How to Be a Good Mother, Today
Whether you're expecting your first, or you're a veteran mom of three, there's always someone trying to tell you how to parent. Grandparents love to point out that they didn't buy organic anything, and you turned out just fine.
But sometimes we wish they'd just mind their own business. Instead of stressing out over what the yoga mom who's in better shape than she was pre-baby thinks, follow these psychology-based tips to being a good mother.
Educate Yourself on Child Development
No matter where you are within your parenting journey, learning about child development is a huge help. So many misbehaviors can be explained by a child's developmental stage.
Understanding why an issue is happening in the first place makes it so much easier to address it appropriately.
Respond to Their Crying
Parents once believed that responding to every whimper and cry would spoil a baby. Now we know that spoiling a newborn isn't possible.
Crying is the only way for a brand-new baby to express their needs, and responding to them promptly helps them to form a secure attachment to their primary caregiver.
Talk to Them Like They’re Listening
Talk to your kids, whether they're 2 months old or in kindergarten, like they're real people. Why? Because they are.
Even when it seems like they're too young to understand what you're saying, babies are paying attention to every word. Talking, reading and singing to them is good for them in more ways than one.
Their language development and future reading skills will thank you.
Answer All the Annoying Whys
Preschool-aged children ask "why?" about a million times a day. Resist the urge to reply, "Because."
The world is completely new to them, so they can't accurately predict how any of it works. Their brains will work more efficiently if they learn all the whys. Explaining why they can and can't do certain things also helps them control their actions better.
Imagine if you'd never had a cookie before, and someone told you that you should only have one. You'd be much more likely to listen if you knew the "why" behind it. That eating the entire box of Thin Mints would make you feel awful.
Label Behaviors, Not Kids
Drawing on the wall is bad. Lying about turning in a homework assignment is, too. Is the kid who did either of those things a bad person, though? Definitely not.
When talking with your kids about misbehaviors, avoid labeling the person themselves. If you tell someone they're a bad boy or a bad student enough times, that's how they'll view themselves.
Instead, identify poor choices, enforce appropriate consequences and empower them to make better decisions tomorrow.
Expose Them to Diversity
This might be easier said than done, but babies who interact frequently with people who speak foreign languages often have an easier time learning new languages later in life. It's also easier for them to learn new languages from the start than it is to become fluent as a teen.
Babies who become familiar with diverse faces will also be more comfortable interacting with people from different races and cultures than their own. It's possibly the easiest way you can battle racism as a parent before your kids are even old enough to understand the topic.
Foster a Sense of Agency
Kids love trying to do things on their own, and it's best to let them.
It's much faster to button their coat for them or do the dishes on your own, but the self-confidence and skills they acquire from doing it on their own is worth running late for.
Even When You’re Swamped, Set Aside at Least 15 Minutes to Offer Undivided Attention
Kids know when you're not paying attention. You may think you're great at multitasking, but you can't fool your 4-year-old. What's going to happen if you reply to that email in 15 minutes? Nothing.
Twice a day, pause everything and give your child your full attention. Learn to play again. It'll be good for you both.
Good Moms Lead by Example
Children are copycats. If you want your kids to be confident, don't put yourself down. If you want your kids to be empathetic, don't let them hear you trash-talking the neighbor for parking too close to your car again.
Model the behavior you'd like them to replicate, because they will whether you like it or not.
Express Your Feelings, but Don’t Use Your Kids as Free Therapy
Good moms show their kids it's OK to have big feelings. It's OK to cry when something really tough happens, like losing a beloved pet.
Explaining your feelings in a way they can understand is a great way to teach them to do the same. For example, you could share, "At work today, I didn't finish the project I wanted to finish, and that made me feel very frustrated. Taking the dog for a walk always calms me down. Would you like to come with me?"
At the same time, don't burden them with complicated problems or emotions that they're not even remotely responsible for. Venting about your relationship with your partner should happen with friends, not your fourth grader.
Let Them Be Themselves, Even If You Don’t Totally Get It
Even though our kids share 50 percent of our DNA, they are very much their own person.
Instead of trying to mold kids to be like them, good moms give their kids room to develop their own identity.
Who they become might surprise you, but that's all part of the fun.
Help Your Kids Identify Their Own Strengths
The best moms don't push their own interests on their kids. Instead, they expose them to a variety of options and see which ones their kids naturally gravitate toward.
Instead of signing them up for piano lessons, take them to a group class where they get to experiment with several different instruments. Then, let them choose which one they'd like to pursue.
The same goes for learning styles. Some kids might thrive with private lessons, while others feed off the friendly competition of a group setting. What works for you might not work for them, so experiment.
Use Positive Reinforcement Liberally
Rather than constantly critiquing what your child does wrong, praise what they're doing right. Giving more attention to behaviors you want to see will encourage kids to behave that way more often.
Acknowledge simple things, like sitting quietly at school, eating neatly or putting away toys without being asked. The more you notice these small accomplishments, the more often they will happen.
To Be a Good Mom, Focus on Effort, Not Achievement
When all the focus is on a child's achievements, like getting straight A's, it's easy for them to internalize that their worth is based on their grades, how many goals they scored, or other external achievements.
The minute they begin struggling with a class or a new skill, they start to question whether their intelligence and talent is enough. Or even if they're smart at all.
Instead, show enthusiasm for their effort. Praise them for trying a really hard math problem, even if they didn't get the answer right. Praise them for the B- they fought for. When they stuck it through basketball practice, even though nothing was going right, tell them how proud you are that they didn't give up.
That way, they'll develop the resilience to get up from life's inevitable slips and spills.
