Am I a Good Enough Mother?

The good enough mother forgot picture day last year. It’s not because she didn’t have it marked on her calendar or she missed the notice that went home three weeks before; it’s because there is always something to remember and sometimes a ball must drop in order to juggle the rest.

The good enough mother made the hand-sewn octopus costume her daughter insisted she needed for Halloween but accidentally missed a tentacle. The story will be funny a decade from now when the daughter tells it as an icebreaker at freshman orientation, but at this moment, it is nothing short of catastrophic.  The truth is that the mother hasn’t sewn a single stitch since high school Home Ec class but she said she would try, and she did.

The good enough mother gets a call from the principal because her kindergartener insisted that the marker was “f*#king broken” when the teacher asked why her paper was blank. It’s not that the mother isn’t cautious about her language around her kids or just doesn’t care that they could grow up to be foul-mouthed heathens; it’s that when her husband asks her if she’s sure the malfunctioning air conditioner is plugged in, there’s really no other answer than “it’s f*#king broken,” even though the kids are within earshot.

The good enough mother reads all the positive parenting manuals and the books about raising spirited children and she still loses it every single time her willful son throws his dinner on the floor. It’s not because she doesn’t recognize the value in using calm but firm language or employing gentle redirection techniques; it’s just that it she was so damn proud of her lasagna and seeing it on the floor is enough to make her momentarily forget everything she’s learned.

The good enough mother uses frozen meatballs instead of making them from scratch. While looking in the mirror, she slips and calls herself fat before she realizes her daughter is listening. She isn’t patient enough to teach her kids fourth grade math, always lets houseplants die, and burns the crescent rolls every single time. She is human. She is flawed. She is a realistic example for her kids about what being a mother looks like.

What the good enough mother is not is neglectful. She doesn’t starve her children or avoid taking them to the doctor for years or let them wander the streets at night because she just doesn’t care about where they are. Good enough is not the same as not enough.

Good enough is also not the same as giving up or never trying in the first place. It’s because the good enough mother cares that she tries, but it’s because she’s human that she doesn’t always succeed. She fails her kids in manageable ways—though they sometimes feel like huge, unforgivable ones—and she teaches them what it means to be imperfect, to admit a mistake, to ask for forgiveness. Through her flaws, she introduces her children to the idea that sometimes it’s more about the response to the mistake than the mistake itself.

The good enough mother might be exceptional at a lot of things, but it’s impossible for her to be an expert in everything. She cannot be flawless at baking all the homemade cakes, helping her daughter write the perfect sonnet for English class, and breastfeeding for the recommended 12 months while also volunteering for the PTA, killing it at her day job and still having energy leftover for regular sex, scheduled “me time,” and phone calls to her own mother. When it comes to some things, good enough just has to be good enough.  

I am the good enough mother. Maybe you are, too. If you are, chances are good that you’ve been called lazy, overly permissive or even neglectful at some point in time. And chances are also good that, at some point, you believed it. You might have figured you weren’t cut out for this parenting thing, that even when you’re trying your hardest, you seem to fall short.

In your time as a good enough mother, you might have noticed that no one has thrown a parade for you. There have been no adoring love songs composed for you or statues erected in your honor. No one has hired a string quartet to serenade you at dinner (mostly because it’s unlikely a string quartet would perform while someone eats cold macaroni and cheese over the stove) and no airplanes seem to have been commissioned to write your name in the sky.

But here’s the secret no one’s telling you: there’s none of that for the world’s best mother either.

Like you, she’s on her hands and knees cleaning up crusty spaghetti sauce from under the table and yelling about how easy it would be to put clothes in the actual laundry basket instead of two feet away from it. You can bet your ass that on Mother’s Day she’s getting macaroni necklaces, wilted dandelions, and crayon portraits with exaggerated facial features that she will pretend to love more than the spa gift card she really wanted. Like the good enough mother, she knows what it’s like to feel lonely and under-appreciated, even if she did make the best cupcakes in the history of the elementary school bake sale and manage to shave her bikini line before her yearly gynecologist appointment.  

Am I a good enough mother? I often find myself wondering that when I screw up or miss the mark, when I fail my children in ways that feel too big. But it occurs to me now that maybe I’m asking myself the wrong question. Am I trying hard to raise good people? Yes. Am I meeting all their basic needs? Yes. Am I letting my kids see me fail, teaching them that failure is part of life, and making sure they understand that perfection is unattainable but you should always try anyway? Yes, yes, and yes.

The proof is right there: I am a good enough mother. You are, too. Don’t let anyone convince you that’s the same as not enough.

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Melissa Mowry

Melissa Mowry is a stay at home mom to 3 year old Chase and the slightly younger guy, Sam. She is the main voice behind One Mother to Another, which she started in July 2014 as a way to connect with other moms who felt just as lonely as she did some days. She is married to her high school sweetheart, Adam, and they live in their home state of Rhode Island. Melissa's work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Mamalode, Coffee + Crumbs and Mamapedia, among others. Her book, One Mother to Another: This Is Just Between Us is for sale on Amazon.
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