If you’re wondering how to be the perfect mom, this article won’t be for you because no one would be qualified to write it. If you’re wondering how to be a good mother–embracing all the human-ness that it invariably entails–then you’re in the right place.
How to be a good mother
It begins with knowing what you want
Every good mom knows she wants to watch her children grow and thrive and become decent, loving humans. She also wants to be healthy and “whole” in her own way, balancing her own needs with those of her family members.
She wants to offer unconditional love without losing herself completely in the process.
Understandably, many mothers want parenting to be easier than it is today. Lots of our fellow moms are stretching themselves too thin, totally neglecting self-care (often for valid and understandable reasons), and harboring feelings of burnout.
Yet, we keep pushing ahead, because of a little (ahem, often big) thing called “mom guilt.” We worry that if we don’t keep pushing, our status as a good mom will somehow slide downhill. We’ll cover how to heal from guilt and shame later in this article.
First, let’s talk about what every emotionally healthy mom needs to support her family–and herself–well.
What Good Moms Actually Need to Thrive in Parenting
The following tips can help you move from being an exhausted, burned-out mother to being a truly great mother from the inside out:
- Take care of yourself. You need “mothering,” too.
- Model the gentleness and respect you want to see in your children.
- Repair with your kids when you mess up.
- Have healthy boundaries (although perhaps not in the way you’re thinking).
- Transform your mistakes into compassionate teachers.
Read the details below.
Take care of yourself.
Before we can aim to be a better mom, we must remember that healing happens from the inside out. We can’t succeed at raising children if we’ve got nothing to give.
In other words, you need to “mother” yourself just as you would your kids–with gentleness, compassion, rest, and a life of balance.
What we learn in the best-selling parenting book Peaceful Discipline is that taking care of ourselves isn’t optional. Here’s an excerpt from the book:
…”If we won’t take care of ourselves well for our own sake, maybe we’re willing to do it so we can be an example for our children of how to slow down sometimes. By showing them that we matter to ourselves, we model that they should matter to themselves, as well.
But isn’t self-care a cliché or, at best, some sort of magical unicorn?
It seems that in recent years, self-care has become a cliché—or worse, a dirty word. It can truly feel elusive for the exhausted parent. Perhaps part of the problem is that society has managed to frame self-care as trips to the spa, a child-free night out, an impromptu exotic vacation—which very few of us find even remotely feasible most of the time…
Reframing self-care can be immensely helpful.
It can take many forms, and can be as simple as holding your cup of coffee or tea with both hands each morning so you can feel the warmth radiating into your body. (The book has many helpful and specific ideas to consider.)
Know what brings YOU joy and comfort
It’s also important to note that many people wrongly believe that self-care must exclude other people. Some adults thrive on “me time” without anyone else around. Others get their “super-charging” from engaging in any form of levity or play with their friends, children, or partner. It all counts, and assuming your choices are healthy ones, there’s no wrong way to recharge. You know yourself best.
The trick to every single form of self-care is to be able to count on it. Be intentional about it; don’t just wait for it to happen.
I’ve never spontaneously ended up in a bubble bath and wondered how I got there.
Certainly, if you see an opportunity to take care of yourself, seize it in the moment. However, we’re likely to appreciate it even more if we make commitments to ourselves and keep them. We matter, too…”– Sarah R. Moore in Peaceful Discipline
Mothers matter just as much as our children do, so it’s time we reframe motherhood from being a job of constant self-sacrifice to one where we get to have downtime, make new friends, and do whatever else lifts us up.
We can do this while still being responsive and compassionate to our children.
Once again, an important paradigm shift for those mothers who say, “I can’t do it — I don’t have any support” to realize that sometimes the most important thing is to find a way, even if it’s alongside your children.
Model the gentleness and respect you want to see in your children.
One of the most important things a mother can do is to provide a safe and nurturing environment for her children. This means creating a home that is free from physical and emotional abuse, and providing a stable and loving atmosphere where children can grow and thrive.
Be respectful to your child
A great mom is one who’s willing to do the work of conscious parenting, remembering that to discipline means to teach rather than to punish. We can, and should, discipline our children in ways that do no harm to them or to the relationship.
One part of being a good mother is realizing that our kids don’t “owe” us respect just for having birthed them.
Every child is born as a human being, fully worthy of our respect. We must model what respect looks like for them to be able to reflect it back to us.
Moms can read all the best parenting books in the world. However, they’ll do nothing for us if we don’t put them into a life where our kids know our love for them isn’t conditional. We could be the best mom in the world book-wise, but it’s our children’s perception of our parenting that gives them the true safety and connection they need to thrive.
Their perception is their reality.
Respectful parenting is much more about our own behavior than it is about our children’s behavior.
Whether our child is talking back, melting down with big emotions, expressing strong-willed behavior, or lacking the emotional maturity we’d hoped they’d have by now, we know that non-punitive natural consequences are the evidence-based form of handling tricky behavior. We can eschew punishments entirely (while still having healthy boundaries — more on that below).