Be There for Them Whenever You Can
Something as simple as dropping off a forgotten lunchbox or sleeping in the rocking chair beside their bed after a particularly scary nightmare tells your kiddo that they can count on you.
Having a deep level of trust like that will make them more likely to open up to you when they're older, too.
Good Moms Listen
If your child lies about turning in their homework or studying for a test, it's easy to make a snap judgment. They were being lazy, right?
Before you assume, however, give them a chance to explain what's going on with them. Maybe they've been so busy jumping from one extracurricular to the next that they completely forgot, and were so worried about the consequences that they tried to hide it.
There's not always a reasonable explanation for a poor choice or mistake, but it's always helpful to understand the reasons behind your kid's behavior to help you come up with an appropriate response.
Sometimes they need a consequence. Other times, they might need a helping hand. Listening to them doesn't mean you're being soft. It means you're being fair.
Validate Their Emotions
Speaking of feelings, great moms strive to affirm their child's emotions even when they're off base. To a toddler in the throws of rage at Trader Joe's, the devastation of not being allowed to take four extra free samples is very real. Feeling angry at you because you won't let them is valid, too.
Emotions aren't always logical, but they're always real. Help your kids feel their feelings and work through them, rather than treating every overreaction as an inconvenience.
Never Compare Siblings to One Another
If you're ever tempted to start a sentence with, "When he was your age, your brother never..." just stop. Comparing siblings to each other doesn't help either of them. All it does is breed resentment and bitterness.
Instead, accept that every child is different and learn to parent the one in front of you. (Even if their older sibling was so much easier to deal with.)
Get Comfortable Having Uncomfortable Discussions
One of the biggest gifts good moms offer their kids is providing a safe space to ask questions about anything and everything. Kids aren't likely to initiate the conversations, so set a precedent by opening the dialogue early.
Before middle school even hits, start talking about how puberty works. Talk about healthy friendships, healthy relationships, empathy, boundaries, consent, sex, drugs and alcohol, plus the myriad of dangers lurking on the ever-more-accessible world wide web.
Because if you don't answer their questions, their peers and the internet will. Shudder.
Don’t Take Your Child’s Misbehavior to Heart
Wouldn't it drive you nuts if someone else called all the shots? Kids, particularly teens longing to distance themselves from their parents, don't always like their mom. Sometimes, they might even act like they hate you.
As much as their dirty looks can sting, don't take it personally. Just keep loving them, and in a decade or two, they'll return the favor.
Remember That the Root of the Word Discipline Means 'To Learn'
Being a pushover and acting like your kid's best friend is a terrible idea, but running your house like Marine Bootcamp isn't great either. As a rule, make sure the punishment fits the crime.
If they miss curfew by 15 minutes, making them stay home from the dance they've been looking forward to all semester would be an extreme punishment for the mistake. The whole point of enforcing consequences is to teach your kids a lesson, not to cause damage.
Don’t Punish Behavior You Actually Like
This one sounds weird, but hear us out. It's super common for an introverted, sullen teen to emerge from their bedroom only to hear, "Huh, nice of you to join us." If you were that teen, you'd probably be tempted to turn around and go back to your room.
If your teenager comes down for breakfast at nine instead of noon, don't make fun of him for it, or next time, he might not even bother.
Your Relationship With Your Child Is Delicate. Treat It With Care.
Good moms remember that their relationship with their child lasts for life. If you want it to be a good one, cultivate it. When you pick them up from school, show them how happy you are to see them rather than leading with, "How'd that test go?"
Cherish the time you spend with them. Relish in the experience of watching them grow and evolve. Learn to like who they are, not who you expected them to be. Love them, and show it.
It's both very complicated and exceptionally simple at the same time.
Get Comfortable Saying Sorry
Even if you do your best to do everything on this list, you're only human. You're going to mess up. You can't be a perfect mom, but you can be a better mom by admitting when you've made a mistake. Apologize for yelling, being unfair, or being hurtful, even if you didn't mean to.
Having the humility to apologize to your child will both strengthen your relationship with them and teach them the value of admitting your own mistakes.
Every Mom Makes Mistakes, so Don’t Beat Yourself Up
When you do mess up, even in a big way, be kind to yourself. No one in the history of humanity has ever raised a child perfectly, and you won't be the first.
It's OK. Just learn from your mistakes and keep trying.
Prioritize Your Own Needs, Too
A happy, healthy mom is a good mom.
Don't forget to take care of yourself.
Good Moms Don’t Feel Selfish for Cultivating Their Own Lives
Good moms know that kids need them, but not 24/7. Some space is a good thing, and having your own life will give your kids something to emulate and look up to.
You don't have to have a high-powered career, by any means. Just investing yourself in a passion or getting involved in the community will give them something to respect.
Build Family Rituals to Foster Strong Bonds
Good moms know that quality time and family traditions help kids feel grounded and connected.
There's nothing like sharing a meal or battling each other at Pictionary to bring you all together.
Lean on the Experts in Your Life
Good moms know they can't be good at everything. Fortunately, they don't have to be. Instead, they look to the experts in their life to fill in where they fall short.
Maybe Uncle Joe is really great at helping with algebra homework, and grandma will happily play dolls for hours. Maybe your best friend totally gets teenagers, while you find their constant eye rolls infuriating.
There are almost always people around who are willing to help, so let them.
When in Doubt, Do What Works for Your Family
Do you know the one secret all good moms share? They figure out what works for their kids, even if Grandma, the lady at daycare or that parenting book someone gave them disagrees.
There are a million ways to be a good mom. What works for one mom might not work for you, so find your own way.