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Good Mom or Bad Mom? Try Both.

By KJ Dell'Antonia |

I’d like to assume everyone’s brain plays the same tired loop as mine does during a solid day of summer kid tending: “I’m such a bad mother…” as I hold the 4-year-old’s door shut while he screams and carries on with his tantrum. And while I wouldn’t say I ever get quite as far as the flip “I’m a great mom!” side, I do award myself a mental gold star when one kid gives another the first pick from the popsicle box. I’ve spent days–oh, who am I kidding, years–on this sorry little back and forth. Am I a good mother? Am I a bad mother? Good? Bad? And so on, unto infinity.

Until, perhaps, the arrival of this month’s O magazine. I love the content-filled O (too many magazines have far more pictures than words), and more than once, its writers have had a solid and lasting effect on my life, but I have to say this may be my first O epiphany. Martha Beck, life coach, was as usual offering different ways for her clients and friends to look at their problems. This month, she suggested abandoning the either-or world for one in which two seemingly opposite things were possible at once. Womens’ magazines being womens’ magazines, she proposed that a fictitious dating prospect might be both a “manslut with a bruised ego trying to get someone in the sack” and “a thoughtful person who really likes you” at the same time. This doesn’t really apply to me (and I’m very happy about that), so I was about to turn the page towards the summer reading when something clicked.

Bad mother. Good mother. How about … both? And not one after the other, flip flopping like an underdone pancake, but at the same time. All the time. Maybe I could retire this script once and for all.

Martha, too, took her dating advice and applied it forward: good boss/bad boss? Both. Good marriage/Bad marriage? Both. But I fixated, as is my wont, on the mother thing. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d never thought of it that way before. Sometimes I’m a “good” mom. Sometimes a “bad” mom, more often, in between–but I am always, always, always giving myself a mental grade. I don’t even need Sierra’s link to the CafeMom grading system. I’ve got a running tally in my head at all times, and to be able to set it aside would feel wonderfully freeing.

Is it possible to be a good mom and a bad mom simultaneously? Why not?  I put my kid in his room because he whacked his sister–again–and held the door shut because he there’s no coming back to apologize around here if you’re still screaming and kicking the door. It might not be the best way to teach a lesson about taking a deep breath and calming down (and it has to be said that I was taking that breath and calming down myself), but at base, both “don’t hit your sister” and “you’re not really sorry until you stop screaming” seem like valid lessons. As for the popsicles–ooh, sharing! But then, they are popsicles. They were not homemade ice pops from juice squeezed from organic locally grown fruit. Neither was wholly good or wholly bad. I’m clearly just spending too much time on watching the scale tip.

This sounds so simplistic, I know. But I can see myself using it to silence my own doubts, and to silence my judgements of others as well. Good mom or bad mom? Both is such a wonderfully calming and final answer.

Image courtesy of the GoodMomBadMom blog at the Houston Chronicle.

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About KJ Dell'Antonia


KJ Dell'Antonia

KJ Dell'Antonia is a regular contributor to Slate's DoubleX, a contributing editor for Kiwi Magazine and the co-author of Reading with Babies, Toddlers and Twos. She lives in New Hampshire with four kids, two dogs, one husband and a bad coffee habit and blogs about family bonds, balance, and blend at

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0 thoughts on “Good Mom or Bad Mom? Try Both.

  1. Amy says:

    I saw the pic and I thought this article was going to be about my two favorite mommybloggers. Oh, well. But this is an interesting post. I wish people would stop labeling. A bad mother leaves a baby in the bathtub while she goes to shoot up. Let’s not dilute the term by using it for people who don’t do things “perfectly” according to studies reported on this week.

  2. bob says:

    Ah, a refreshing shade of gray. Complex things sometimes really do have complex answers.

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