Three hundred voices

Confession: I’ve never figured out when exactly you start feeling like a Good Mom. When my third child was born and I went in for her nth-month checkup, I was shocked to hear my doctor’s words: “Well, you must be getting pretty good at this by now.”

Huh?? I’m Mennonite, okay? which means I’m officially a rookie till I’ve given birth to half a dozen.

I cook homemade meals, keep the house neat, discipline little ones, read that story for the ninety-sixth time, give lots of hugs and still, somehow, carry a terrible fear that in some way I am maiming my children, missing the key element or program or formula that will enable them to thrive.

And it’s getting harder. My grandmother had maybe thirty voices telling her how to be a Good Mom. She had a mom, a grandma and a doctor, plus a few peers, plus the old ladies of the community, and I think that’s about it. {I don’t think she even knew what a Good Mom was; she was just a Mom.} Today, for every mom and grandma there are 100 books, 100 websites, and 100 social media posts telling me how to do it: three hundred voices echoing around me, everywhere I turn.

With that plethora of info, that gathering of accumulated and sometimes conflicting voices, I am certain to do it right, right? No. I am certain to do it wrong—by some standard at least—and by my own standard, if I’m measuring by that accumulation.

Voice A stresses the importance of sleep patterns, Voice B stresses consistent discipline, Voice C stresses one on one time with your child, Voice D can’t say enough about the benefits of group and social interaction. E says homeschool, F says day school, G says let Grandma help, H says don’t take advantage of her. I says the latest and greatest toys, J says the less toys the better, K says provide well for them and L says don’t give them too much. M says strong boundaries, N says love love love. O says personal time outs and cool downs when they’re angry, P says don’t you dare walk away from them when they’re angry, Q says every child is afraid of things and R says if your child is fearful there’s a problem. S says enroll those kids in lessons and sports and T says give them tons of unstructured playtime. U says birth control, V says not on your life. W says let go of formulas! but X has just the formula for you, Y is the next new parenting book that solves all the problems and Z is the blog that interprets what voices A-Y are saying.

And believe me, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

It’s a shame, really. If somebody tells me I’m good at other things—cooking or sewing or organizing or communicating—I can feel a glow of happiness inside me. Yes, I love it. Yes, I can do it. Awww; I’m so happy you told me.

But mothering?

No. {There’s always so much more I should be doing.} No. {If only you knew the mistakes I’ve made.} No. I’m not a Good Mom. End of story.

Do the rest of you have any idea what I’m talking about? Girls, we have a problem.

I told you I read a wonderful book lately called Adoption: Choosing It, Living It, Loving It, by Dr. Ray Guerendi. I learned a lot about adoption but even more about being a mom. The buoyant humor of the author made me chuckle. And he kept surprising me by condensing the whole of parenthood into a very small and succinct wordlist.

“Being a parent is grounded in some basics—love, morals, confident authority, supervision, common sense, and good judgment.” (p.38)

“You are still persevering in the staples of parenthood—sacrifice, discipline, supervision.” (p. 129)

“Continue to show the good things of motherhood—commitment, sacrifice, guidance.” (p. 132)

They weren’t the words I expected him to choose. They didn’t even hint at getting the right method. And they were so much more about trajectory, pledges, and staying power than deep emotional connection, zen feelings, and frequent playdates.

So I started writing. What am I reaching for? What do I imagine a Good Mom would do? I began my list, and hit fifteen items without breaking a sweat. I will share a scant half with you.

  • She would definitely conceive as many children as possible. {Please just laugh. I’m Mennonite, okay? But this is not an intro to discussing the ethics of family planning, and don’t you forget it.}
  • She would play toys on the floor with her children. A lot.
  • She would not find herself at a loss to know how to respond to their behavior.
  • She would never raise her voice or speak words she’d regret.
  • She wouldn’t feed them so much sugar.
  • She would be all about Mommy Mommy Mommy.
  • She would get up early in the morning and cook a hot breakfast.

Ecco. I’m terrible at all of these. Which may have something to do with why they stand out to me–  What I want to know is, who is setting this standard?

More next time. Meanwhile, what’s the ideal you’re reaching for? What’s the Good Mom thing you really, really want to do and can’t seem to pull off?


I’m encouraging candor, not defeatism. We’ll get to the stuff we do right; hang in there.

Meanwhile, here’s a quote to chew on a while, from Elisa Morgan writing lately on A Holy Experience: “No parent, no matter how dedicated, expert, present and loving can produce a perfectly healthy and happy adult. Such a feat is simply not within our power.”

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Kendra Sensenig
10 years ago

I think what I most want to do well is to be a safe place for my children’s hearts. That requires being alert and available, both of which are deep acts of living sacrifice. Of course, I also want them to be well-rounded, well-read read, well-exposed, and well-equipped for lives of joy and purpose. I too hear the 300 voices, and lacking confidence in my own ability to “get it right,” I’m eager for any wisdom I can glean on the subject. Meanwhile, I ask God for wisdom and just try to use the head He gave me!

10 years ago

This is well said. I agree with that last quote. We need to remember that our children will need to make choices as they grow older. Even the child with seemingly the best parents is not guaranteed to make the right choices. We can only do our best, n then they still need to make a personal choice to live for God. And yes, we need to work at having their hearts….and that’s hard work!!

