normality & unfulfilled promises

I don't know what a "good mother" does.

I imagine that in some families, the parents have had their own emotional needs met in childhood and are healthy enough to parent in a confident way, taking some middle road between coddling their children and abusing them. This shouldn't be confused with parenting "perfectly" - there are no perfect people, therefore there are no perfect parents. But I assume that some people are emotionally intact enough to parent competently, treating their children with sensitivity, offering guidance, providing limits, nurturing them in a way that is emotionally responsive and fosters independence.

What does that look like?

Yesterday my oldest son reminded me of a promise I had made to him to download an audiobook. I got testy with him, telling him that he needed to remind me at some time other than bedtime, and that perhaps he should write a note to me and post it somewhere where I would see it.

Later I realized what an ass I had been. The "write me a note" advice is dismissive and, moreover, pulled straight from my mother's playbook. How is it his responsibility to remind me of a promise? I'm the one that made the promise, I'm the one who has neglected to fulfil the promise, and why? Because I'm "too busy"?  I downloaded the file immediately, updated my iPod before I could get "busy" again and forget.

I wish I knew how frequently a "normal" parent fails to come through on a promise. When is it simply human, and when is it a sign of detachment, neglect, carelessness?

This morning I apologized to my son for not coming through on my promise, and for nagging him to remind me. It's not his job to hound me to do something I said I would do; it's my job. I'm the adult, I'm the one who made a commitment, and I'm the one who must see it through.

One of the things I wish for him is that he considers it "normal" for a parent to come through on a promise more often than not, without putting the burden of the promise on the child's shoulders.


  1. Claire,

    I wanted to take a minute to thank you for this post - mostly because I am an ACON who is raising two children and often find myself questioning my abilities and motives due to my childhood experiences. This particular post really spoke to me - so much so, that I had to step away for a moment to gather myself. I have found myself in very similar situations and reacting like your initial reaction. I tend to get extremely emotional after the fact - which is probably very confusing to my children because of the utter lack of emotion in dismissing them moments before. Thank you for sharing this moment of your life - I take comfort in the fact that it's a struggle for others and that it is possible to overcome. -S

  2. Sigh.

    It's hard to raise a child when you're an ACON. I have five of them, and what helps me immensely is to see myself through their eyes. Like, as they talk to me, I think about how they are seeing me. And then I think about myself at that age.

    It's hard because what the hell do I know about being a good mother? My mother did nothing for me except the physical basics, and I was a pain in the butt annoyance to her my whole life. So, I guess what I do is the opposite of what I was taught. I try not to make my children feel like pains in the butt.

    I also rely heavily on my group of girlfriends, who are loving, good moms. I see how they approach stuff and think, "Oh! A good mother does this."

    It's crazy to not know what normal is.

    Sigh again.