How to Be a Good Mother (Like My Mom Was)

By Jake Gahr on April 6th, 2022
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Wow. Quite an ambitious title, huh? Like how to be a good mother could really be just that simple? Well, don’t worry. We won’t pretend that it is. And fair warning—you will likely not find all the answers you seek on being a good mother in the following paragraphs.

Also, full disclosure: As a guy, I obviously don’t have firsthand experience being a mom. But I do have some lessons my own mom taught me about motherhood that I hope will work for you, whether you’re an expecting mom, new mom, worried mom, stepmom, auntie or any other person who’s striving to meet the needs of the kids in their life.

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First things first, my mom died in November 2020, and I volunteered to write this article to share the example that she no longer can. Second, I won’t pretend Mom was perfect—she would be annoyed if I did. And finally, there is no one embodiment of “good motherhood.” If you’re a mom reading this, there’s a pretty good chance that you are, in fact, a good mom.

So here we go.


1. Be a friend.

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This may be the most “controversial” item in this piece, and I start with it to get the “controversy” out of the way early. There’s been some conventional wisdom—which I think may be changing lately—that says moms (and dads) should not be their kids’ “friends”; that they already have friends and what they need from parents is a steady and loving hand of guidance and discipline.

And I say, why not both? Sure, my mom taught me right from wrong, scolded me when I deserved it (who, me?) and modelled responsibility. But she also—and I’m revealing my age a bit here—took/faked an interest in my He-Man action figures, danced with my little sister to Cindy Lauper records and listened when my big brother’s girlfriends dumped him. Which was a lot. (Jk, bro.)

As a parent myself, some of my happiest times are when I meet my kids where they are, take my dad hat off and just be their buddy. And if that means listening to the occasional TedTalk about Fortnite, I’m okay doing it.

A note on balance

Experts say that while it is important to be friendly with your child, it’s just as important to strike the right balance between friend and parent. A few things to keep in mind to do that:

  • Kids need structure and rules, and yes, an authority figure to provide them. For example, would a “friend” enforce a bedtime? Encourage healthy hygiene habits? Maybe not. But a parent should.
  • As kids get older, they experience individuation, the process during which they become more independent. During this time, they’ll likely want some separation from their adult guardians; more time on their own or with friends and less parent-kid “hang out time.” This is a good, healthy and vital step in their development into young adults.
  • Kids are still kids, and it can put undue pressure on them to become a parent’s confidante. With younger kids especially, be careful about sharing thoughts, feelings and information that they may not be mature enough to understand or handle. They’ll learn about that grown-up stuff soon enough on their own.

2. Be an advocate.

Kids at all ages are living in an adult-run world—one in which they’re not always equipped to assert themselves. So they need you to speak up for them.

My mom had my back every step of the way, whether it was pushing for my doctors to give me the eye surgery I needed (20/20 vision since I was 14!), taking me off the field when I had a painful stress fracture or encouraging me to seek help when I began facing anxiety and depression as an adult.

She taught me that a mother’s love can always be strong for her kids when they don’t have their own strength, and I think advocacy is one of the most important things my wife and I can do for our kids.

Being your child’s advocate

Understanding how and when to be an advocate can be especially important for kids with special needs or from other marginalized communities, like LGBTQ+ kids. Here are some things any parent should consider doing:

  • Keep the lines of communication open. This goes for your child and other adults in their lives such as teachers, coaches, clergy members and medical professionals. Kids experience their world uniquely and open communication helps you know what they really need.
  • Educate yourself on laws, policies, guidelines or resources that exist to protect your child in the world. If you see any gaps in protections, consider ways you can work with officials to fill those gaps.
  • Join advocacy groups and/or parent support groups that align with your child’s needs. Also, gather information from books, articles and other sources that help you understand your child’s experience.
  • Keep records and documentation that may arise in your advocacy, including notes from conversations with anyone you may speak to on behalf of your child.
  • Listen to your child with an open heart, with their best interests in mind and with a focus on solutions that fit their unique life experience. So much of parental love is in listening.

3. Be imperfect.

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Here’s one I wish my mom did earlier on, TBH. She put a lot of pressure on herself, I think, to make the house and home the epitome of warmth, welcoming and, well, some version of perfection, even when she was working full-time.