Brenda W
10 years ago

Would love to read this book!!! Read some on the Amazon ‘look inside’. He has a marvelous sense of humor!!! And makes a very interesting statement: “You don’t have to experience something to give advice!!” 🙂
I think his words are so right on: Committment, confident authority, and so on!!!
You are a good mother Shari!!! We heard in the sermon last Sunday, there are a million ways to be a good mother, and Absolutely none to be a Perfect Mom!!!

10 years ago

I want to delight in my children’s voices (all decibels?) 🙂

10 years ago

“healthy and happy adult”..I am pondering that one. I don’t have children, but I think of my experiences as a child. Did I feel healthy and happy when I arrived at adulthood. Would I change the experiences I had for something that would make me feel healthier and happier? Or as i grow and mature, am I looking back with gratitude, believing that the experiences of my life were orchestrated for a reason. Not for my health or happiness as much as for me to realize the hand of God upon my life. If God didn’t promise us health and happiness, i wonder how should that translate into our desires for our children? I heard a woman talk on her experiences as a child where she was abandoned at the age of 4 and left to wander on her own, and many times nearly died of dangers and starvation. Yet as an adult she looks back on her life, and believes that Gods hand orchestrated the details of her life. I was blown away. My life experiences seemed minimal after hearing her story.
Obviously, that doesn’t take away the desire to be a good mom. ever. No one wants their child to face any kind of suffering or fear, for sure not because of our lack. we cant protect from everything, but more than that we want them to know where their ultimate security lies. I know one thing, even tho I am not yet a mother, I would fail big time if it was up to me to be the perfect mom. But God uses imperfect mothers, to accomplish His purposes. Even mothers who felt they had no option but to abandon their children. Somehow it makes me want to trust that BIG of a GOD.

Esther Yutzy
10 years ago

Suggested reading: “Parenting is Your Highest Calling (and 8 other Myths)” by Leslie Leyland Fields. Her basic gist is that you cannot be a Perfect Mom but you can be a Wonderful Mother.

10 years ago

I want to maintain a heart connection with my children as they grow and when they’re adults. I find it fairly easy when they’re young. But as my boys grow older, it is getting a lot harder and I’m not sure how to do it. . . I also tend to be too grace/relationship oriented, and probably err in not being firm enough. But, if being a good mom has anything to do with loving these little people incredibly, painfully much, then I’ve got it. 🙂

10 years ago

I want to build good, healthy structure and boundaries for my kids(within our family unit) and for the way we interact with our neighborhood.

I would like to be able to fully embrace this calling to motherhood with joy and gratitude.

10 years ago

Oh, I so love this, Shari. To be candid, I am so relieved that Mother’s Day is over again for another year. I always find it a hard day…for whatever reason it is a day that I look at myself and see all the ways I am NOT being a good Mom. Despite what my husband and children may say, I KNOW I should do so much better. Probably the most crucial thing that I can’t seem to master is to always be patient and never raise my voice in impatience or anger…

10 years ago

I want to go back and start over. 🙂

10 years ago

I can identify with the confusion and frustration. So many people saying different things, and when you make one choice another one whispers in your ears to try to tell you it was the wrong one. The accuser is always trying to tell us that we are not good enough, and that we are too much, or not enough. Once someone told me that if you think your a bad mom you will act like a bad mom. I took that to heart and I sat down and wrote the things I do well as a mom. I TRY(notice the emphasis on the word try) to concentrate on this. The raising my voice in impatience or anger is a hard one for me to master as well. It has brought me to tears, asking my children to forgive me more times than I like to admit. But I’m thankful for the grace of God even in this whole challenge of Mothering, and hope that I get the important things right. Anyway, I’m kind of rambling here, but just had to comment because I could so identify with this post. And am looking forward to reading more on this subject.

10 years ago

Hmmm, I hear you. It is the way it is in our culture. I get these feelings of being a horrible mom, usually when I read yet another book of a child who was abused, and I start thinking, “I’m probably a terrible mom, too, no, of course, I haven’t done those things, but it’s somehow realizing that deep inside, aside from Christ, there is a lot of ugliness…
Don’t know if that makes sense, but I would like to be all calm and patient, unselfish and never raise my voice or silently wish I could throw some things….
I love the quote by Morgan, and I utterly agree! Christ can do this. I can make mistakes and repent, and have to do that quite a few times in one day, sometimes. And sometimes shake my head at a child’s behavior, and just want to pull out my hair, but then when my 13 year old son comes up and hugs me and tells me that I am a wonderful, the best mom ever, after we’ve had a rough time, I know that Jesus is at work again!

10 years ago

My deepest desire is to raise children who are grounded in love….confident of the love of the Father, secure in the unconditional love of their parents… that’s all. 😉

10 years ago

I have a mom who never raised her voice. Maybe it helped that she has a very soft voice so it is physically impossible for her to yell. But even with nine of us children, she was reasonably calm. So I knew it was possible.

And I only have half that number of children. But I struggle making it through one day without getting frustrated and letting my voice show it to the world. And no one would say I have a soft voice.

I am quite certain that without the grace of God my children would be ruined. There is no way that I can be a Good Mom. At least not the “Good Mom” that my mind can conjure.

Great conversation…looking forward to more.

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