She’s a GOOD mom

by Ginger on February 23, 2011

in Mom Thoughts

“She’s such a good mom*!”

Has someone** ever said this to you about another mom? I’ve heard this on several occasions. In my younger days I never thought much about it, but now that I’m actually a mom, the phrase stands out to me a little more. For a long time, I couldn’t figure out why exactly it was sticking in my brain so much, but I think I’ve finally put my finger on it.

When someone says “she’s a good mom” it seems like about 75% of the time what they really mean is “her child is well behaved”, “her child is quiet” or “her child is very obedient.”

Which, yes, can absolutely be a result of good parenting. I don’t want to imply that it’s not.


When that’s what we praise as making a “good mom” it implies that only moms of quiet kids are good moms. But what about moms of spirited kids? Or moms of younger, more impulsive kids? What about moms of “quiet” kids who are overtired, or upset, or frustrated? Are we just telling them that they’re not “good moms”?

And more importantly, this is only one of the many many roles of parenting. Obedience is a wonderful thing to teach your children, but it’s not the only way to measure how good you are at this parenting gig. Many of the other ways that we prove our worth as parents isn’t always visible to outsiders on a quick glance: we provide empathy and sympathy, we instruct and teach, we discipline and structure, we love and respect and honor.

When we create the equation of good = quiet, what are we saying about the importance (or lack of importance) of those other qualities?

*I’m mostly talking about moms here because I don’t know that I’ve ever heard the same kind of comments directed at dads. Usually, “he’s a good dad” is said to any dad who appears involved.

**When I say “someone” I, by and large, mean either non-parent someones, or someones who are a little removed from the day to day business of child rearing (i.e. an older generation).

Nilsa @ SoMi Speaks February 23, 2011 at 6:23 am

I’m not sure that I only think moms of quiet kids are the good kind. To me, it’s the parents who are actively involved with their children that are good parents in my eyes. The parents who know when to let the kids do their own thing versus when to intervene. The parents who show interest in their children and what they have to say. The parents who allow their children to express themselves. The parents who encourage creativity, reading, sports. The parents who are balanced in their parenting … those are the parents I think are doing a great job, regardless of whether they have quiet or spirited(love it!) kids.

Ginger February 23, 2011 at 2:33 pm

And you know, I think your approach is one shared by many (myself included). But I do see this tendency in some people to…if not ignore then at least devalue that other stuff.
And I do think this is actually less inclined to happen with a lot of the peers I surround myself with. But my grandmother’s peers? Or my dad’s? That’s where I really see this happening.

Lex February 23, 2011 at 9:13 am

My four year old is loud, silly, and at times, obnoxious; her younger sister is moody and shy. I’d like to think that I’m a good mom, but random passerby #8 probably has a different opinion when he/she sees me telling my daughters that they are acting out of line, or that I have had enough of their shenanigans.

It would be awesome if people would take the time out to consider things before judging whether somebody is a good mom or a bad mom by a quick glance.

Ginger February 23, 2011 at 2:37 pm

I can’t say that I’ve never judged someone elses parenting of a *specific* thing. Although since becoming a mom I try to do it MUCH MUCH less. But I try not to make snap judgments about their overall “goodness” or “badness” based on that one thing. Because yeah, you never know what’s going on in that quick glance.

Kate @ ? Lililly February 23, 2011 at 9:58 am

I get told I’m “such a good mum” all the time. But it bugs me because its the very same reasons they think I’m a good mother that I think I’m not a good mother.

A few at work think I am because I manage to juggle two very young children and work full time in a physically demanding job even if when I hve gotten up to them in the middle of the night 10 times each.

Being able to function at work doesn’t make me a good mum, it makes me a good employee maybe? But reality is it makes me caffinated up constantly and on the brink of exhaustion most days. It means going home so tired I’m often grumpy (= bad mum in my opinion, I try my hardest not to show it but its hard) because I’ve had a long day at a job which makes me miserable.

If they are good, it has barely anything to do with me. By nature my daughter is insanely happy ALL THE TIME and regardless, their dad stays home with them. HE shapes them and helps them grow more than I ever do.

He IS a good dad. Not only because hes totally and utterly involved (he has to be, hes the stay at home parent) because hes 98% patient, he makes them laugh and happy, He cleans their faces and kisses their boo boos, he throws ZJ around and plays with him because I’m not there too. He gives them nutritious food to eat and clean clothes on their backs. He is awesome.

Ginger February 23, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Ah shit Kate, I feel like I could have written your comment almost word for word, and it makes me so freaking sad for both of us. (Not the having awesome dads for our kids part though–that’s something that I will never ever be sad about).
But you raise another good point about the fact that “doing what you have to” isn’t what makes a good parent. You have to work. So do I. Juggling work and my family doesn’t make me a good mom, it makes me a good juggler. My worth as a mom actually has nothing to do with my employment one way or the other.