Part of modeling respect means modeling presence
Being a good mother also means being involved in your child’s life. This means everything from being present in the “small stuff” (for example, playing on the floor with your child rather than always zoning out), to showing up for them when they’re struggling.
Your child needs you to care about their life — even the “little things”
This means that, especially when our child is exhibiting questionable behavior, we discipline in connection-based ways, staying present and patient with them.
Indeed, this can take inner child healing and practice!
Spend time with your kids one-on-one
In addition, if you have more than one child, it’s important that each child feels “seen” in their own way. Often, the child who’s the most vocal about their preferences gets those preferences met, but each child will benefit greatly from quality time that matches their individual and unique temperament and preferences.
Some kids prefer reading books or crafting, while others prefer more of a “rough and tumble” approach, but every child will appreciate being “seen” for their uniqueness. At their core, they simply want to spend quality time with you.
Even if you devote only 15 minutes per day to each child’s special preferences, that absolutely helps you build a strong bond with them. As the child grows, they’ll know that they matter.
Finally, being a good mother means being there for your children when they need you the most. This means being a listening ear when they need to talk and providing comfort and support when they are going through difficult times. It also means being there to celebrate their successes and to help them to set and achieve goals. Watch this video about how to set effective goals.
Learn to apologize effectively.
Admit your mistakes and repair with your kids when you mess up.
Every mother knows that their children often struggle at predictable times (such as after school — in fact, it’s so common there’s a name for it). As it turns out, though, every person on the planet sometimes lacks “good behavior,” including us.
For many mothers, we crash emotionally after a long day at work, whether our work is taking care of a baby and an older child, or if we have another form of employment.
We all get tired sometimes.
Another common culprit for adult struggles–just like children’s struggles–is excess screen time. It can do tricky things to our moods, so we must be mindful of that.
Whatever our standard triggers are (or if we surprise ourselves with unexpected ones), we must be able to apologize to our children.
We learn this about apologies in Peaceful Discipline:
“…According to relationship researcher and expert Dr. John Gottman, it takes approximately five positive interactions with someone after a rupture to fully heal the connection…”– Sarah R. Moore in Peaceful Discipline
The book goes on to describe what actually constitutes an apology so that our children are more likely to heal from the wrongs that have been done them, versus non-apologies, such as “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
Have healthy boundaries (although perhaps not in the way you’re thinking).
When we think about the boundaries we have in life, many of us assume it means we’re setting rules for others.
The best boundaries in parenting, however, are boundaries we co-create with our children. If we’re simply doling out a list of rules, it’s not good for the well-being of our relationship. No one likes being told what to do without any input.
Be open to your child’s feedback
The respectful, good mom is one who considers her child’s emotions and is willing to pay attention to the “big picture.” She’ll listen for what feels like a win/win for everyone involved. Not only will those boundaries be more likely to “stick,” but everyone involved will feel better about the relationship.
Moms who do this tend to have fewer power struggles than other moms who impose one-sided dictates on their families.
Establish boundaries that preserve what’s important
If you love your children unconditionally, it also means that you’ll prioritize your family’s well-being. That means you’ll need to set healthy boundaries with others (including friends and extended family), as well, in the spirit of preserving what’s important to you.
If, for example, you value togetherness and have a Sunday night ritual of playing board games, you will keep your Sunday nights sacred for that purpose. Hold fast to what matters.
Release Shame and Fear of Mistakes
When we’ve messed up as a parent, we can be really hard on ourselves. Shame doesn’t serve our parenting, though. Releasing mom guilt will not only support your own self-esteem, but it will also help your child understand that we all make mistakes.
Kids aren’t keeping track of your failures, so why should you? If you center your life around your failures, they’ll only hold you back.
Instead, realize that no person on the planet is always patient, always present, or always–well, perfect. Begone, false concept of the perfect mother.
Reframe every mistake as a teacher.
When we listen to what guilt has to tell us, we can acknowledge where we went wrong and give ourselves permission to feel whatever emotions we need to feel. After all, all feelings are messengers, simply telling us what we need.
Once we’re clear on what we feel and why–and how we want to do better next time–we can make a plan to change course and do better next time.
How to be a good mother in a nutshell
At the end of the day, motherhood means you need to be a good role model for your kids. Hear not only their feelings, but also model hearing and respecting your own. Your most important job is to simply “show up” as well as you can, and know that you are worthy of the love your children so naturally have for you. You’re doing important work.
Sarah R. Moore is best-selling author of Peaceful Discipline: Story Teaching, Brain Science & Better Behavior and the founder of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting. She’s a public speaker, armchair neuroscientist, and most importantly, a Mama. She’s a lifelong learner with training in child development, trauma recovery, interpersonal neurobiology, and improv comedy. As a certified Master Trainer in conscious parenting, she helps bring JOY, EASE, and CONNECTION back to families around the globe. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, Pinterest & Twitter.