The Biggest Lie About Parenting

You’ll never do it ‘right’ — because right doesn’t exist

Mindy Stern
Human Parts
Published in
4 min readSep 24, 2019

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Photo: Tetra Images/Getty Images

II love self-help memes on Instagram. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a gushy inspirational quote that gives you pause as you mindlessly scroll through your feed? But what I do not like are the memes like this: the feet of a woman in high heels below the words, “Self love will literally solve all your fucking problems.” That’s ridiculous.

The other day, I came across a meme on an account geared toward young mothers. It said, “Respond to your children with love in their worst moments, their angry moments, their selfish moments, their lonely moments, their inconvenient moments because it is in their most unlovable human moments that they most need to feel loved.”

This is true — not just for our children but for all of us. We all need to feel love in our most unlovable moments. But, come on, it’s impossible to do all of the time.

What’s missing is the next page, the words that give mothers permission to flail and fail, the words that normalize our shortcomings rather than shaming us for them. What needs to follow that quote is, “and forgive yourself for the moments you don’t—because you are human too.”

While these memes can inspire and provoke thought, or lead to a lightbulb moment or a mindful insight, they can also perpetuate the feelings of inadequacy endemic to social media. Just like filtered and glossed over images, these messages can be insidious, especially to mothers.

OOne in five American women suffer from postpartum depression. Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, compared to men. There is money to be made from our insecurity, and Instagram accounts are making it. An “influencer” account can make hundreds of thousands of dollars per year by just reminding a vulnerable mother of how much better she could be doing.

In 1953, British psychologist and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott coined the phrase “good enough mother.” Basically, it means that it’s not just okay to fail your kids from time to time — it’s ideal. Being “good enough” means your occasional failures teach your child to tolerate frustration, to cope with reality, and to learn that you are not the source of everything in their lives.

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