Inside: Have you ever wondered if you’re a bad mom? Probably. Because you’re a mom. We’ve all been there. It goes with the territory. But if you follow these these 24 quick ways to be a better mom you’ll stop asking yourself that question as often. And questioning yourself less will automatically make you a better mom.
I’m three kids and a decade in to this parenting gig and I’ve kept my eyes open. I’ve been around absolutely remarkable moms and a few absolutely sh*tty moms. I learned what to do and more importantly, what not to do from them.
And as I inevitably screw up with my own kids, I add to this list, because sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I still feel like a sh*tty mom.
Here’s what has helped me be a better mom:
Do What You Gotta Do
This is my #1 rule because it’s, well, the #1 rule that I live by as a mom. Let your kids watch TV so you can take a shower. Sit on your phone while your kid plays in the park to take some much needed down time. Have a glass of wine at 4pm if you need it. Feed your kids fast food because you cannot, cannot figure out dinner tonight. If it keeps you sane, it keeps your kids alive. Do it.
Drop the Mom Guilt
Working moms feel guilty. Stay at home moms feel guilty. Being a mom is often a lose lose situation. Stop “shoulding” on yourself. I should’ve taken my kids to the park instead of running errands. I should’ve not yelled when my toddler wrote on the wall in Sharpie. I should’ve gone to the gym today, or yesterday, or the day before that. Just do the best you can, hug your kids, and then try to do a little better tomorrow. That’s it. Life’s too short to keep a running total of all the ways we screw up as parents. I lost count a long time ago.
Don’t be a Sancti-Mommy
These are the moms who get annoyed by Rule #1 and pile on more Mom Guilt by passive aggressively pointing out that you’re doing it all wrong. Knock it off, ladies. You don’t ever let your kids eat sugar? You would never dream of giving them fast food? No TV for your precious toddler until past 2 years? Great. Good for you. Honestly, slow hand clap. But keep it to yourself. No need to judge. No need to try to make me feel bad that Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is my saving grace. This mom thing is hard enough without being judged for it.
Fast. Friends who think like you, parent like you and instinctively know when they should show up at your door with dessert. Or a beer. These are the ladies that you can laugh until you pee your pants with. They’re the ones who you never need to clean your house for. They’ve seen it–and you–at your worst. And they love you more for it. True mom friends are invaluable. And avoid those sancti-mommies who make you feel like crap.
Take time for yourself
This is everything. I know that I really suck as a mom when I’m at my wit’s end. I need a coffee break. Or even just a pee alone break. Or leave the house the second my husband walks in the door break. The old saying, ‘take a nap when the baby naps’ is a saying for a reason. But since that doesn’t work past your first baby, put a show on and pull your toddler in the bed with you while you nap. Cause if you don’t take care of you, there’s no way you can take care of little people.
Don’t let your kids be a-holes
No really. Enforce kindness. Reward kindness. Manners are non-negotiable. When you drop something and a kid picks it up, praise it. When a kiddo comes to invite your son to the neighborhood baseball game so he’s not the only kid left out, praise it. Shout it from the rooftops. And then set up playdates with those kids so it rubs off on your kids more. Letting your kids be snarky and getting away with it is a deal breaker. When my ten year old acts like she stepped into the Mean Girls movie, I usually respond with this hearty reminder: “You came out of my vagina. You may not talk to me that way.” It usually shocks my daughter out of her snarky mood and into giggles. Disclaimer: this might not work for your sons.
It’s okay to say ‘no’
It’s okay to be the mean mom who says no to soda or who says no to buying the treat they want after they had a tantrum in the toy aisle. You are not a genie. They do not need their every wish granted.
But also try to say ‘yes’ more
I hate being the bad guy parent all the time.I hate saying no to cookies before dinner and the second cup of juice and running around naked. So I’ve started saying yes. Yes, you can have the cookie, right after you eat your dinner. Yes, you can have more juice, after you drink a glass of water. Yes, you can be naked, as soon as we get home. They’re waiting for the ‘no’ from me. I like to mix it up and surprise them.
