How to Be a Good Mother (Like My Mom Was)

An illustration of a mother holding her child

Wow. Quite an ambitious title, huh? Like how to be a good mother could really be just that simple? Well, don’t worry. We won’t pretend that it is. And fair warning—you will likely not find all the answers you seek on being a good mother in the following paragraphs. 

Also, full disclosure: As a guy, I obviously don’t have firsthand experience being a mom. But I do have some lessons my own mom taught me about motherhood that I hope will work for you, whether you’re an expecting mom, new mom, worried mom, stepmom, auntie or any other person who’s striving to meet the needs of the kids in their life.  

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First things first, my mom died in November 2020, and I volunteered to write this article to share the example that she no longer can. Second, I won’t pretend Mom was perfect—she would be annoyed if I did. And finally, there is no one embodiment of “good motherhood.” If you’re a mom reading this, there’s a pretty good chance that you are, in fact, a good mom. 

So here we go.

An illustration of a mom and child reading in bed with their feet up on the wall. A quote next to the illustration reads,

1. Be a friend.  

This may be the most “controversial” item in this piece, and I start with it to get the “controversy” out of the way early. There’s been some conventional wisdom—which I think may be changing lately—that says moms (and dads) should not be their kids’ “friends”; that they already have friends and what they need from parents is a steady and loving hand of guidance and discipline.

And I say, why not both? Sure, my mom taught me right from wrong, scolded me when I deserved it (who, me?) and modeled responsibility. But she also—and I’m revealing my age a bit here—took/faked an interest in my He-Man action figures, danced with my little sister to Cindy Lauper records and listened when my big brother’s girlfriends dumped him. Which was a lot. (Jk, bro.) 

As a parent myself, some of my happiest times are when I meet my kids where they are, take my dad hat off and just be their buddy. And if that means listening to the occasional TedTalk about Fortnite, I’m okay doing it.

2. Be an advocate.  

Kids at all ages are living in an adult-run world—one in which they’re not always equipped to assert themselves. So they need you to speak up for them. 

My mom had my back every step of the way, whether it was pushing for my doctors to give me the eye surgery I needed (20/20 vision since I was 14!), taking me off the field when I had a painful stress fracture or encouraging me to seek help when I began facing anxiety and depression as an adult. 

She taught me that a mother’s love can always be strong for her kids when they don’t have their own strength, and I think advocacy is one of the most important things my wife and I can do for our kids. 

An illustration of a woman reading on her couch. The living room floor is scattered with toys, muddy shoes and a soccer ball.

3. Be imperfect.  

Here’s one I wish my mom did earlier on, TBH. She put a lot of pressure on herself, I think, to make the house and home the epitome of warmth, welcoming and, well, some version of perfection, even when she was working full-time. 

And it was great. My family hosted parties, we led the neighborhood Christmas caroling, we were one of the houses where all our friends seemed to feel at home. Like I said, great, right? 

But I think it took a toll on mom that I wasn’t even aware of until we spoke about my anxiety later in life. She confided in me—and possibly only me—that she, too, struggled with anxiety, including social anxiety. She didn’t say the things she did were hard for her, but looking back, I can see there were ways (not always the most healthy) that she was compensating. 

So moms, I say know yourself, be honest about your limitations, and know they’re okay. Also know they’re okay to talk with your older kids about. You are a human being worthy of self-care and protection, and I think kids of the right age can roll with that. My 11-year-old understands and is empathetic about my anxiety…and I tell ya, his hugs when I need ’em go a long way. 

An illustration of a mom with her arm around her child. Her shirt reads,

4. Be joyful.  

Okay, not gonna lie, this isn’t always easy. And I used to get super annoyed with Mom over this sometimes. She was a bit of a Pollyanna (see above about compensating). But even when she wasn’t feeling it, she was doing her very best to see and inspire true joy in life. 

Instead of “have a good day,” she would say “make it a good day.” She was a silver lining-seeker. A fun-in-any-situation-finder. A not-much-a-smile-can’t-beat-believer. There are times when I wonder why more of that didn’t rub off on me, but it made her a really good mom to have, especially in the less good times. And even when it annoyed me, I unconsciously took something from it. A “What Would Mom Do” kind of thing.

I know this seems like something of a contradiction of the previous tip…and it is. My mom was full of contradictions like most of us are. 

An illustration of a woman holding her young child with a quote that reads,

5. Be you.  

Moms (and mom-types) are the bomb. Mine was. My wife is. You probably are or will be, too. Why? Because—and I don’t want to get weird here, but—you’ve made life and/or you’re nurturing life into its fullest self as a human being with mostly just your own heart to guide you. 

Holy crap. I mean, yes, there are all the parenting guides, think pieces and articles like this. But in the moment-to-moment, it’s YOU. 

So follow that mom heart. Do your mom thing. My wife is a great mom, but not the same mom my mom was. She moms her own way, and I’m here for it (and could write a whole ’nother article about it). 

Mom how you gotta mom. Mom the way the kids you have need you to mom. Even if that changes from year to year, day to day or even minute to minute. There is only one rule, as far as I can tell from my mom and as a parent myself: Love your kids with everything you’ve got. 

And if you found your way to this article, there’s a decent chance you’re doing that already.