Comparing Parenting

When it comes to my abilities as a parent I think I have a pretty realistic understanding of where I stand. I recognize both my strengths and my weaknesses and I neither judge myself too harshly nor give myself more credit than I deserve. I know there are some things I excel at (setting and enforcing boundaries, providing consequences, requiring politeness, apologizing when I make mistakes) and other things I don’t do well at all (keeping my frustration in check, losing my temper, providing well balanced meals, listening intently when my kids speak to me). There are some things I’m specifically trying to improve, like putting my phone away to be more present with my kids. I recognize that I am a human being and human beings are fallible and parenting provides countless opportunities to stumble and fall, the important thing is that I pick myself up and learn from my mistakes.

Man have I made some mistakes. I’ve made some pretty epic mistakes. And yet, I don’t consider myself a failure as a mother. For the most part I think I’m doing a decent job, and I know that every day I’m at least attempting to do better.

Most of the time I’m pretty confident in my role as mother. I’m not always proud of how I do the job, but I can genuinely say I’m doing my best. I rarely hold myself up to other mothers and find myself lacking (at least not in my all-around qualifications as a mother, though I do find myself lacking in specific areas of motherhood that I find particularly challenging). After this week though, I’m wondering if that is less a result of my overall confidence in myself and more a consequence of my relative isolation as a mother. Maybe I think I’m a decent mom because I don’t spend much time around other moms and so I don’t have the opportunity to compare myself to others.

This past week I’ve spent a great deal of time with other moms of kids my kids’ ages. My cousin has a daughter almost exactly Osita’s age and a son ten months older than Monito. My cousin and his wife have a two year old daughter and are expecting their second child next month. I’ve spent entire days with both my cousin and my cousin-in-law and both are incredible moms. I’ve watched them excel at so many of the things I struggle with and I haven’t witnessed them falter on even one occasion. Meanwhile they have seen me get frustrated and lose my tempter with my daughter on multiple occasions. They’ve seen me looking at my phone while I could be engaging my son. They’ve seen me hand my kids off to my mom so I can take a much needed walk alone with my book-on-tape. Meanwhile I never witnessed either of them lose their temper, or look at their phone or even request some time a lone, let alone actually take it. When I compare my own mothering abilities to theirs (and it’s hard not to when we’ve shared such close quarters this week), I find my abilities seriously lacking. For the first time I’m doubting my general status as a decent mom.

Maybe I’m not such a great mom after all. Maybe I’m right when I suspect that other mothers–the ones whose lives I witness via social media of various kinds–are just inherently better at this mothering thing than I am. So many women seem to do it all so effortlessly and seem to enjoy it more than I do. Maybe I’m not actually cut out to be a mom, at least not a good one.

I don’t know, it may sound silly to say those things, but sometimes I wonder… I thought I’d be a good mom, it was all I wanted to do with my life when I was growing up, and there are some things I know I do really well, but there is so much I struggle with and there are so many things I absolutely fail at every day. I used to think all mothers failed at some things, but watching my cousins made me wonder if that is actually true. Maybe some mothers don’t fail at anything. Honestly, after a week witnessing my cousins in action, I couldn’t name one weakness of theirs, while I’m sure they could mention plenty of mine.

I know comparison is the thief of joy, and I honestly believe that to be true, but I don’t feel like this is that kind of comparison. I’m not looking at what my cousins have and wishing I had it. This isn’t about envy or jealousy of a feeling that something is unfair. This is about watching other women who are damn good mothers and not ever seeing them falter and wondering if the fact that I do falther makes me a bad mom, or less-than in some way.

I guess in the end it doesn’t really matter if they are “better” moms than me. I am a mother and my kids are stuck with me, for better or for worse, and all that really matters is that they’ll be fine at the end of all this. Surely there are other women out there making fewer mistakes than I am, just like there are women doing a shittier job than me. In the end none of that matters, all that matters is what I believe about my own parenting abilities. My belief in myself has clearly been shaken and I have to figure out how to regain some of the confidence I have lost. Too bad I have no idea how to do that.

Do you feel confident in your abilities as a parent? Has that confidence ever been shaken?

14 responses

  1. Everyone falters. No matter how calm and collected they may appear to be. I have 4 kids and people all the time comment on how I’m able to handle it all. I accept compliments with grace and rarely tell people that there are moments when I have no idea what I’m doing. That I don’t like my children all the time, I love them, but damn they are hard to like sometimes. That I never, never get a break. That I desperately need one.

    You are the mom of your children for a reason. No one could be a better mom to them, than you. Comparisons are tough and we all do it. But feel secure that whatever pitfalls you have, those moms have them too. You just haven’t seen them…yet 😉

  2. There is no way that I can say I have ever been wholly confident as a parent. I am always feeling like I am letting them down somehow. I do try to use parenting as a mindfulness practice. I am not always successful but I try to apply the elements of compassion and all of the things I’m trying to cultivate about Buddhist practice I’m trying to apply and my life as a parent.

