The bad enough mother

I feel like Winnicotts ‘good enough mother’ gets allot of air time. And she’s great. I know her well, both in myself and my other mum friends. She has a great sense of perspective and when she’s less than perfect sort of shrugs her shoulders and says, ‘hopefully eating that cigarette butt off the grass won’t kill him’ and ‘I force fed him yogurt tonight because I want him to sleep through till morning, however most of the time I sensitively take his lead and let him decide how much and what to eat,’ and ‘I don’t have time to read every childcare manual going, but I’m pretty sure I can work out when he’s happy or sad and what to do about it.’ These mums are a pleasure to be around and most of the time I try to keep up with them.
I think my default setting is the bad enough mother. I know intellectually I’m doing a good enough job, but I question this constantly. I think I’ve sort of accepted that along with body image another thing I survey from my inner panopticon is my mothering skills. And I feel conflicted about it.
So this is one voice that I definitely can’t no-platform in my psyche(s): fuck the patriarchy and let’s stop scrutinising mothers//Who cares whether babies cry it out?// Surely the objectification of the miraculous vaginal birth and the sacred lactating breast is yet another iteration of rape culture?!// Who cares if you put your kids in daycare or not?// It’s a personal choice// Women deserve careers// No one would ask a man those questions//
I’m sure you know the rest. All great points and I simultaneously believe something else totally contradictory. I ask myself daily (and I feel deep shame and guilt for this) ‘How do I do mothering well?’ I feel like a failure when I ask this question. I feel like I’m blowing off the good enough mother, dismissing her. (please don’t go!) Worst of all, I’m COLLUDING WITH THE PATRIARCHY
Because my answer to my question, ‘how do I mother well?’ is a Facebook feed of feminist shame: extended breast feeding, bed sharing for the first year, being attentive and interested and following baby’s lead in play, positive discipline. I recoil just thinking about the language of it, although I’ve found the practice of it deeply satisfying and sometimes even healing.
However, the vast quantity of privilege required to sustain the sort of mothering I do is ridiculous: time and money and intellectual/emotional capacity and attention. I couldn’t mother the way I want to if I was at work full time, if I wasn’t in therapy, if I didn’t have a disposable income for books on childhood development and an interest in it, if I didn’t have a supportive, well paid husband, if I was older, younger, hungrier, less able bodied. It’s not a ‘natural’ way to mother. Raising a child this way is resource-heavy and it’s difficult not to escape into high minded moralising or martyrdom about being ‘the best way.’
I think I may have to continue believing seven impossible things before breakfast for a while, as I don’t think I can dismiss or smooth out these contradictions.

Copyright 2017 Diana Smith

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