Be the calm to their crazy
Listen, when our kids have an epic tantrum or an out of body exorcist type meltdown–and it’s going to happen–it’s our job not to follow them down the rabbit hole towards crazy land. Sure, it’s easy to get worked up to match their mood. But our job is to match their reaction with an equal but opposite reaction. Be calmer than normal if they’re crazier than normal. Crazy begets more crazy. Be in-naturally calm if you want them to calm the f’ down.
Purposefully and explicitly teach them social skills
They need to know how to order food in a restaurant and how to shake someone’s hand. They need to thank people who are in the service industry. They need to know how to walk up to a ‘safe stranger’ and ask a question. They need to look people in the eyes when they talk to them. They need to hold open doors for the people behind them. Rude kids grow up to be rude adults. Tackle this now before they’re 22 and the ‘Oh, they’re shy’ excuse won’t fly anymore.
Teach them how to not tattle
Everyone hates a tattler. But sometimes, we parents need to know what the hell is going on when we didn’t see the scurfuffle. My rule is, if someone is getting hurt or is about to get hurt, they come tell an adult. That is not tattling. If it’s anything ‘he said, she said,” I’m tapping out. Go tell the other kid how it hurt your feelings or how it made you mad. And tell them not to do it again. But don’t come tell me. And don’t go and tell the other kid’s parents. Don’t let them be that kid.
Don’t allow them to interrupt you
Mom, mom, mom, mom. We’ve all been there. Everyday. They think the more they say it, the sooner we’ll stop our conversation. It’s obnoxious and it drives me nuts. Now this strategy is still a work in progress, but when my kids want my attention, they put their hand on my arm. Then I put my hand on their hand. It’s their signal that they want my attention and it’s my signal that I know they want my attention and they need to wait. Because unless there’s blood, they can wait.
For the love of everything, don’t let them hit you
I swear I’ve seen so many kids hit their parents and the adults just laugh it off. Are you kidding me? I have also watched one mom, hit her kid back with each word she emphatically spoke: “We (hit) do (hit) not (hit) hit.” I almost laughed at the irony of it. Listen, kids can get mad. It’s okay to get mad. But hitting is not an option. Your response to getting hit can be simple. We do not hit. Hitting hurts. And then follow through with a consequence. See #14.
Find your kid’s Achilles’ heel
Every kid has a “weakness” and every kid is different. But when it’s time for some good ol’ fashioned consequences, you need to figure out what will work with each kid. My eldest loses coins every time she’s snarky because money is her currency. Literally. My youngest loses dessert when she’s not listening because the world revolves around popsicles when you’re five. And my son loses time with his friends which is the absolute most devastating thing that could ever happen to a human being ever. Or so he tells me. The point is, the consequence has to fit the kid or it won’t work. It’s supposed to discourage the behavior from happening again. Its’ supposed to be un-fun. It won’t work if it’s not important to them.
Stop repeating yourself
I always felt like a broken freaking record until I learned this one magical phrase: “Asked, and answered.” It a nutshell, it means the kid has already asked their question, I’ve already answered it, and I’m done talking about it. No more talking about it. Seriously. Just stop talking.
Let your kids fail
I know this one sounds sadistic, but it’s not. They need to see how it feels to fail when the stakes are low. This is the time when you can guide them through the uncomfortableness of losing the soccer match or coming in 2nd at Candyland. It will make them more resilient. They will learn how to do deal with not being the best and not being a winner all the time. Being a gracious loser is a skill that is paramount to being a well-adjusted person so it has to be learned before the stakes are higher and the fails are bigger.
Let them learn from natural consequences
They won’t put on a jacket? Then they’re going to get cold later when everyone else is warm. They refuse to eat the mac and cheese you made? They’re going to be really hungry at breakfast time. They didn’t put their homework in their backpack. They’re not going to be able to turn it in tomorrow, because I’m not driving it to school again to drop something off. If they’re not in real danger, natural consequences tend to sink in nicely.