    I had this epiphany the other day as I was driving. I was thinking about how I am pretty much alone in my community in terms of parenting. I know two other stay-at-home moms but we live quite a ways from one another. Neither my mother nor my mother-in-law are at all involved in care or even much babysitting. Very rarely. My stepson at 14 has no interest in babysitting and we don’t require his active participation at all. I thought about my grandmother having nine siblings and how they cared for one another the oldest caring for the youngest. I thought about my cousins who were there were five of them and again I think there was a lot of care going on within the sibling group. I thought of my Irish immigrant family and their extended grandmothers living in the home. Even my mother in law who grew up in Austria had not only her mother but her grandmother and a nanny type person living in the home. I thought about how completely isolated the experience of motherhood is for me and how generations of women before me wouldn’t even recognize it and there’s no way they could’ve gotten all the work done in a configuration like this. Their lives were just utterly different.

    When Zoe was at the Waldorf school it required a no media policy which I loved but was so untenable for me. I rely on our television to keep her occupied when I have hours of housework to do. Yes, she plays by herself at four and half she does lots of other things but I absolutely rely on it. I hate that I do it feels like a failing as a parent it goes against all of the “attachment parenting concepts ” and I have really struggled with it and I’m trying to be mindful and cut down. But there you have it. Yes I absolutely feel like a failure. And we haven’t even gotten to the stepmothering…

    Hang in there,


    • When my 4 year old came up to me and said “Mom, a hypothesis is when you have a idea about something but you’re not sure so you have to do tests to find out.” I grabbed my phone and asked PBS how much money they needed. Between that station and abc mouse I cannot imagine our lives without media.

  3. Don’t question your parenting skills. Could we all be a little better? Of course, but that is not reality. You can still be a GREAT mom without being a perfect mom. Are your cousin’s kids the same age as Osita? Do they have a similar personality? Are they stay at home moms? All of these factors (and SO many more) play into how a person parents. It’s a lot easier for me to not get frustrated/angry at Izzy because she is only 7 months old. She is not openly defying me, talking back to me, etc. When she gets to be a toddler and beyond though….my parenting may change.

  4. I think you hit the nail in your last post when you describe how different each parent child relationship is, based on the personalities of both parent AND child. So you cannot compare. Its hard, I know, I kind of dislike being around other parents with their kids for too long of a period of time because I start to feel inadequate, but our kids are different and we are different. I have seen the most unflappable mother, always so gentle and kind with her obedient and flexible daughter turn a 180 when she had her second kid and that kid turned out to be stubborn and rebellious!

    • This: “I dislike spending lots of time with other parents” – me too. I should specify that I don’t enjoy spending lots of time with other parents while we collectively parent. It’s way too easy to compare ourselves unfavorably and beat ourselves up. I’m sure that the other parents are doing the same thing – feeling like you’re providing a smarter parenting style by teaching your children to be bilingual, or whatever.

  5. This is tough. I feel inadequate too, mostly because I like working and don’t want to stay home with my kid and I feel like I should really be pining to stay home if I were really a wonderful mother. That said, I know that I am naturally good at some parenting things (apologizing, playing together, fostering a love for reading & music), have acquired being good at other things (patience with the feeding issues), and kind of suck at others (screen time, ack!).

  6. I would hazard a guess that if you could get into those other mothers’ heads, they wouldn’t feel confident. Or see themselves the way you see them. They may think they’re a good mother, but I would guess it would be for reasons other than the ones that you noticed. I think it is very difficult to compare parenting. It’s sort of like comparing two books. We can point to one and say that it worked for us more than the other, but someone else could always equally choose the other book. And yet there are times when we can all collectively point towards a book and say, “wow, that book is really crappy.” But many fewer times when we can all point at a book and say, “that was incredible; the best book ever.”

  7. I am the mom who has snacks, crayons, paper and books at all times. I am also the mom with crushing guilt about the amount of time I spend exercising, on my phone, on the computer. We all have strengths and weaknesses.

  8. Not a mom, but I go through this exact thought process with teaching all the time, and then because I want to be a mom so badly, I start extrapolating from teaching to predictions about my parenting and it can be very overwhelming. In the end, like you said, we are fallible: we fail; it stings; we learn and grow. Kids are perceptive and resilient, and they can spot true love when they see it.

    • I have these thoughts as a teacher ALL THE TIME. It’s so destructive. Truly. I’m trying to be mindful and present and know that I’m doing the best I can, but it’s hard not to see other teachers and think… they do it so much better.

  9. I have felt like I am not a good mother for months. I am hoping that this feelings are simply a function of my sons’ current developmental phase (they are two-and-a-half), but I’m not sure. I, too, struggle with keeping my frustration in check and being patient, and like Mrs. T, I like working and do not want to stay home with my children.

    On the other hand, though, I love my sons tremendously. And I hold on to the notion that growing up knowing that they are truly and deeply loved will give them a firm foundation, despite my imperfections and failings.

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