We’ve all been in this scenario before. You’re reading an article like ‘ten foods that will make you fat and the one solution that will change your life’; skimming through the points very quickly in order to get to that final gem that will transform your life forever only to be disappointed with a silly answer that you knew already like ‘a healthy lifestyle’. So you can imagine my disappointment on reading a recent blog article that promised to share with the world the one thing that defines a good mother and ending on the cliché: ‘loving your children’. Now I don’t pretend to be an expert on the subject, but should we really be congratulating mothers on the one thing that they are biologically wired to do? I mean elephants and orang-utans also love their children, so what makes you a better mother than an elephant or orang-utan?
As I’m writing this I can imagine swarms of angry mothers sharpening their pitchforks and shouting: ‘you don’t have children, you wouldn’t know’. Despite the fact that I am not a mother, I don’t believe this subject should be monopolised by mothers as having a baby does not necessarily make a woman an expert on all things relating to parenting. I also feel comfortable talking about this subject for one important reason which is that in fact a child’s emotional needs are not very different from an adult’s. This was an epiphany that I recently had, and to be honest, I felt quite silly about coming to this realisation in the year 2014 and at the age of 24. I mean surely, with all the advances in the world and in the field of psychology people would have realised by now that children are not little aliens from outer space, but are in fact ‘just like us’ and deserve the same amount of time and commitment that goes into any other relationship. If a similar article discussing the key to being a good spouse ended with the notion ‘loving your spouse’, people would be quick to label it as shallow and superficial. People don’t merely desire ‘love’, they want to see its manifestations: spending quality time with each other, acts of service, affectionate behaviour etc. Any mother if prompted would undeniably say that she loves her children. But not every mother can honestly say that she spends time or plays with her child, shows affection to him/her or even takes care of her child’s health by providing nutritious food; as opposed to sending her child to school with chocolates and crisps for lunch. Working in a kindergarten gave me the opportunity to see all this for myself.
We live in culture where individuals are falsely led to believe, in the words of the Beatles’ song ‘All you Need is Love’. But what is more important than this is actually acting on this love and sacrificing your own time, needs and desires for the sake of your children. This in my eyes is what truly makes, I’m not going to say ‘good’ mother, but a ‘successful’ mother. So no, you don’t deserve a pat on the back for loving your children. This love is their right and they deserve much more than that.
I thought it would be also interesting to expand on this a little and come up with my own list of things that I feel make a woman a ‘successful’ mother. This is merely my humble opinion on the subject based on my own childhood experiences and things that I have observed from others. Here they are in no particular order:
A non-mother’s guide to being a successful mother
1- Talking to your child
Getting to know your child’s personality and his/her problems is essential in building a strong bond with them and opening the channels of communication between you two. If the relationship between a mother and child is cold and distant, your ability to influence your child will be limited. After all, if you don’t care about what he/she has to say, why should they care about what you say to them?
2- Be an above-average wife
This may seem like an odd point but I think it’s very important on more than one level. The better the relationship is between a husband and wife, the more problem-free and peaceful their home will be. A successful mother understands that her role as a wife and her relationship with her husband directly affects the kind of environment her children are growing up in. Every child need to feel that his/her parents are in a loving relationship. Therefore, solving marital issues and making sure your children are away from these problems is essential for their emotional development. On another, level, an above average wife will be able to teach her children many life skills such as time management, organisation, how to maintain a household, how to make healthy decisions when cooking. Whereas, a lazy and messy wife will teach her children exactly that: how to be lazy and messy.
3- Educate yourself
Being a successful mother doesn’t come by nature. Read about important parenting issues such as technology use, homeschooling vs schools, public vs private schooling, best discipline techniques etc. The more educated you are the better your choices will be. Also remember that you are your child’s role model, so being ambitious and hardworking will teach your children to be the same. Educating yourself is even more important when it comes to religion. Don’t expect that traditional methods of preaching will work on your children- not in this age. Religion should be taught systematically and logically in order to convince them. So if you don’t know why in the world you practice your religion in this way or that way, please go and find out before pouring religion down their throat.
4- Keep up with the times
This is similar to the former point. Remember your children are of a different generation. So in order to truly understand them you need to understand the latest challenges they are facing as a generation. This does not mean that you give up on your principles because ‘the times have changed’. Just because we live in a fast food obsessed world does not mean it’s ok to live on fast food and likewise just because all the children in your son’s preschool have iphones, that does not mean you should get your three-year-old an iphone. In the end of the day you make your choices based on what benefits your child irrespective of the new fashions of the time.
Maybe I’ve watched too much Supernanny, but my non-mother brain still believes that routine is important. I mean it’s important for adults too but even more for children as it regulates their behaviour in a way that makes life more orderly and smooth- I learned this the hard way while teaching in a kindergarten. So establish routines early on. Children seem to function better that way and I’m sure some fancy expert has said this too.
Yes breastfeeding. I know it’s a controversial topic but I had to put it on this list. It’s the healthier and more natural option for a child. Your body produces it for the sole purpose of nourishing the child so it seems very selfish to opt out of breastfeeding if there’s nothing stopping you from doing so. Plus bottle feeding is a waste of money and a waste of wholesome breast milk. A successful mother should be willing to sacrifice her own comfort for the sake of breastfeeding her child.
7- Healthy food
This also relates to the former point. It is important that a mother is able to make healthy choices when it comes to feeding her children. This also applies to women who aren’t in charge of the cooking in their households. If you aren’t the one providing your children with the balanced meals they need, make sure whoever is cooking does.
Show them you love them with lots of hugs and kisses. They’re your children, so don’t be a cold and distant robot. Showing affection verbally and physically not only gives children a sense of emotional stability but also, from my experience working in a kindergarten, children will listen to and respect individuals who show them love as they fear losing this love and disappointing.
They hate you for it when they’re young, but will appreciate it when they’re older. A successful mother understands that while giving into your child’s whims is very tempting, spoiling harms a child in the long run. However, it is also important to stay flexible. Of course, having sweets is not good for him, but that does not mean you should never allow him to have one. You’re a mother not an army general and moderation is key in all things. You should also remember that all children are different, so you must be able to alter your discipline strategies according to each child’s need. Some respond to positive reinforcement while some need stricter measures.
10- Is your kid a psychopath?
If she/he is, don’t worry, it’s not necessarily your fault. But the beautiful thing about rearing a child is that, like teaching, you reap what you sow. If you have helped produce a kind, intelligent, ambitious and moral human being, then you must have done something right. Likewise, if you notice that your child is violent, stingy and rude, then as hard as it is, you must be willing to take some responsibility for this and try to evaluate the situation in order to understand why your child is developing in this way. This of course, all applies to fathers too, as they also have an important role in bringing up their children.