Motherhood and Extrinsic Motivation

I think the only thing that propelled me through the first few days as a mother, when my daughter refused to eat, was a comment that I read on my hospital chart. While I can’t remember the exact wording, (something like: “despite the frustrating situation, mom is calm, patient and loving”), it essentially boiled down to someone writing: “She’s a good mom”.

Two and a half years later, I’m frequently finding myself in frustrating situations. And I’m not always calm, patient or loving so I often find that I’m labelling myself a bad mom. And without any one writing or saying anything different, it’s impossible to get out of that mindset even when I should know I’m doing what’s best for my kids.

When I look back at my day, I don’t see the good moments, I see my shortcomings, and I feel the criticms.  Every time I tell C, “be good,” I am taken back to the night she was wailing in her bed, and when I went into see her, she was crying because she had internalized my admonitions to be a good girl as confirmation that she was a bad girl. As I put M’s boots on, I hear the voice of my mother-in-law ruefully protesting “but they’re so tight,” and assume she thinks that I’m being needlessly cruel even though she is really distraught over the whole medical intervention.

I shouldn’t need to be constantly reassured that I am a good mom. I shouldn’t automatically assume the fact that I so rarely hear it from people constitutes them judging me and finding me lacking. I should be able to stick to my convictions that I am making the right choices for my kids most of the time and feel good about that. But that’s hard. And that doesn’t happen very often. Instead I keep looking for approval from Scott. My mother. My sister. My friends.

But Saturday, as my little family went about our to do lists and errands, we heard a loud and insistent voice from the backseat repeating at dizzying speed “I love you baby sister, I love you baby sister, I love you baby sister” and her baby sister beaming and cooing back. It was an incredibly sweet moment. And then I realized that I’ve been looking in all the wrong place to see how I’m doing as a mom. You can’t ask for two better girls, and maybe, just maybe, I had something to do with that.

Categories: The new identity | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Motherhood and Extrinsic Motivation

  1. I often feel the “I’m a bad mom” syndrome too, but I also find my validation in the little moments like the one you described. When Ollie is nice to the cats, or randomly gives me a kiss or tells me I’m pretty. I try to remember those moments in the moments that I’m not feeling like I’m doing my best. It helps a little bit!

  2. I know you don’t need to hear it from me, but you’re a great mom. We’re going through the wonderful stage of my son constantly telling me I’m a mean mom, the worst mom ever, a bad mom. It’s usually in response to something like not letting him eat a huge donut for dinner or staying up until midnight. I always turn around, look him in the eye and say, no, I’m a great mom. I’m the best mom ever. It stumps him every single time. I’m glad you found your own validation. You deserve it.

  3. What a sweet post. You seem like you’re a wonderful mom to me! I definitely find myself thinking those thoughts, and feeling like I need that external validation too–this week especially I felt like I lost my patience a ton and did NOT win any mothering awards. But I need to focus on the good things, the times when the kids are being really sweet, instead of all the ways I’ve screwed up.

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