And it was great. My family hosted parties, we led the neighbourhood Christmas carolling, we were one of the houses where all our friends seemed to feel at home. Like I said, great, right?

But I think it took a toll on mom that I wasn’t even aware of until we spoke about my anxiety later in life. She confided in me—and possibly only me—that she, too, struggled with anxiety, including social anxiety. She didn’t say the things she did were hard for her, but looking back, I can see there were ways (not always the most healthy) that she was compensating.

So moms, I say know yourself, be honest about your limitations, and know they’re okay. Also know they’re okay to talk with your older kids about. You are a human being worthy of self-care and protection, and I think kids of the right age can roll with that. My 11-year-old understands and is empathetic about my anxiety…and I tell ya, his hugs when I need ’em go a long way.

Teaching empathy

In my opinion, one of the best things a parent can do is teach their child to be empathetic, and part of that is acknowledging that, whatever age, we’re all just humans doing our best.

As I alluded to above, when my children reached an age where I believed they’d be able to understand, I shared with them about my anxiety, explaining that I worry more than most people and that the worrying can sometimes get me down.

I talked to them about it not just to explain some of my behaviours, but to show them that no one’s life is trouble-free—everyone we meet is experiencing life in their unique way, and if we can do our best to understand where they’re coming from and what they’re feeling, we’ll be able to connect with them in a positive, caring way.


4. Be joyful.

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Okay, not gonna lie, this isn’t always easy. And I used to get super annoyed with Mom over this sometimes. She was a bit of a Pollyanna (see above about compensating). But even when she wasn’t feeling it, she was doing her very best to see and inspire true joy in life.

Instead of “have a good day,” she would say “make it a good day.” She was a silver lining-seeker. A fun-in-any-situation-finder. A not-much-a-smile-can’t-beat-believer. There are times when I wonder why more of that didn’t rub off on me, but it made her a really good mom to have, especially in the less good times. And even when it annoyed me, I unconsciously took something from it. A “What Would Mom Do” kind of thing.

I know this seems like something of a contradiction of the previous tip…and it is. My mom was full of contradictions like most of us are.

Authentic joy vs. toxic positivity

Finding your joy and living with positivity will look different for every mom. The most important thing is that it’s authentic. Some tips (that I myself need to listen to):

  • That thing you love doing? Do it! Make time for it. Claim it. Moms work hard and deserve fun, too. My mom loved the peace she got from doing word puzzles and talking on the phone with distant friends.
  • Live in the now. It’s easy to think that we’ll find the best kind of happiness “someday,” but chances are you’ve got reasons to be happy right now. You’ve got a kid to love, for one thing, and you’re doing your best to be a good mom. Both things to smile about.
  • Try to laugh at life’s little absurdities and annoyances. Another thing my mom used to say was a little weird but apparently it was a thing: “Scratch your a** and get glad.” It wasn’t meant to dismiss legit feelings of unhappiness but as a smiling reminder to herself and others that a lot of the things that steal our joy are small issues that we don’t need to let bog us down. They just need a quick “scratch,” and we can smile again.
  • Remember that you and your child, like all of us, are only human. We get this one shot at things on earth. Occasionally we’re gonna trip and fall. Our kid’s gonna get a bad grade. The car’s gonna break down on the way to the doctor’s appointment. But we’re here. And as someone who loves a child growing up in this world, you have a chance to really make a difference. Now, how cool is that?

Which brings me to my final and perhaps most important tip…


5. Be you.

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Moms (and mom-types) are the bomb. Mine was. My wife is. You probably are or will be, too. Why? Because—and I don’t want to get weird here, but—you’ve made life and/or you’re nurturing life into its fullest self as a human being with mostly just your own heart to guide you.

Holy crap. I mean, yes, there are all the parenting guides, think pieces and articles like this. But in the moment-to-moment, it’s YOU.

So follow that mom heart. Do your mom thing. My wife is a great mom, but not the same mom my mom was. She moms her own way, and I’m here for it (and could write a whole ’nother article about it).

Mom how you gotta mom. Mom the way the kids you have need you to mom. Even if that changes from year to year, day to day or even minute to minute. There is only one rule, as far as I can tell from my mom and as a parent myself: Love your kids with everything you’ve got.

And if you found your way to this article, there’s a decent chance you’re doing that already.