Fighting Against Mom Smackdowns

Most of the time, when I comment about parenting issues, it’s those that are related to postpartum depression, whether it’s breastfeeding, or medication, or sleeping through the night. It’s tough as all get-out to be a mom with PPD, not to mention the stigma and the judgment and the guff we get from others, PLUS the internal fistfight we’re usually having with ourselves. I like standing up for Warrior Moms, because you deserve it. You deserve respect and kindness and support, just like anybody else with any other kind of illness.

I’m okay being in the public eye when it comes to PPD … obviously … but I do get tired of the people who feel they can comment or make comparisons or judge you whenever you share your story or come out on one side of a parenting issue. Do you ever feel the same way?

I wrote about that this week in my column Something Fierce. I hope you’ll check it out: The Smackdown of Parents with Opinions

Photo credit: © John Takai –

An Analysis Of Phrases Moms Use to Warn Their Kids

motherhoodWe don’t spend a lot of time being funny on this blog, for obvious reasons.  It’s hard to laugh when you’re in the midst of the despair of postpartum depression.  But during this holiday season, which can heap even more stress on the already-stressed, I thought I’d give it a try.

Earlier this year, I did an analysis of the most important and oft-used tools in any mom’s arsenal: the warning phrase.

Don’t act like you don’t have one, because I know you do.

I have two. I call them my shot-across-the-bow phrases. They are what I say when my kids are getting on my nerves and I want them to know that if they keep it up, there will be trouble. Or, at least I want them to think if they keep it up, there will be trouble, even though sometimes I’m really not all that committed to carrying through, truth be told.

My first shot-across-the-bow phrase is “Don’t peeve me.” I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve said it. I use this one when I need them to go amuse themselves, or they start doing something they know annoys me. Sometimes I add the word “child” to make it slightly more ominous, as in “Don’t peeve me, child.”

Another one of my favorites is “Don’t make me beat you.” It’s a solid step up from “Don’t peeve me.” I warn them that if they are bad, I will beat them senseless with my Senseless Beating Stick. The Senseless Beating Stick is famous in my house, and has an aura of mystery as it’s never been seen before. The kids are beginning to wonder if it even exists. I’ve explained to them that, if they’re lucky, they’ll never have to find out.

I asked a few other moms to share their fave warning phrases with me, and, when they did, I was surprised at how much each saying made me want to chuckle.

“You’re on the edge, mister.”

“Watch it, young lady.”

“Do I need to put you to bed early?”

I can picture the mom screwing up her face, brows knitted, arms akimbo, delivering her message with the utmost in HUMORLESS VOICE. Warning phrases are serious business.

As it turns out, I found through my very serious investigative research that they also seem to fall neatly into categories.

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Parenting With A Mental Illness

My friend Rita Arens wrote about anxiety and parenting today.

“I’ve tried to insulate my daughter as much as I can from my anxiety, but when you live with people, it can be hard. Especially when you’re alone with them as much as I’m alone with my girl. As a result of seeing me cry sometimes for no reason and telling her hey, it’s not you, I’m  just sad and sometimes I get sad and I don’t know why, hold on, I’ll stop in a minute, I hope she is kind to herself if she ever cries for no reason. I want to make the world perfect for her but I know that I can’t and actually I shouldn’t, because if I did, she wouldn’t know her own strength.”

Parenting with a mental illness is not easy.  Rita wrote so beautifully about the fears of those of us who go through this that we’re hurting our children in some way.  I always worry that I’m contaminating my children with my own mental illness, as if every time they rub up against me they’ll get what I’ve got.

Don’t touch me.  You’ll get the anxiety. 

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How To Be A Good Mother: Why Imperfection Is The Only Way

How to Be a Good Mother: Why Imperfection Is the Only Way

Perfectionism. Oh, the pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect! Or at least, if not “perfect,” then definitely Good. The phrase “I feel like such a bad mom” bounces off of the walls in my office every day. It echoes after the women with whom I work leave my space. These words sometimes seem to follow them down the street, into their cars, and back home with them to where they haunt these mamas throughout the night. These. Are. Powerful. Words.

But, what do they really mean? What, exactly, is a “Good Mom” anyway? Is a good mother the one who breastfeeds her baby until he is two? Is she the mom who never ever loses her patience? Is this good mom the one who stays home with her kids? Or is she the mom who returns to work and manages to juggle both with grace and ease? 

Is a good mom the one who cooks all of her meals from scratch? Is she the mother who always puts others before herself? Is this good mom the one who is constantly smiling, has a perfectly clean house, home made (organic) cookies on the counter top, and clean, folded laundry put away before anyone notices it was even dirty? Or is she the mom who never feeds her kiddo sugar or lets her watch TV? 

Is a good mother the one who manages a totally happy marriage that includes frequent sex and date nights and also manages to keep happy and loving siblings from fighting? Is she the one who is always happy, never sad or angry, definitely not anxious, and seems to know exactly what to do with her kiddo at every developmental stage? Is she the one whose baby is never crying? Is she the one whose children are always happy too?

I’d like to meet one of these “Good Moms.” I need her autograph.

While these are extremes, these are also the phrases that I have heard many times in the work that I do. This is no joke, people. Most of us carry at least one of these expectations with us into our definitions of “Good Mom.” And, the catch is, usually these definitions of good motherhood are not ours: They are society’s. Or our own mothers’. Or they are the definitions from the books on our bedside table. Or they come from our pediatrician, neighbor, husband, or woman we sat next to at music class.

Donald Winnicott (1896-1971) is a pediatrician and psychoanalyst who, in my opinion, has nailed this dilemma on the head.  Winnicott studied child development and has been a leader in the field of child psychological health. He believed that perfection simply is not perfect. Winnicott spoke and wrote at length about the concept of the “good enough mother”: a mother whose mistakes and imperfections lead to the psychological health and important social and emotional development of her children. 

From this perspective, mothers actually need to be flawed and imperfect so that they can teach their children the importance of repair; so that their children learn not to fear mistakes and so that they learn the value of repairing—or bringing resolution to—situations or interactions that are flawed. In this way, if a mother were always perfect and never made mistakes, she would never give her child the opportunity to learn how to forgive, apologize, learn from mistakes, love unconditionally, and be human. In other words, this child would never learn how to be his or her most true self. Imperfection is good.

If a mother were always perfect and never made mistakes, she would never give her child the opportunity to learn how to forgive, apologize, learn from mistakes, love unconditionally, and be human.

Hear, hear.

So, with that definition, I have a project for you:

  1. On a piece of paper, write down everything that comes to mind when you think about your own definition of what it means to be a Good Enough Mother. I encourage you to be mindful of what comes at you. Are the pieces that go into your definition yours, or are they someone else’s? For this exercise, give yourself permission to own this definition, regardless of what others might say or think. What do YOU believe goes into being a Good Enough Mom?
  1. Go through your list and ask yourself if you are doing or being anything on your list. Try your best to think of at least one thing or one time that you have met each piece of your definition. For example, if “being loving” is on your list, what exactly does that look like and how have you “been loving” to your baby?
  1. Place your list next to your bed. Each night, ask yourself if you have engaged in any of the Good Enough Mom elements that you have noted. My guess is that you have.

In fact, I can bet most of what I own on the fact that each one of you reading this is a darn Good Enough Mom.  You just might not have been noticing.

Kate Kripke, LCSW