What Happened When I Asked My Kids, "Am I A Good Mom?"

by Gemma Hartley

Perhaps one of the hardest things about parenting is that there is no guidebook. There's plenty of information out there, of course, but as far as getting parenting feedback – you’re kind of out of luck. You make the rules and the exceptions. You decide how much room to give them to grow and make their own errors. It’s all you from start to finish, and no matter how hard you try to do the right thing, there will always be moments filled with second-guessing the very parenting decisions you've just made. You pretty much do your best, cross your fingers, and hope some 20+ years from now you'll have a grown kid who you didn’t totally and completely mess up. I sometimes think back to my childhood and teenage years and wonder how my parents didn’t completely and totally lose faith in humanity while raising my brother and I (who knows, maybe they did and they just didn’t tell us).

I often wonder if I am doing the right thing or doing enough when it comes to parenting. Sometimes I feel pretty certain that I'm raising complete sociopaths (looking at you, 2 year old who's currently taking all the toys away from the baby while shushing him and saying "it's OK, it's OK" very quietly). Other times these kids blow me away with their sweetness and compassion and empathy.

The Experiment

I figured there was only one place to look to see how I am doing when it comes to this parenting thing, and that is right at my kids. I wondered, instead of simply watching them and making assumptions about how I was doing, what if I asked them how I was doing on the parenting front? How do they view me as a mother, and how is that different (or in line) with how I view myself?

I decided to ask them for feedback and see how they think I'm doing at this whole mom job. I'll be totally honest, their responses totally blew me away.

Day 1: Where Do We Start?

Courtesy of Gemma Hartley

It felt very strange to sit down with my kids and ask them how I was doing as a mom. While I give them plenty of feedback on how they are progressing as tiny humans, I don't often turn the tables and ask them what they think of my progress as a parent. I'm usually not even thinking about my progress as a parent at all because I'm just trying to survive one day to the next.

Of course, when I asked how I was doing as a mom, the answer was a simple: Good. I had to pry a little bit more and ask what made me a good mom, and when was I not a good mom — and they did not hold back their opinions.

My 2-year-old daughter decided I was a good mom "on Fridays and Sundays" and "some times" (let's ignore the fact that she has no concept of time/days), and when I "do good stuff." My 5-year-old son told me I was a good mom when I "turned the heater on when it was cold," and when I "played with them" or "made yummy food," but sometimes I wasn't a good mom, like "when you yell and make us sad." Ouch.

It hurt to hear him say those words, but I think what hurt the most is that they weren't said in anger. He wasn't in the middle of throwing a tantrum, and he didn't mean it to hurt me. He was just answering my question. And he was so right. I'm not a good mom when I lose my cool, and it's something I need to work on. I can, and should, do better.

Day 2: Room For Improvement

Courtesy of Gemma Hartley

After hearing my kids' initial evaluation of my parenting, I asked them how I could work towards being a better mom. My son's answer:

You could be a better mom by exercising a lot so you can get way stronger. You should do it every night.

I thought it was an odd suggestion, so I asked him why exactly this would make me a better mom, and why I need to be "way stronger." He said it's so I can help him take apart LEGOs that are really, super stuck together. Well, alright then.

Even though his reasoning may have been a bit questionable, my son's suggestion to exercise in order to be a better mom was actually really good advice. I don't always prioritize myself by working out, even though I want to and know I should. I get so caught up in the constant flow of motherhood that I don't stop always stop to think about what I should be doing. I always feel more balanced and in control of my emotions when I workout regularly, and that makes me a better parent (and less prone to yelling).

Day 3: Let It Go

Courtesy of Gemma Hartley

When I asked my daughter what would make me a better mom, she knew exactly what to say. She wanted me to sing "Let It Go." I told her to go get her guitar, and her face lit up. She came out with a princess crown for me to wear and had me sing again and again. I was no Channing Tatum, but she seemed amused nonetheless. When it comes to her needs, I could tell all she really wanted was for me to play with her, and the fact that this was so special to her broke my heart.

She asks me to sing all the time, and sometimes I do, but I realized all too often I'll tell her to wait until I am done doing the dishes or folding laundry or completing some other mundane task, and then I'll forget about it. When I saw how happy she was to have my full attention, and to be able to play right away with me, I knew that the housework can always wait. She won't be this little forever.

