It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Good Mommies, Strong Mommies

A Perfect Post – February 2007

Does anyone in this generation worry about being ladylike any more? Not that they should, mind you, I was just wondering. If the term is too old-fashioned for you, here’s how I remember it. (Not that I was ever restricted by it. Either I’m not that old, or my mother was too free-spirited. Maybe both.)

Anyway, at a certain time, girls were often encouraged to “Be a lady”, or to “be ladylike”. A “lady” is pretty and clean, modest and kind, prissy, precise, concerned with rules and appearances. How she ever managed to have children is beyond me. Laying there with your legs splayed for half the hospital to see? I mean, really… And let’s not even consider how you got pregnant in the first place…

Not everything about her is bad and wrong. Some of her traits – modesty, kindness – are wonderful. But the whole package as a way of life? She’s so limited!

I’d far rather be a woman, thanks. Women are not a neat and clean projection of non-threatening, sanifized femininity; they are whole people. A woman is comfortable in her person, her mind, her body, her sexuality, and quite willing to be unladylike when it suits. She can dress in heels to turn heads, she can lounge barefoot in grubby jeans. A lady avoids bodily fluids, and denies them when she can’t. Women have been known to take unseemly amounts of pleasure in certain types…

I see a similar duality between the images of motherhood. Many (most?) North American mothers seem to be striving to be good mommies. But you know what? Good Mommies are to motherhood what Ladies are to womanhood.

Let’s take a look at the Good Mommy, shall we?

The Good Mommy is kind and nurturing. The Good Mommy loves her children. The Good Mommy knows that her children have their little quirks – who doesn’t? – but they are at heart truly kind, sweet, loving, patient, smart little people. They are never rude, or selfish, they are only tired or hungry. They are never aggressive, they are only frustrated. They are never disrespectful, they are only confused. They are never enraged, only sad. Poor little mites!

Thus, she never gets exasperated with them. She’s never hurt by them. And she never, ever feels anger. Sometimes the children make Good Mommy sad, but she’s never outraged by them, she never feels a gut surge of “How dare you??”

Many Good Mommies might argue this. “What? Of course I know my child has his flaws! Look at those tantrums! Look at the way he hates to share! It keeps me up at night, worrying!”

Ah, but if I were to say that the child is being selfish? No, no, no, no, no. Good Mommies can’t label a behaviour in character terms. They say “She throws such awful tantrums.” And then follow up with, “It breaks my heart to see her so sad.”

Good Mommies make Mary very, very sad…

You see, Good Mommy is doing herself no favours. Perhaps more importantly, certainly more important from her perspective, she is doing her children no favours.

I recently read a blog in which a mother was expressing her remorse over her child’s tantrums. They happened so frequently, and it pained this Good Mommy so much to see her child in such distress. She was so sad, you see, but every time she offered comfort, the child responded with punches and kicks. This made Good Mommy even sadder. (I think, eventually, all Mommy’s “sadness” will give her an ulcer. Suppressed anger often does.)

Is it any surprise that, rather than having long since faded away now that the child is closing in on Junior Kindergarten, the tantrums are ongoing and getting worse? This child is learning that the tantrums are not her fault. The child is learning that mom is incapable of helping her control the rage – because she’s not angry, she’s only sad!

We need to ditch the Good Mommy, and proceed with a new mother image. How about the Strong Mommy?

The Strong Mommy is nurturing, but she also has a solid self-respect. Strong Mommy knows that her children, like every single member of the human race, are capable of kindness, tolerance, compassion, patience, and great good. They are also equally capable of unkindness, intolerance, selfishness, impatience, and great ill. Because they are human.

Children are human. They are not paragons. They are innocent, yes, but we all know innocence can be dangerous. Small children have to be watched very carefully around small pets – a four year old can, in total innocence, kill a hamster. Yes, she’d feel very badly after the fact – but the hamster probably feels worse… Innocence doesn’t prevent one from being selfish. In fact, I’d argue that it makes it more likely.

Strong Mommies see their children in all their varied humanity. They see the innocence, the wonder, the bright eyes, the humour, the dawning empathy… and they see selfishness and manipulativeness, the intolerance and aggression. They don’t feel the need to deny those traits, or to apologize for even admitting they’re there. She doesn’t blame herself for the negative traits, which are only human nature. Of course children are selfish from time to time! Who isn’t? They need to be taught to be unselfish (or kind, or patient, or whatever trait is at issue). They need to be taught to put other people’s needs first once in a while. (After they learn that other people have needs, that is.)

Strong Mommies can look at their petulant, sulking child and see it not as sadness to be forgiven and excused, but a normal expression of childish inflexibility and selfishness. If every negative behaviour is only ever explained away and excused, when and how will the child learn to control and overcome these tendencies? Strong Mommies, who see the traits with clear eyes are in a far better position to teach the child another, better way of responding.

Strong Mommies can, and do, let their self-esteem rise up and say, “Enough, you little so-and-so. Mommy is NOT your maid, nor your punching-bag, either.” She stands up for herself in full confidence that her needs matter, too. I love it when a mommy comes right out and unapologetically says, “He’s taking advantage and I’m not letting this continue one day longer.” “She’s capable of better, and I’m going to see she achieves it.”

And you know what? Your child will respect you, and be more secure because of it.

So, let’s ditch the Good Mommy, shall we, and embrace the Strong one itching to get out of those ladylike confines. Our children will be better off.

February 24, 2007 Posted by | aggression, controversy, Developmental stuff, individuality, manners, parenting, power struggle, socializing, tantrums | 48 Comments