Why I Read

The Good Mother

Sometimes, only rarely, I manage to have a good day. The kind when I feel like I accomplish the things normal good moms accomplish every day. Today was a good-mother kind of day. I

  • Did six loads of laundry
  • Folded and put away three of them
  • Washed Jake's bedding (the other three)
  • Got everyone breakfast, made Kendell's lunch, made Nathan's lunch, made sure Nathan was ready before his carpool ride arrived
  • Had dinner made and in the fridge, waiting to be baked, before noon
  • Baked oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (let it be stated: I LOVE a good oatmeal raisin cookie, but as literally no.one.else. in this household likes raisins, if I made that kind of cookie I'd have to eat the entire batch, so I only bake oatmeal chocolate chip)
  • Helped Kaleb finish his homework
  • Facillitated a play date for Kaleb with his friend Joe, who is the only six-year-old I know who wears cologne on a regular basis
  • Reorganized the shelves in my closet
  • Vacuumed the stairs
  • Took out every ounce of garbage before the garbage man arrived
  • Went to Kaleb's kindergarten performance
  • Went to Jake's track meet
  • Went to work
  • Picked up Haley and went to the grocery store
  • Purchased only healthy things at the store: grapes, cantaloupe, honeydew, strawberries, bananas, tortellini, tomatoes, turkey.

What I didn't do: scrapbook, photoshop, read outside of the bathroom, dive into the quilt I am all of a sudden burning to make. I didn't eat any caramel Easter eggs. I didn't take a long shower (just a short one!), didn't pick my toenails, didn't spend any time reading anyone's blog.

All of which has led me to an epiphany: I only really, really feel like a good mother if I dedicate my every moment to someone else. I love that I accomplished so much today, and that I feltlike I was being a decent person all day long. Even though I was not, of course, anywhere perfect (I forgot to pay Haley's lunch money, and I couldn't stay for all of Jake's track meet because I had to go to work, and I didn't record all of Kaleb's performance because my camera battery died, and I had to break Nathan's heart by telling him that I cannot go on his field trip on Thursday because I don't have anyone to watch Kaleb that day), I didn't feel full of my usual barrage of self deprication.

But now that my productive day is finished, I find myself a little bit bothered. Why can't I shut off the "you're being selfish and lazy" internal monologue when I doindulge in those other things (the scrapbooking or reading or quilting or writing or even just sitting on the front porch doing nothing other than staring at my sycamore)? Why do I lose the feeling of being a good mother when I am doing something that is centered more on my needs and desires than on my family's? Is the only way to be a good mother to be completely devoted to everyone but yourself?

I've always, deep down, took a certain little bit of pride in the fact that I am not married to my house. I am the first to confess that if my obituary does not include the sentence "her home was always clean" I will not care at all. I have taken as my motto the Anne Sexton poem Housewife, which goes like this:

Some women marry houses.
It's another kind of skin; it has a heart,
a mouth, a liver and bowel movements.
The walls are permanent and pink.
See how she sits on her knees all day,
faithfully washing herself down.
Men enter by force, drawn back like Jonah
into their fleshy mothers.
A woman is her mother.
That's the main thing.

Or, more clearly, the opposite of the poem. I want to be a person first, a housewife second. If you let it, cleaning your house can be the only thing you do with your time. There is always something else to do, a closet to reorganize, a drawer to declutter. I don't want to be so devoted to my house that it becomes who I am. As my wise sister told me recently, I am not my house.

In theory, this idea guides me. But I also doubt its truthfulness. It makes me wonder if I am lacking something that most women lack. If my house is in need of straightening up, I am not anxious, annoyed, or embarrassed. If my non-immaculate house shocks you into not wanting to be my friend, that's OK; I probably don't want to be your friend either then. This is my natural response to the subject of housecleaning, but I don't feel like it's the natural response. If we're thinking in generalities, aren't women supposed to be made happy by a clean house? (Men, by the way, are not the only people to perpetuate this idea.)  I do it because I have to, not because it makes me feel happy.

Except when, like today, it does. Being productive and denying my (selfish?) desires gave me a little glow. Perhaps I could name that light "justified," as I had nothing to feel guilty about when the day ended. (Except for those previously-mentioned failures, and the fact that the kitchen is still messy, and I haven't recycled the grocery sacks yet, and the bathroom mirrors need to be Windexed, and how healthy are chocolate chip oatmeal cookies anyway?)

So even though I glimmered with my productive glow today, I end it feeling unbalanced. Unsure. Will I ever get rid of my "you're not a good mother" perspective? Would I be able to do my self-indulgent things without that voice chiming in if I could, somehow, manage the good mother side better? Is there a way to balance both of the sides of my life? Or do I feel guilty as a way of, perversely, proving I'm a good mother?