Day 4: Working Those Muscles

Now that I had spent a couple days working up my muscles for LEGO-building activities, my son asked me to be a good mom by building something cool with him, but without yelling at anyone. I wasn't planning on yelling at anyone, but he wanted to make certain I knew this was a no-yell, good-mom only zone.

He said:

Now don't yell at me while I'm building. I don't like being bothered.

My son didn't really seem to notice I was there, or at least I didn't think he did. When he plays with his LEGOs he is usually so engrossed in building that I figure he doesn't want to be bothered or have anyone play with him. However, he stopped every now and again to tell me how cool my building was. That night as I tucked him into bed he told me he really liked building with me, and that it makes him sad to build alone all the time. This week was opening my eyes to how much my kids needed me to be present more than anything else, and how much I had been failing at this single, simple thing for so long.

He told me:

You were a really good mom today. You did a good job not yelling. We like playing with you. That's a good mom thing.

Day 5: Breakfast of Champions

Courtesy of Gemma Hartley

When I asked what else I could do to be a better mom, there was one unanimous answer, which was that I should make pancakes "like dad." I know they love my husband's pancakes, but I've never asked him for the recipe because I always had a little chip on my shoulder about him making a better pancake than me. Breakfast foods are my thing. But for the sake of being the best mom I could be, I broke down and asked him for his secret. The answer? He just used my recipe and swapped Greek yogurt and milk instead of sour cream and buttermilk. So my kids not only preferred his pancakes, but they were also willingly eating healthy pancakes? The indignity!

Day in and day out, all they really wanted was more of me.

I made them his way, half expecting a revolt and proclamations that they just "weren't the same" as dad's. But you know what? They ate them up like the hotcakes they were. And I've got to admit, they were pretty damn good. I guess taking a tip from my partner on the parenting front every now and again might just be a good idea. I felt a little embarrassed that it had taken me this long to figure that out.

Day 6: Learn Something New

Courtesy of Gemma Hartley

After the tremendous success of making pancakes like my husband does, my son decided that my mothering skills would benefit from being more like dad all around. All throughout the day my son kept telling me that I would be a good mom if I "learned how to weld car parts or fix cars" (like my husband does). When I told him I didn't know how to do that he said I should take lessons, and while I'm at it I should also learn how to "fix bikes like dad too."

While I'm all for learning new skills, I was a little hurt by the notion that the only way to be "better" was to be more like my husband. He's often the favorite because he's not the one who is constantly around enforcing the rules and routines. They light up when he comes home from work every day. Every little outing with him is markedly special, and everything he does is "so cool." Sometimes I feel like I'm the one who puts in the bulk of the work and he gets all the love.

I needed to be reminded that when I show up and really try, I am being a good mom.

As I watched them with my husband that night though, I looked beyond my jealousy and saw what my son really meant when he wanted me to be "more like dad," but not in the physical sense. My husband makes sure his time with them is high quality because it's limited. I forget to focus on the quality of the time I spend with my kids because I am with them 24/7. Day in and day out, all they really wanted was more of me — and that made me feel pretty special.

Day 7: Judgment Day

Courtesy of Gemma Hartley

At the end of my week full of playing, singing, workouts, and cooking lessons, I checked back in with my kids to see if I had made any improvement over the past seven days. Had I been a better mother? Had I lived up to their expectations?

I asked my son again how I was doing at being a mom, and he gave me a hug and said:

You're always a good mom.

I hugged him tight and wished I could never let go. It wasn't just what I wanted to hear. It was what I needed to hear. I needed to be reminded that when I show up and really try, I am being a good mom. Always.

Did My Kids Know What They Were Talking About?

Although my kids went for some of the silly stuff I expected them to, a lot of their comments about my parenting were really insightful. I often think about how my parenting is supposed to mold them in the long run, and that becomes my main focus. I forget how much the day-to-day matters to them. Their lives are here and now, and they're not thinking ahead 15 years or even 15 minutes into the future. This week made me take into consideration their immediate emotional needs, because those sometimes get lost in the big picture. At the end of the day, being a good mom in their eyes wasn't that hard, all they really needed was a little more me.