a lot of wrongs.

Believe in me.

Addie feels the deep satisfaction and pleasure derived from me admiring her qualities as a person. I’m not just proud. I’m FREAKIN’ proud! This does not require extra resources nor time. In fact, in the “little years” of my motherhood, I didn’t have much of either. We couldn’t afford many of the extras for all of my kids. There weren’t dance classes or early childhood preschools, music lessons, nor much beyond a weekly ice dream cone at Chic-fil-a. (That’s right, a sugary cone. Not a pureed mystery vegetable.)

But the long list of activities, therapies, dietary needs, proper cleaning supplies isn’t necessarily what’s required for your child to thrive. Do the best you can with what you’ve got. I think it might be less about the “doing” and more about the “being” that communicates care to our kids. When you believe in someone, you push them out of their comfort zone, even when it takes you out of yours. You give them responsibilities that stretch them, knowing that sometimes they will fail. Then you celebrate with them when they do well, and support them when they struggle. And they may struggle. But if they know you believe in them, they will seldom lack for effort.

Spend time with me.

Turns out all the expensive things we work so hard to give our kids–all the insanely overpriced and time consuming activities we put them in–are NOT the thing at the top of their wish list. What I hear my children really want is something that doesn’t cost a cent, but is perhaps more difficult to provide than anything you can put on your credit card. They want TIME.

Children tend to be happier and more satisfied in life when they are able to have meaningful interaction with their parents — whether that’s you talking to them, listening to them, or simply looking when they implore, “Watch this!” for the 17th time. It’s why a quick pic, and participating in a conversation with her dad and me meant something extra special to Addie. Sadly, the precious commodity of time is one we’re often fresh out of. Between long hours at work, endless chores, and the allure of digital distractions, time is often the most difficult thing to give.

So… maybe ditch the pressure of pureed collard greens and and an earth-first backyard for a sec. Maybe let yourself off the hook of the endless clawing to be the quintessential mom. Stop beating yourself up for what you’re NOT doing. And settle into the joy of where you ARE–of WHO you are. It’s simpler than you think.

“Love me. Believe in Me. Spend time with me.” That I can do. That YOU can do. And go ahead and FORGET the coconut oil for a change.