There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges of parenting
Even though I’m a professional child psychologist, I sometimes wonder whether I have been a good enough mother, writes Lora Lee
The pressure of being a “good mother” has always been there but as society has become more affluent, with more information about parenting available and people sharing more about their lives on social media, most mothers feel constantly judged by others and the need to keep up with the Joneses.
I noticed an interesting phenomenon, that I have a waiting list of fathers coming to see me for parenting advice, how to connect and respond to their children, especially those who are divorced and want to ensure the limited time they have with their children is meaningful. Those fathers are busy businessmen, with demanding travelling schedules, and they are willing to take time off and see me based on my limited availability. However, when it comes to mothers, many find it daunting to see a child psychologist for parenting advice.
I remember as an expectant mother, I read all I could and yet was more confused about how to bring up a child. I was at law school, and studying law at postgraduate level seemed like a tea party compared with getting my son to sleep through the night and saying “no” to well-meaning relatives about how to control crying. Maybe that was one of the reasons I dropped out of law school and decided to study child psychology instead. I needed to know what to do and have the confidence to tell people, “I am a good enough mother and I know what I am doing”. Fast forward 12 years and the truth is, most of the time, I am just grateful that my son and I are compatible in temperaments. We recognize our differences and are able to respect our differences – most of the time.
Was it useful to know my son’s attachment style? Or to learn that my son is dyslexic before his teacher first pointed it out? Was it useful that I knew how to keep my son out of a very long divorce? Or, was it most useful that when my son was six, he pointed out the obvious – that he was a child of a shoemaker that has no shoes? He was the one who reminded me during my second master's that I didn't talk to him and pay attention to him the way I did with my patients.
Like most working mothers, I feel guilt and stress. I feel that I am not doing the best job, especially when I get too tired at the end of a long day and miss adult conversations and interaction. Without a double master's in child psychology, would I be able to openly accept that it is okay to be just a “good enough” mother?
Would I have the confidence to talk to professionals matter-of- factly when I needed help for my son, without sounding like I have failed and am a bad mother?
Recently, I had to reach out to other professionals when a few patients needed the kind of small group learning that I could not provide. Some responses were less than warm. I still get angry when other in the clinic labelled my patients as autistic, Aspien, ADHD or selective mute, as they are much more than labels to me. But if, as a professional, I often feel disheartened in reaching out to other expert, how hurt and scary must it be for a mother without the training to tell people that her children are more than a label?
It seems to me that the better educated you are, the more likely you are setting unrealistic expectations for yourself as a parent and the more difficult it is to remember that it takes a village to raise a kid. Maybe that is why most mothers apologise, fearing they have failed their children.
Is that the gender roles or expectation that is why men find it easier to accept that they need help? As they are not supposed to be “hard wired” to connect with children and they are conditioned to be proud of their achievements at work, instead of being natural in responding to children?
No one knows how a child will turn out. Maybe our job as parents is simply to recognise our children's temperament and ability, nurture them based on what the child is capable of and ensure that they have a strong sense of self and are resilient, responsible and respectful for the real world.
Most people are willing to help. Raising a child doesn’t need to be a chore. There is no one-size-fits-all solution and there is the danger of too much noise from those who don't hesitate to judge ...
Maybe we can learn to better support each other as mothers and women. Maybe companies can retain and support working mothers by allowing more flexibility at work. And mothers need support and appreciation more than just on Mother's Day.
Lora Lee is a registered child psycholgist and divorce-coparenting counsellor working in private practice in Hong Kong.