What does being a 'good' mum really mean?

Is it possible to define a 'good' mum?
Is it possible to define a 'good' mum? Photo: Getty Images

Are you a 'good' mum? I've never asked myself this question, though lately I've been thinking it's an important question to ask.

I'm pretty good at thinking about what I should be doing better. Like getting my daughter to eat a wider range of food other than pasta, white rice or udon noodles. Or worrying that I don't spend enough time with both children, that they eat too much sugar and watch too much TV.

But what does being a 'good' mum really mean?

This is what I discovered on my quest:

'Good' mums ... dance to the beat of their own drums

There are plenty of people who will tell you how to be a good mum, as defined by their own particular preference.

The idea of 'doing it right' becomes owned by other people. People who are completely passionate that their way is the best way. It can get confusing. You can lose (or never really get a moment to find) what's actually important to you when it comes to how you raise your children.

Associate professor Julie Green, executive director of the Raising Children Network, says the key is to take time out and really think about the things that matter to you.

"It's worth parents thinking about how they want to be as a parent, their hopes as parents, the values or skills they'd like their children to learn within their own families and individual circumstances. These can be good indicators of how things are tracking and how parents might want to make any adjustments. Also, parents are learning as they go and discovering what approaches work best for their family."

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That might sound obvious, but when was the last time you stopped and thought what really matters to you?

For me, the answer is never. I'm too busy worrying about what I'm doing wrong, to focus on what I could be doing right. That has to change.

'Good' mums ... ignore the advice

Oh, the irony. Advice about ignoring advice. But bear with me.

This is about finding your own path, and feeling strong and confident about the path you've chosen.

Most of my ideas about my parental failures come from a number of places. Books, authors, websites, all painting a very clear picture of how my child will be a delinquent if I feed them too much sugar/let them watch TV/don't spend enough time with them.

Robin Barker, author of Baby Love, wrote her book when there wasn't the plethora of information that there is today. She says the problem with the volume of advice is that most of it is conflicting.

Nearly every approach - from controlled crying to using childcare - has research to support that this one way is the best approach.

"People tend to get highly religious about particular points of view, which is really concerning for new mothers," Robin says. 

She explains that often these viewpoints are couched in research that scares new mums into thinking that if they don't use a certain approach it will negatively affect their child's future.

"But most of the women who look for this advice are educated middle class women who would do anything for their babies." 

What Robin is saying is that if you're even reading this article you're already doing something right. Go back to point one, and shut out the rest of the noise.

'Good' mums ... put themselves first

I know. I gasped when I heard that statement too.

This means taking care of our relationships (yes, I'm talking "date nights") and taking care of ourselves.

Amy Taylor-Kabbaz, mindfulness coach and author of Happy Mama, says that caring for ourselves gives us the energy and perspective to parent well.

"I believe that when a mum is happy, healthy, feels heard and respected, and has something in her life that is more than just her children (even if it's a yoga class a week), then she mothers from a totally different place."

'Good' mums ... embrace their mistakes

I love this point, because if there's something we all do, it's make mistakes. No one is a perfect mother.

No one.

Karen Young, a psychologist at Hey Sigmund!, says mistakes are how we all learn. Being okay with failure gives us license to reach higher in life.

"It's not the failure that matters, it's how it's dealt with. Failures can be a rich source of learning and growth, but only if we look through the tangles for the learning. This can be tough!" she says. 

"What makes it easier and safer for our kids is when we go first. When we deal with failure with grace, self-compassion, and open-hearted curiosity about what we can learn, we lay a wonderfully solid foundation for them to do the same." 

'Good' mums ... learn to listen

For anyone in a talkative family (ie, me) this is a hard one. Dinners are a cacophony of sound, with everyone from my husband to my three-year-old son trying to get their voice heard.

But Karen Young says that listening to your children from a young age can lay the groundwork for communication that can last (if you keep practicing) into their teen and adult lives.

"When they talk to us, they're letting us into their world. Every time we listen in a way that makes them feel heard, we're giving them the message that we're interested, we're available, and that we want to be there. We're teaching them that it's safe to open up to us - whatever they want to open up to us about.

"This will become more important as they get older and reach the point where the detail of them and their lives isn't always obvious to us. They'll give us the parts they think we'll be open to, and when we listen to them from when they're young, we're nurturing the very important message that we're open to all of it. "

What I need to do

My intuition tells me it's about connection. It's hearing my children when they cry, when they want comfort. It's getting down on their level, looking in their eyes and making them feel heard.

It's getting them to bed by 7pm more often than not.

It's eating a good breakfast.

It's having a monthly date night with my husband, and getting to yoga once a week.

And these things are enough for me, I think, to be a 'good' mum.

Shevonne Hunt presents Kinderling Conversation, a daily parenting show at 12pm on Kinderling Kids Radio. She regularly interviews experts on everything from toddler tantrums to keeping sane as a parent (which she needs, being the mum of two children under five).

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