There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges of parenting
Even though I’m a professional child psychologist, I sometimes wonder whether I have been a good enough mother, writes Lora Lee
As an expectant mother, I read all I could about how to bring up a child and yet ended up becoming more confused. Law school seemed like a tea party compared with getting my son to sleep through the night and saying “no” to well-meaning tips from relatives about how to control his crying.
Maybe that was one of the reasons I decided to study child psychology instead. I needed to know what to do and have the confidence to tell people, “I am a good enough mother and I know what I am doing.”
Fast forward 12 years and the truth is, most of the time, I am just grateful that my son and I are compatible in temperaments. We recognise our differences and are able to respect them – most of the time.
Was it useful to know my son’s attachment style? Or to recognise that my son was dyslexic before his teacher first pointed it out? Was it useful to know how to keep him from being embroiled in a very long divorce? Or was it most useful, when my son was six, to have him point out that I didn’t talk to him and pay attention to him the way I did with my patients?
Like most working mothers, I feel guilt and stress. I feel that I am not doing the best job, especially when I get tired at the end of a long day and miss adult conversations and interaction. Can I accept that it is okay to be just a “good enough” mother?
If my son needs help, can I talk to professionals matter-of-factly without sounding like I have failed and am a bad mother?
Recently, I had to reach out to other professionals when a few patients needed the kind of small group learning that I could not provide. Some responses were less that warm. I still get angry when patients are labelled outside a clinical setting as autistic, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or selective mute; people are much more than a disorder to me.
But if, as a professional, I feel disheartened in reaching out to other experts, how hurt and scary must it be for a mother without the trainingto tell people that her children are more than a label?
It seems to me that the more highly educated you are, the more likely you are to set unrealistic expectations for yourself as a parent. And the more difficult it is to remember that it takes a village to raise a kid. Maybe that’s why most mothers apologise, fearing they have failed their children.
No one knows how a child will turn out. Maybe our job as parents is simply to recognise our children’s temperament and ability, nurture them based on what they are capable of and ensure that they have a strong sense of self and are responsible, respectful and resilient for the real world.
Most people are willing to help. Raising a child doesn’t need to be a chore.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution and there is the danger of too much noise from those who don’t hesitate to judge. .
Maybe we can learn to better support each other as mothers and women. Companies can support working mothers by allowing more flexibility at work. And mothers need support and appreciation more than just on Mother’s Day.
Lora Lee is a registered child psychologist and divorce co-parenting counsellor working in private practice in Hong Kong