Guest Blog Post: Good Mother Bad Mother by Gina Ford (Book Excerpt)
The modern preoccupation with women being strong and capable means that many of them are afraid to admit to weakness or to needing help. They assume that everyone else has got it right and they are the only ones feeling frightened and vulnerable. This is particularly true of new mothers, who generally deserve far more support than they are getting. In my experience in many different cultures – including Arab, Indian and Jew – there is a much greater sense of family and the arrival of a baby is a joyous event to be shared and celebrated by everyone. New mothers are cosseted and are never left to cope alone. In a Chinese family in Hong Kong with whom I worked, following the birth of the baby, the mother was expected to enjoy a period of rest, when she was put on a special diet and looked after by family members. This extra support was an excellent thing for both mother and baby, and something that I have found sadly lacking in many Western societies. In less well-off communities, support is often still there in some form, and at the other extreme the wealthy can afford to pay for help, but there is a vast swathe of mothers in the middle who cannot afford support and whose extended families are scattered. These women usually have to cope very much alone, and they can feel pathetic and inadequate asking for help.
This insecurity is compounded by society’s idea of what a good mother should look like. My mother was considered improper because of the way she took care of her appearance, but today the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction and there is pressure on mothers to be unrealistically glamorous. Celebrity mothers shed their pregnancy weight in the way only a wealthy woman can, helped by expert cooks and personal trainers and often already predisposed to be slender. This apparent ability to care for a new baby while still finding time to look slim and attractive may make other mothers feel inadequate and resentful, as in the earlier case of Sara (p.9). Recently I read about a celebrity mother-to-be who revealed that she had begun her post-pregnancy diet while still pregnant, on the basis that if she never gained the weight she’d never have to lose it.
When I compare mothering in my own childhood and the mothering taking place today, I can’t help but think that this is not an easy time in history for women. I have spent my whole working life trying to help mothers. I have sat with women in their nighties at three in the morning and comforted them while they sobbed their hearts out from exhaustion and fear about their babies. When mothers ask me what I think the most important aspect of being a good mother is, many are surprised by my response. I think they expect me to pinpoint a certain part of the routines I encourage, or a certain view as to what makes a contented baby. However, I always say that what is most important is not just how long a baby sleeps, or who has been most successful in the baby routines, but also how happy and fulfilled a mother is. In my opinion, a happy and fulfilled mother is much more likely to meet her baby’s needs and have a contented baby – regardless of whether a mother follows routines or takes the attachment parenting approach. Finding what is right for you is the key.
Some fortunate mothers find complete fulfillment in their baby. However, if this leads to the exclusion of their husband or partner it is not always a healthy long-term happiness. Most mothers I have worked with do find their babies enormously rewarding and engaging, but still wish to have another dimension to their lives. And some of the mothers I have helped find motherhood both stressful and unfulfiling. It is for all these mothers that I have been encouraged to write this book.
I am sure some people will ask how I can have the nerve to write a book about a subject when I have never had the pleasure of ‘front-line’ experience. It is a cause of sadness to me that I never had a family of my own; however, I do not feel that this hinders me in my wish to help mothers everywhere when they ask for help. In fact, perhaps by never having my own children, I have been able to retain a healthy detachment when witnessing the rollercoaster experience of new motherhood.
Gina Ford has more than 30 years of experience as a maternity nurse, runs the website www.contentedbaby.com, and is the author of numerous parenting books, including Good Mother Bad Mother, The Complete Sleep Guide for Contented Babies & Toddlers and The Contented Little Baby Book.