Lisa February 23, 2011 at 11:19 am

I lurk on the Candid Reality Show board at Television Without Pity pretty frequently. The threads all move pretty fast and it’s entertaining, even if I don’t watch the particular show. Some of the fastest moving threads are about the Teen Mom shows, and naturally, they are full of judgment. What else is there to talk about with a show like Teen Mom?

The thing that I keep seeing brought up isn’t how the kids themselves behave, but how engaged the parents are. The posters on that board will flat out say someone is a bad mother, but it all has to do with whether the mom in question recognizes that her child is a person with a life and if they show an interest in being a part of that life. I know it’s weird to say kiddos have their own lives when they are so dependent at that point, but they do have things they like and dislike and the people watching the show are seeing if the moms do things the kids like — reading to them, taking them to kid-centered activities at the library, park, Gymboree, etc. The ones that treat their kids like accessories and are only concerned with how the kids fit in to their own lives, those are deemed “bad” moms.

I know mentioning a reality show is completely weird on my part, but the TWoP thread was the first thing that came to mind when thinking about people making the good mom/bad mom call.

Ginger February 23, 2011 at 2:49 pm

I always wonder what the demographic on those sorts of things is and how that affects the discussion. I mean, I would say, for example, that probably very few of the people I interact with online would say that a quiet child is the evidence (entirely) of a good mom. But my grandmother’s friends? Yeah, that demographic is going on something different. So on a reality show forum, yeah, how does the demographic watching impact that discussion.
Also, I wonder if that discussion will change as the kids of the Teen Moms get older. Aren’t they all mostly still toddler age or younger? I think it’s usually a little harder for people to judge the behavior of a one year old…but a 5 year old? I wonder how that will change then. (although dear lord I hope we’re not all still following these Teen Moms that long).

Lisa February 23, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Very good point about the grandparents’ generation. I do think the definition of “good” kids (and “good” parents) changes over time.

On the kid’s age thing, I don’t know if that will make a difference. I read the Toddlers & Tiaras board too (I know, I know, and I swear I do more than read about reality TV)

Lisa February 23, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Whoa, premature replying.

Anyway, I was trying to say that people still seemed to pay more attention to the crazy actions of the parents than the behavior of the kids. However, it is a show about crazy parents, so that kind of make sense.

Megan February 23, 2011 at 12:40 pm

A long time ago, I thought my BIL and SIL were awesome parents because their kids are so well-behaved. But, once I moved closer to them and witnessed the way they parent, I changed my tune.

I don’t agree with the way they discipline, and I think they don’t show a lot of respect for their kids. They are also not terribly involved with them, nor do they foster their kids’ innate talents.

I love those girls. They are amazing kids. But, I don’t think quite so highly of their parents. Which is not to say that they aren’t doing something right. But, I definitely don’t equate polite, well-behaved kids with awesome parenting.

It is so much more important to me that Charlotte grows up with a strong sense of self, that she feels loved and respected for being herself, than whether she knows when to be quiet or remembers to say please and thank you every time. Of course, I teach her those things and would be remiss if I didn’t. But, it isn’t my gauge for if I’ve done my job right, you know?

Ginger February 23, 2011 at 2:50 pm

Yes! Everything about this comment is what I was trying to get at. Exactly!

Katherine February 23, 2011 at 5:16 pm

Obviously I don’t have kids, but I’m a juvenile prosecutor and I deal with the real result of bad parenting. Not in every case of course, but it is certainly an identifiable theme. A few months into the job and I have an entirely different scale than most people, but that doen’t mean I want to deal with somone’s kid running amuck at Starbucks while she sips on some latte checking Facebook on her phone.

I make no accusations as to how anyone’s child actually behaves in Starbucks, but in my mind, the word “spirited” has become a euphemism for hellion. I blame STFU Parents.

Ginger February 23, 2011 at 10:40 pm

There is a very very big difference between the casual observers comments about bad parenting and what REAL bad parenting looks like, as you know. I’ve only seen a few examples of purely horrible parenting in my life, and having a kid who runs around Starbucks isn’t it.
Of course, I don’t want a hellion running into me at Starbucks either (ok, let’s be realistic, I’m not going in Starbucks. Maybe…Rubio’s, yeah we’ll go with that) while their parent ignores them to update Facebook.

clara February 23, 2011 at 5:37 pm

I really wonder sometimes about the generational divide. Do we really forget everything about these early days of parenting so that someday it will be OK to say to someone struggling with a newborn “Oh enjoy this precious time they grow so fast?” I hope not. I hope I am never that … forgetful.

I don’t hear a lot of “she’s a good mom” but then I don’t have a lot of relatives / older family friends around me. I mostly hang with my own mom and dad, who are well aware that my children go batshit insane at 5 pm every day no matter what I do. And friends my own age with kids my kids’ age. I guess I’ve surrounded myself by yes-men 😉

Eventually, even the most obedient child will test you. And at that very moment, someone who is dying to judge somebody today will be watching. It’s like murphy’s law of parenting or something.

