Mothers sure don’t have it easy. They tend to be the most scrutinized people in society, and although mothers and fathers together create and raise children, we have incredibly high expectations. Good enough mothering, although a good and healthy concept, has been overshadowed by what researchers call the intensive or scientific mothering ideology – what I like to call ‘project motherhood’. Good enough mothering is definitely not good enough; we expect mothers to be childcare and child development experts, not to mention everything else they need to be – everything from child psychologists to nutritionists. Mothers are also considered mainly responsible for what kinds of adults their children grow up to become: if they become successful, the mother is considered to have done her job well; but if they for some reason don’t, mothers are looked to for blame.
No wonder women often feel insecure in their mothering roles. And the way this plays out is that it is mothers who are generally the most critical of other mothers instead of giving each other much-needed support. It’s understandable, although also very unfortunate. With all the pressure to be the perfect mother (and please note: there is no one perfect way to be a mother. Every mother, child, situation and family is unique and all we can and should do is the best we can. Yes, good enough should really be good enough.); with all the pressure it is natural to feel insecure and mothers look to each other to check that they themselves are ok.
I’ve been there. I have two kids and I have tried to be the perfect mother like everyone else. At times I have also been critical of other mothers to confirm that I was doing ok. This is not commendable and I don’t think I was even aware of it at the time. I wasn’t openly critical though, I have been taught well by my parents: if you can’t be kind and supportive, maybe it’s best to just not say anything at all.
But still I’ve been there, although it was many years ago. Now that I have a tween and a teen, the pressures of being a perfect mother don’t really get to me so much anymore. However a while back I found myself speaking to a person who is on maternity leave and probably agonizing about when the right time is to put her child in daycare and go back to work. We were talking and over ten years after the fact, my choices of how long I stayed at home with my kids were questioned. I’m from Finland and both my maternity leaves have been average for Finnish standards and quite long out of an international perspective. I was on leave slightly longer with my first child and slightly less with my second, as my family was dependent on my income at the time. Both my children have developed to become happy, well-balanced, delightful human beings, so I tend to not worry anymore about what I did or didn’t do when they were infants. Still, it felt like this person was judging me and questioning my choices after all these years when she sounded surprised that I didn’t keep my children at home longer.
It was a weird sensation. I hadn’t thought about it for years because it just feels completely irrelevant to my current situation even though it is obviously top of mind for her. As a mother, admittedly, I may still be a little sensitive when it comes to criticism, but still. We all have to make our own choices based on who we are, what our children need, and what our situation is. We shouldn’t be so quick to judge, none of us really have any idea where anyone else is coming from. We just do the best we can. And besides, why question my choices after all this time? My kids obviously turned out ok.