I don't like ending a blog without a resolution. But tonight, I don't have one. I haven't figured out yet how to lose my own needs in the service of others. Try as I do to battle it, I still have an intense craving for solitude, for time to do what I  want instead of what would help others. I don't know how to do this—do you?



It's funny, this idea that being a good mother means you must do everything for your kids (and deny yourself). In fact, a good mother should teach her children to do for themselves, so they can grow up to be confident and independent. It's okay to take some time to do what you enjoy if it makes you a happier mom. (Though I suppose it would be very handy if your favorite thing to do is clean your house!)

Pamela K.

As the saying goes, "If mamma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." As the previous comment said, it would be handy if your favorite thing to do is to clean house. I know for a fact that it certainly is NOT mine. And I think that for the majority of people, it isn't their idea of a good time either. While getting things done that needs to be done is good, when it starts to dominate your life, then it's time to stop and smell the roses. Great post, btw!


Monday is usually my most productive day of the week. After church and more rest on Sundays, I am ready to accomplish things by Monday. I usually go with that on Mondays and find more time for fun in the other days of the week when I am not as motivated to tackle household tasks.


I had a day like that once, and then I wondered why I don't have them more often.


I really wish I could believe that I am not my house. I spend most of my time beating myself up for the fact that my house isn't clean. I truly cannot shake the belief that every other mother out there is quilting or gardening or scrapbooking with an immaculate house surrounding them. Sadly, it makes me feel better to hear that others have to choose as well. I'm dying to give myself a sewing day, or even an hour or two, but I always feel like that has to wait until the cleaning is done. And the cleaning will never be done!

I would actually love my tombstone to read that my house was always clean, AND that I conquered the world and did everything I ever wanted to and made my children and hubby gloriously happy every second. But I have also realized that it's not going to happen. I've thrown out the idea that I can't let anyone inside if things aren't clean, because no one would ever be allowed in. I agree with you - if someone doesn't want to be my friend because I'm a bit of a slob, then we wouldn't be friends anyway.

Melanie Bell

That last comment was mine, and sorry it was so long. Your posts always resonate with me. I just love it!

And now that I've taken a second for myself, the kids are going crazy. Back to reality....


I think even those moms who have perfectly clean homes, and dinner is always on time, homemade, and healthy, who have perfectly productive days in our eyes don't really feel that way about themselves either. Or they shouldn't, if they do. Taking time to enjoy your kids and your own hobbies is way more important than a clean house. period. :) Great post, love ya!

Becky K

(Mel Bell, I knew that first comment was yours! I truly love you.)

Houses are for living, as are lives. My mil LOVES to clean. It is what she would do 24/7 if she could. But that is her, and there are the rest of us who don't. And I don't think she was any better of a mother than anyone else is even though her house was clean. That was just her box, and what she could deal with.

Enjoy your days, whatever you accomplish.

Kim D

Yes, I absolutely do. Am I selfish? Probably. But I am also this way because it's what I learned from my mother. And I'm thrilled that she enjoyed things other than cooking and cleaning and taught me to enjoy them, too. Sometimes our house wasn't clean, and sometimes we ate dinner at 9 pm. We all survived, loved each other and turned out pretty well. These days, in my house, cleaning house is a family affair - if you count work and commuting, I'm gone from the house at least 55-60 hours a week. We all pitch in and get things done. And then we do fun things, because life is too short not to have fun.


I seldom do anything for me either and I am single and childless. I think I am trying to make up for the fact that I failed to do what most women do so I find others to take care of and serve. I also feel guilty that I could (if I chose to) have time for me without little people interrupting me when so many of my friends and family can't. They tell me often how lucky I am and how hard they have it. I think we tend to believe that the busier we are and the less time we have for ourselves, the more important we are. I have been working hard to remember that 'men are that they might have joy' and that I can't fill someone else's bucket if mine is empty. I, too, am a child of God and worth taking care of.


I recently dug up a box of old photos and wall decorations (yes, we've lived here for almost five years and I haven't bothered to pull this stuff out). I pulled out a framed calligraphy piece which said "Brush your teeth, hang up your coat, wash your hands, clean up your room, turn out the light, and ... remember that Mom loves you." Bryce came up behind me and read it and then practically burst out laughing. He said, "Dad says all this stuff (pointing to the top part) and you say this (the love bit)." We chuckled about it for a while, but it stuck with me. I'm not at all sad that this perspective will stay with them. Those things are important, but the latter bit exclipses the former!

It doesn't stop me from having bad mother days (I spent all day in bed with a migraine on Sunday and felt supremely guilty), but it does make me smile that they recognize my love in spite of my lax attitudes about cleanliness and proper behavior.

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