As submitted for publication in the Recorder Community Newspapers, May 11, 2006

Motherhood is a marathon for which there is no sufficient training ground. Even though no one would even consider running the New York marathon without proper training, that is exactly what we do when it comes to motherhood. To make matters worse, mothers are often under appreciated for all of their efforts. And, when they do their job well, they have the added frustration of it looking easy—like all they do is hang out and play all day. From the outside, it looks like a cushy job, even if the hours are 24/7.

As any athlete will tell you, attitude is an essential part of performing. With the right attitude, you perform well and enjoy doing it. Mothering (and fathering, too) is the same. What you tell yourself can make the difference between just getting through the day and feeling like a success. So, give some serious consideration to how you think about your role as mother. In doing so, consider the following truisms:

Being a good mother is not about being perfect. I recently read an old The Family Circus by Bil Keane, which was wonderfully simple and insightful. The mother is telling a solicitor at her door, “Of COURSE I’d like to be the ideal mother. But I’m too busy raising children.” For your own sanity, frequently remind yourself that the perfect mother (or, person for that matter) does not exist. History has shown us that your children will thrive as long as you are “good enough” (a term coined by psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott).

You have influence, but not ultimate control, over your children. While you have a strong influence upon your children, they are their own people. Teach them. Be a good role model. Do all you can to help them become someone you can be proud of. But remember: You are not your children, so it makes no sense for you to take responsibility for all of their decisions and actions.  For better or worse – especially as they mature into adults—your children are ultimately responsible for their own behavior. Knowing and accepting this reality can help you to support your children as they find their own way (not your way) in this world.

Bad days can be made better by accepting them. While I am no fortune teller, I can tell you this: You will enjoy wonderful days when even gloomy cold rain feels refreshing. And you will endure miserable days when you cannot help but grumble about how the beautiful sunshine seems too bright.

On those days when nothing feels right, accept that you are having one of those days. Rather than fighting it, decide how you can make the best of it. Do all you can to make your life easier. Make simple meals or go to a restaurant.  Encourage your children to play outside the house or support them in lone, quiet activities, such as reading or TV. While they are busy elsewhere, figure out what you need and give it to yourself.

Perhaps you woke up to a “bad day” because life has been overwhelming. If this is the case, you need time to stop and take a breath. Rest – read, watch TV, or indulge in your favorite snack (personally, I prescribe ice cream for those days call, though I certainly accept that chocolate often works better for others). Or, perhaps you need a chance to do the activities you enjoy. If so, then do them. Shop, hike, or engage in a hobby.

Learn to love you as much as you love your children. If you do this already, wonderful. If not, it is a worthy goal.

True love involves fondness and acceptance. By truly loving yourself, you will be happier with you and better able to accept and be happy with your children. This, by the way, does not mean that every action is acceptable or that you are without expectations—for yourself or your children. Rather, focus on you and your child acting in ways that promote a healthy life.

All living things die without being fed: This is true for every aspect of you. For example, the physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual parts of you will wither if they are not nurtured. The degree to which you attend to them is the degree to which you can create fulfillment in them.

It’s probably easiest to understand this by thinking about eating to maintain your physical health. If you eat in an unbalanced way, your body will not function at its best. You might become easily fatigued or have trouble thinking clearly.  In contrast, a healthy, balanced diet will provide your body with essential building blocks for physical strength and health.

With all of this said, keeping a positive attitude as a mother can be difficult. For your own sake, remember that mothering is a marathon. Accept your limits. Pace yourself. And, make sure that you are well fed in every aspect of your life. Although there is a lot to do, take a break on May 14 and enjoy a happy Mother’s Day—you’ve earned it!

The Recorder Newspapers has over 250,000 readers and publishes weekly editions in 19 newspapers, which cover Morris, Somerset, Essex and Hunterdon counties of New Jersey.

Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
Basking Ridge, NJ