Ginger February 23, 2011 at 10:46 pm

Murphy’s law of parenting–yup that’s it exactly. There’ll always be someone looking at your lowest moments.
I do think there might be evidence of the generational memory fog–I mean don’t you think there’s some proof in the amnesia that parents get? Moms forget *exactly* how hard labor is, parents forget *exactly* how sleep deprived they were during the early months, etc. It might follow that 30 years from now, you’ll forget the intricacies of parenting.
But oh, I hope not!

Erin February 23, 2011 at 7:40 pm

So, being a teacher of young kiddos, I have the unfortunate experience of hearing commentary on good or bad parenting quite a bit. There are so many staff members at my building who insist that a child has this problem or that because “the parents just let him get away with it.” I mean, clearly, it’s the mom’s fault. Couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that he has autism, or that his speech is completely unintelligible, or that he’s THREE YEARS OLD. Oy.

On the other hand, the well behaved kids? They all have good moms.

Ginger February 23, 2011 at 10:52 pm

Oh, this makes me a little sad. I always hope that teachers are a little more understanding of the nuances of kids. Parents aren’t always “letting him get away with it”, (though I will admit that it’s not that it NEVER happens) but sometimes kids have more going on than what sits at the surface. Or, you know, they’re 3.

HipMamaB February 23, 2011 at 11:05 pm

To me, a good mom is one that does activities, teaches, is patient .. the mom that is on the floor finger-painting with her kids instead of rushing from thing to thing and putting on the TV in a desperate attempt to get one more thing done {ie, ME} sigh.

Chuck Andrews February 24, 2011 at 9:32 am

Ginger, I like your post because I hate canned approaches to “good” parenting, whether mom or dad. Many times “good” is a judgment of the one making the statement. “Good” as defined by the opinion of the one identifying the “good mom” or “good dad” idea. Who says their judgment is correct?

In my opinion, “good” has to do with the child knowing he/she is loved and respected for who they are. It involves teaching children to love themselves. It’s important that they grow up with a healthy respect for themselves. To accept themselves (gender, size, personality, likes and dislikes, etc) and honor themselves as a valuable human being. They need to understand that there is not something intrinsically wrong with them. Sadly, they will no doubt have family members, teachers, and others who try to convince them that they are “bad”, “messed up”, or something. Children are not sub-human just because they are children.

Yet, “good” parenting also involves discipline, manners, and the need to respect others. There are no personality traits that involve disrespect of others. Discipline is necessary for children to grow up learning that the universe does not revolve around them. They have to learn that they have to assimilate into society. I realize that how we discipline, teach manners, and show respect is also questionable. Again, in my opinion, these traits are caught more than taught. A “good” parent is one who sets a “good” example.

Our society says involvement is how someone becomes a “good” parent. But what about the single parent who works 2 and 3 jobs in order to provide. They don’t have the time to be terribly involved in their children’s lives. I know parents who never miss a ball game or ballet recital. Does that make them a “good” parent?

Maybe the “good” parent is one who is comfortable being who they are and not being pressured into doing what someone says for them to be “good.” My dad never coached one of my little league baseball teams. Does that make him a bad parent? My mom never came to one of my boxing matches. Does that make her a bad parent? I don’t think so.

Finally, let me say that “good” parenting is not determined by the results. Children are people who have a free will to choose how they want to be. At some point, they make choices that they are accountable for and responsible for. Just as there are those who judge you on being a “good” parent, we as individuals can inappropriately judge ourselves. I’ve heard many parents say something like, “where did we go wrong” when children behave poorly. No doubt, since we are all human and there is no such thing as a perfect parent, we have most definitely done something wrong. But we don’t usually do all things wrong.

(Sorry, I got on one of my soap boxes.)

Shaunellshair February 24, 2011 at 1:22 pm

I saw you on another blog, and decided to take a read. Your post was heartening, and all I can say is AMEN! We stereotype and make generalizations like they are going out of style. I always say, “it’s always easy to find something to feel guilty about as a mom”. Thanks for the post!

Perpetua February 25, 2011 at 5:52 am

Before E started speech therapy, he was insanely quiet when we’d go out. He was 100% engaged in what he saw, and he’d point and I’d talk, but he didn’t really babble back.

You would not believe how many times I got, “Oh, he is such a good baby!” And by extension, I guess I was a “good parent.”

Yeah, um, not really. What he is, is a kid who doesn’t talk.

Fast forward to now, and E is babbling/making speech attempts a lot. All the time. Everywhere. And it took me a little while to transition and accept that, whoa, now I’ve got a loud kid. I LOVE IT. And I kind of don’t care who he bothers because I enjoy it so much. The first time my husband witnessed it, he tried to quiet E down, and I was like, NO! No Shushing! Let him go.

So now I’m a bad parent, I guess. Or at least, the parent who lets her kid go vocally batshit when he sees something he likes in a store/restaurant. We will probably have to balance this, but not yet.

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