I was mistaken that last Sunday was Mother’s Day and I sent out our greetings a tad too early. Nonetheless, the mistake has given me the opportunity to hear a single mom speak about her motherhood experiences. After listening to her, I started thinking that when Mother’s Day is celebrated in the media with stories of exemplary mothering, how would such stories affect mothers who are stressed out by their responsibilities and do not feel very good about themselves.
“As my son is taking PSLE this year, I worry for him constantly. Besides struggling with his academics, my son struggles with bullies at school too. He comes back with bruises on his body and once I found stapler bullets in his lunch box.” This mother sounded exasperated and very much so with herself, “I struggle with a lot of guilt and self-doubt as a mother, and I often feel like I failed my son as I am unable to spend much time with him or do much about his bullying situation.”
I listened to her gently and wished that she could be a little gentler on herself. She lamented that the many parenting courses she attended and the books she read did not prepare her for how difficult it would be. “I get angry when my son does not follow my instructions and I always regret and apologise because it hurts badly to hear him say that I bully him too.”
It was not exactly comfortable listening to her and I was glad that when she shared about her hope that her son will land a job with a stable income, she was more upbeat. Hope adds life and she then acknowledged that difficult as it may be, she was thankful that she could somehow make ends meet.
Mother’s Day was conceived to honour the sacrifices mothers made for their children. In my mind, this Sunday is exactly for someone like her. Knowing how hard she can be on herself; she will likely discount the sacrifices she has made. She needs a kinder and realistic narrative about motherhood and the next time I see her, I will introduce the notion of a “Good Enough Mother.” This phrase was coined in 1953 by Donald Winnicott, a British paediatrician and psychoanalyst, who pointed out that babies and children actually benefit when their mothers fail them in manageable ways. He was of course not talking about abuse or neglect.
In his view, children need their mother to fail them in tolerable ways regularly so that they can learn to live in an imperfect world. By doing so, mothers will be getting them ready to function in a society that will frustrate and disappoint them regularly.
When I meet this mother again, I will stress that “good enough mothering” is not an excuse for ill-treatment of children but a realistic perspective of motherhood that values and honours mothers like her.
This Sunday, let us send our kindest thoughts to all good enough mothers.
For peace, community, and imperfection,
There is no way to be a perfect mother but a million ways to be good enough.