Explicitly teach them independence
Sure it’s faster to brush their hair for them. Of course it’s faster-and neater-if you make their sandwich or cut their food. It is guaranteed 100 times faster to buckle them into their car seat. But teaching them how to function and participate in life will save you time in the long run. It will make you more efficient when you can just hop in your car and everyone self-buckles. Plus, they’ll be one tiny step closer to having the skills they need to one day move out and leave home. It’s one of the ironies of parenting: we did our job correctly if they no longer need us.
Place value on schoolwork
Homework is a family affair in our house. It comes before sports and before playdates. We talk about school reports and projects at dinner and then we dive in long before procrastination can take over. This is the elementary school teacher in me, but kids pick up on your attitude about school, homework, and reading. If you want them to value school and enjoy reading, you need to value school and enjoy reading. And if you hate to read, fake it. Books in every room of your house is an easy way to fake it.
It’s okay to say ‘no’ part 2
Just a friendly reminder that you can also say ‘no’ to adults and especially to the PTA President when she sweetly asks you to be the Holiday Party Coordinator for every class in every grade. Oh, I wish I could, but I don’t have time for that. Listen, I’m all for volunteering. And I do it a lot. But don’t feel trapped into doing something you absolutely don’t want to do. Or something that will make you feel overwhelmed and undervalued and even more tired. So, repeat after me, “No, thank you. I will not be Room Mom this year.”
Shit is going to go wrong. Your kid will forget his lunch when you’re running late for an appointment. Your kid will have a bathroom emergency right as you’re checking out with a grocery cart full of frozen food. They’ll dump all of your sugar on the floor when you’re halfway through baking a birthday cake. If you don’t go with the flow, this mom thing could kill ya.
And with that, be prepared
The Scouts weren’t screwing around when they chose this motto. Pack extra underwear in your car years after your kiddo is potty trained. Throw an extra shirt in the diaper bag for you. Don’t go anywhere without wipes and Kleenex and hand sanitizer. Those three things fix most of my problems.
Don’t be too confident in your skills as a parent
I learned this one the hard way. As soon as you think you have things figured out, it will all change. They’ll stop sleeping through the night as soon as you brag to your friend that they’re in bed by 7. They’ll stop eating foods that are green as soon as they sit down at your aunt’s elaborately set Thanksgiving table. So be humble. And keep the bragging for your inner monologues.
And finally, take time to really truly enjoy your kids
The greatest irony of parenting is that our days and weeks are painfully long but the years are surprisingly quick. We blink and they’re another year older. Slow down time by purposefully enjoying the quieter, sweeter moments of being a mom. Find time to be with each one of your kids daily for alone time, even if it’s just for a few moments. Try for one-on-one dates to go get a pretzel or hot cocoa. Instead of rushing through the bedtime routine every night, enjoy the story you’re reading. Linger in their bed longer. Rock them to sleep. And enjoy it.
Because one day, we’ll miss the noise. We’ll miss the chaos. We’ll miss the loads of laundry.
Well, maybe not the laundry.
But we will absolutely miss the days when they reached up to hold onto our hands. And I for one will miss the days when they were small enough to ask for snuggles.
Listen, we all have our sh*tty moments and our sh*tty days as moms. It’s going to happen. But by trying even one of these ideas, you’ll feel like you’re a sh*tty mom less and less, and that in and of it self will make you a better mom.
Which can be lifesaving.
Because this is the one job you can’t quit or walk away from. We signed up for at least 18 years per kid- gulp-and we need to be able to survive it with our bodies and souls in tact.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments:
What’s your best advice to be a better mom (because I am 100% sure I missed a bunch!)?
What’s the one thing you’re going to try today from this list?
To get more ideas on how to Put Your Life Vest on first and take care of yourself, click here. (Coming soon!)
For more rants on the crappiness of Sancti-Mommies, click here. (Coming soon!)
For all things school, homework and how to encourage your kid to love school, click here. (Coming soon!)