Jun 23, 2017

Feeling Like a Bad Mom Doesn't Make You One

By Anna Mussmann

It’s a well-known sociological phenomenon: young men insult each other as a way of making friendly conversation, but young women make friendly conversation by insulting themselves. You know how it goes. “Oh, I’m so bad at that.” “My hair’s a mess today.” “Yeah, I’m kind of the loser mom, ha ha.” Whether or not it’s true that women lack the confidence of our male counterparts, we are quicker to admit to self-doubt and guilt.

And for those of us with kids, nothing sends us down the byway of insecurity more quickly than the question of whether or not we did a good job at being intentionally present, educational, patient, wise, authoritative, gentle, and fun as a mom today. If you’ve ever felt like a bad mom, you know what I mean.

Yet I don’t think most of us really think we are “bad moms,” whatever that really means. It’s just that sometimes we feel like we are feeling like bad moms. Or something. Really, the words are shorthand for a range of causes and feelings.

Sometimes they’re simply the result of being pulled farther than we can yet reach. When physical therapists help their patients stretch, it can hurt. So likewise motherhood can stretch us just as painfully. It’s hard to feel good at something that is hard. The really tricky thing about this stretching is that it catches us by surprise. The line between “fine” and “ouch” is an inconsistent one.

On one day, we sing songs, go to the zoo, push through the tough bits and and enjoy the cuteness. Then all of a sudden, we didn’t get enough sleep last night and the kids are crying about everything, and now someone has just peed on the floor twice. And we are done, fried, all out of songs. The individual events aren’t really different. It’s just that they’ve tipped us over the line. Life with little children is like that.

Sometimes the words come because we’ve unconsciously bought into the Freudian myth that we moms are responsible for shaping our kiddoes’ psyches, and since their psyches are currently displaying all the hallmarks of a toddler in need of a nap, we get the sense that we are totally messing up.

Sometimes they demonstrate that we have slipped into seeing all the hard moments--the pee on the floor [can you tell I’m potty-training right now?]---as somehow bigger and more real than the beautiful moments. That’s a lie, of course, as well as a bad habit. If habits were easy to break no one would smoke cigarettes.

Sometimes they come to mind because our brains are trying to tell us something. Like an overweight person with health problems who knows she ought to lose weight but likes ice cream too much, we too might know that we ought to build new habits or learn new skills, yet find it almost impossible to get there.

Sometimes they are inevitable. We are too well-trained theologically to say that we are “good people” without reference to a phrase like simul justus et peccator, so why would we expect to be a perfect mom? Of course we get a lot of things wrong for all the wrong reasons and at the wrong times. It’s a good thing God is big and strong enough to work through us despite ourselves.

Martin Luther was tempted with despair, guilt, and feelings of failing to measure up. He said a lot of strongly worded things about telling the devil to get behind him.

There are a lot of reasons why women sometimes feel like we are feeling like bad moms. So what? That’s life. It doesn’t actually mean we aren’t here, with our kids, trying to be faithful parents.

Let’s remember our children’s baptisms. Let’s remember that kids are often fun. Let’s live in repentance and absolution instead of guilt. Let us thank God for the gift of this vocation of motherhood. It is a beautiful one.


After graduating from Concordia Wisconsin, Anna taught in Lutheran schools for several years and became so enthusiastic about Classical Education that she will talk about it to whomever will listen. She is a big fan of Jane Austen, dark chocolate, and the Oxford comma. Anna and her husband live in Pennsylvania with their two small children. Anna's work can also be found in The Federalist.

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