Good Mother/Bad Mother

I am typing this in the office/playroom while the two littlest play Playmobil by themselves (with occasional mediation from me). In other words, I am basically ignoring them. I am not playing with them. They are fending for themselves, imaginatively. Is it possible that this good mothering?

Or is this good mothering?: Yesterday, while waiting in the hallway outside music lessons, I played with CJ. Within five minutes, I’d created a monster. He refused to play by himself. He roared when I attempted to converse with a nearby adult. Introduced to the high of mama-holding-a-Lego-guy-and-together-sliding-the-guys-down-mama’s-pantleg, he instantly progressed to attention junkie, incapable of sliding Lego guys down pantlegs all by himself. Yes, I looked with envy at the kid on the floor doing puzzles while his mother talked to a friend.

A few more good mother/bad mother examples, just for fun …

This morning, Albus called me “the worst mother ever,” and dramatically declared, at 8:28 AM, that his day had been ruined. Because I clipped his nails. Then I made him brush his teeth. Apparently, from the perspective of a nine-year-old boy, bad mothers insist on good hygiene.

Last night, while folding laundry on our bed, I initiated a conversation with AppleApple, who was also lying in our bed, reading a Harry Potter book for perhaps the 77th time. “How was soccer?” (She’d just come back from her first soccer skills session). “Fun!” “Wonderful! What was fun about it? Was there a particular drill that you liked especially? Did you know any of the other girls? What were the coaches like?” She was mostly silent, or monosyllabic, glancing up vacant-eyed from her book to respond. Finally, she gazed at me with deep weariness, and said, “Could you please stop asking all these questions so that I can read my book?”

To sum up: let’s just say I’ve resigned myself to getting some bad reviews, as a mother, while remaining convinced that I’m doing a reasonably good job. Is there any job on earth that is as controversial, as subject to criticism and debate, as judged on both a macro and micro level, as well as judged generally, ie. mothers are [fill in the responsible-for blank]?

Please note: this is an observation and not a complaint.

House of Leaves
Poetry Lovers Unite


  1. Nath

    Personally, I think you are an excellent mother. And I do think (very much so!) that letting them fend for themselves is good mothering.

  2. Susan Fish

    I like the corollary thought to Albus’ – that good mothers insist on bad hygiene. Also on keeping all the lights on, I think.

    And on the letting them fend for themselves sometimes, good call. It’s mothering, not smothering. Although it is such a tricky dance.

  3. katie

    I think you’re a wonderful parent, the way you do it all. You’re hands-on and hands-off. You ask questions and you stop asking questions. You observe and you ignore. These are all important parts of letting our kids be who they are.

  4. Kerry

    Love this post, and the range of perspective it provides. Thank you.

  5. Beth-Anne

    Love this post – as always!

    I subscribe to the philosophy: I am your mother, not your friend or playmate.

    It might sound harsh and it’s not to say that I don’t ever play with them, but there is a line. And I drew it a long time ago.

  6. Leah

    Great post! This one almost belongs over in your feminist page too… because if we were the good (or even great) mother our kids(sometimes) wished for we would be their continual servant to play and, oh, cleaning, food preparation, laundry, ferrying around and there would be no ‘I’ left. And the bad mother has to ask them to let her go enough to gain their independance to play and learn those things that help them grow.



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