Friday, 13 January 2012

How to be a good mother or I’ll take a large helping of social pressure with a side order of guilt please

I watched a programme the other night on Channel 4 called How To Be a Good Mother. Always wanting to improve on my confused mothering technique, I tuned in, expecting to get a few tips on how to counter nappy rash without having to do nappy off and ending up skidding on a poo, spilling a hot coffee in the process. Or get a fussy child to eat more than one kind of vegetable. But rather than the how-to I had expected, it was the story of six women doing some wonderful, and sometimes downright barmy, things in the name of motherhood. And they all felt that they had got it just right. But if I’m honest, I didn’t learn anything that helped me, just that I’m kind of glad that I didn’t eat my own placenta.

By far the strangest of these women was the placenta lady. She makes placenta prints (which is exactly what it sounds like), umbilical cord charms (wrapping a portion of umbilical cord into the shape of a heart then drying it out and hanging on ribbon for people to display in their homes), and finally cooking the placenta, then drying it out and grinding it up into capsules for the mother to take every day as a kind of hormone supplement. She apparently took a bite of her own placenta and was even paid to go one ladies house straight after the birth to whip up a placenta smoothie, which the mother then downed with glee. Aside from the placenta mania, this woman has received a lot criticism for saying that those mothers who have had caesarean sections do not have as strong a bond with their children than those who have had a natural birth. She said that, as a result of being a caesarean baby, she can’t look her own mother in the eye. So she has got to this age, had two children of her own and NEVER looked her mother in the eye? I believe that everyone has a right to their opinion but this was yet another unthinking sweeping statement that does nothing but make those women who couldn’t have a natural birth feel crap about themselves, bravo lady. Seriously, well done.

There was another mother, a “continuum mum” (google it, I did), who practiced elimination communication. No nappies, just being so at one with your child that you somehow know when they want to wee or poo. Sounds dangerous to me, but apparently works if you are willing to sleep with your child (with no nappy on?), not use a pushchair (even when walking to Asda for shopping) and dedicate every moment to looking out for that telling poo face on your child. If using nappies makes me a bad mother, then I’ll take it on the chin, and the thought of carrying son number two around ALL THE TIME makes my back ache, being the solid little wriggling lump he is. This mother was also so adamant she was doing the right thing that she had a pop at working mothers, believing that any detachment whatsoever from your child is harmful. Again this woman seemed to have zero tolerance for anyone not doing things the way she did.

As always when I watch or read something about how other mothers do things I was left wracked with guilt and depression. Have I done everything wrong? Would my children be worse off for having me as a mother?

I think it’s great that some women don’t use nappies, and that some women breastfeed so long. It’s even great to eat your placenta if that’s what you want to do, I wouldn’t eat it because I don’t like offal, but that is just personal taste (and I do draw the line at the umbilical cord charm, I don’t care how pretty it is when the veins catch the light), and I certainly wouldn’t judge any other mother for the choices they make. Overall I think all mothers are brilliant in their own way. But what makes me so angry and frustrated is the way many mothers, some of these included, are so adamant their way is the right way that they slag off anyone doing it different to them.

There is no right way of being a good mum. Being a good mother does not mean breastfeeding or formula feeding, it has nothing to do with staying at home or going back to work, and just because you eat your placenta does not a good mother make. A good mother answers their children’s needs, does what she can to keep her kids and everyone around her happy, but is also flexible, in that she can adapt to the changing needs of her children, realise that she doesn’t always get it right and be open to new ideas.

We all want to do the best for our kids. We all want to be excellent mothers, but the fact is ALL mothers fuck up their kids to some degree, however “good” we think we are, it’s just a matter of how much. And we won’t know that until they grow up and look us in the eye, or not.


  1. When I saw this programme advertised, I KNEW you would watch it - must admit, flicked it on when it was half-over, but the man said "this looks like shit" and turned it over! Cheers then! Does sound like these are extreme mothers though, and perhaps not the best role-models, so on this occasion he was probably right.

    I, like you, am permanantly guilt-ridden; "I shouted too much today - must do better tomorrow", "oh, I haven't really spent much time playing with the kids today", "we haven't practiced poor tired school-boy's words enough this week" - funnily enough, Dads don't seem to have this same guilt complex! Other-half is quite happy to come home (having left the house before the kids got up), and go for a cheeky snooze before he eats his dinner, then it's pretty much bed-time!

    I keep telling myself, that the fact that we have these guilty feelings means that we care. We're only human with our own thoughts, and feelings, and motherhood is fucking frustrating at times, and sometimes I wish I'd never done it, but sometimes it's amazing, and all we can do is TRY and relax a little, and just let things go(particularly housework, so we can play instead!). Tell yourself that you're doing an OK job, and one day you might just believe it!

  2. Great post Beth - (I also tuned in and thought i know another mum who will be watching this ;-). I watched said programme with the husband who developed rather a crush on the presenter lady, to be honest I rather liked too though in a more 'you are saying everything I am thinking kind of a way!'
    Yes motherhood is a world of constant guilt and all anyone can do is their best but sadly there were no top tips i was hoping to gain but on a very very plus note I came away thinking great them there way does seem to make both them and their familys happy but my way suits me better .. so for once no extra guilt! (and despite myself I did feel they might be slighty eccentric!)

  3. My grandmother (who is 90) always told me that the best mothers are the ones who worry about doing a good job. The ones that think they know everything are usually the idiots. I like that. I believe that. Of course, grama also thinks her dog is a girl and dresses him like he's a canine Elton John complete with sequins and sparkly bows and calls the poor thing "Sugar." But on this, I think she's absolutely right.

    Also? The placenta lady grossed me out. I'm sorry. I know people do it. But I think it's weird. Seriously, people. Eat a chicken. Placenta isn't dinner food.

  4. First commenter - LOL your man was probably right and protected you from the gore that was placenta lady, did you a favour there. I think you're right about the guilty feelings mean we care, it's an in built thing that starts the minute we become pregnant and will last for the rest of our lives so we may as well make our peace with it. You are right about relaxing though. Especially with the housework, whenever I have really tried to keep my house perfect (because it was what I believed made a good mother) it has meant that everything else, my mood with the kids, playing and just being with them has had to slide, it doesn't come naturally to me so I have now decided to just accept who I am, do my best to keep the house at least presentable but if its a bit messy at times (OK most of the time) it really doesn't matter to the kids or how much of a good mother I am.

    Commenter 2 - I think that is the best attitude to have. As long as you think your way is the best way for you and your family then you are getting it right, as I always say we can only do what we think is right at the time, if we do that then there can be no regrets. Good for you!

    Manic Motherhood - your Grama sounds like a very wise lady, I love that worrying makes me a good mother, yay! I also love the fact that she dresses her dog up all sparkly and calls him sugar, that is a kind of crazy I can get on board with! LMAO about the placenta v chicken, made me picture a man saying "what's for dinner tonight honey?" And crazy placenta lady saying "There are 2 choices chicken parmesan or placenta pie" "ooh the placenta pie sounds delicious, lets have that" yeah no. Placenta is most definitely not dinner food.